My Lords, I hesitated before putting my name down to speak in this debate as I did not think I would have anything to say about Brexit that would not be said more convincingly by a large number of other noble Lords with far more experience of matters European than I. However, two events last week moved me to participate in the debate.
The first was a dinner I attended last weekend with a very successful British businessman who spent much of the evening trying to persuade me of the advantages of a no-deal Brexit. As he put it, with passion and conviction, “The economic welfare of our country depends mainly on our entrepreneurs, and the most successful entrepreneurs are those who know how to create or take advantage of disruption; that is, shattering old ways of doing things, old relationships and old ways of looking at the world. A no-deal Brexit”, he argued, “by causing disruption to established ways of doing things, would make it easier for our entrepreneurs to exploit new opportunities, and this in turn would make us all much richer”. I must have looked a bit sceptical when he made that claim because he went on to say, not in so many words, that our political leaders and especially our civil servants, even retired ones like me, were fundamentally risk averse and therefore constitutionally unable to recognise new opportunities even when they were staring them in the face. I have to admit that his passion for a no-deal Brexit, particularly as he is someone who has clearly been very successful, left me wondering whether perhaps my 27 years as a civil servant really have left me incapable of seeing the advantages of freeing ourselves from the EU at the end of next March and leaving our people to fend for themselves and make the best of it.
However, on the way home from that dinner, I thought about a debate in your Lordships’ House in which I had spoken the previous day. It was a debate on violent crime, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. In that moving debate, one speaker after another for two and a half hours referred to the large numbers of young people who have been killed or seriously maimed on our streets in recent months, and how this tragic state of affairs was likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This, it was argued, was because the underlying causes of this violence are not amenable to a so-called quick fix and the resources which are devoted to tackling these problems are in short supply, whether in our police forces, our prisons or other parts of the criminal justice system. The same can be said for our schools, hospitals, social services and the provision made for youth unemployment.
We must not forget that while we in this House and those in another place are debating which form of Brexit would be best from the economic, constitutional or political point of view, there are young people out there on the streets of London along with other cities, towns and even villages who are daily becoming the victims of violent crime. Each day almost two women are the victims of fatal domestic abuse, while each year well over 1,000 people die on our roads. I believe that these two issues, Brexit and the safety of our communities, cannot be considered in isolation. Indeed, the Brexit options we are debating today must also, or perhaps even first, be considered in terms of their effect on the security and safety of our communities, which after all is meant to be the first responsibility of government. It is for this reason that I believe that, given the present state of violent crime in our society and the shortage of resources to tackle it, it would be wrong—immoral might be a better word—for us to choose a Brexit option which means abandoning the agencies and institutions that our law enforcement organisations have developed over the past decade in collaboration with their European counterparts.
I do not have time to discuss the agencies and institutions in any detail this evening. I simply want to say that the agencies and systems such as Europol, Eurojust, the European arrest warrant, the information systems we all know about and the passenger name record have all been developed largely with our help and our leadership. Without them, our police forces would be far less effective and our communities would be far less safe. As a country, we cannot afford to choose a Brexit scenario that makes us less safe.
There has been much debate about the economic costs of the various forms of Brexit, the constitutional aspects and the political case for one or other option. However, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. Like him, I am concerned primarily about the cost in human lives, and here I do not think that there is room for argument. It is only the Prime Minister’s deal which specifies that the operational co-operation between our local law enforcement agencies and those of our European neighbours will continue largely as it does now for the whole of the implementation period. Further, it is only the Prime Minister’s political declaration which provides for:
“Comprehensive, close, balanced and reciprocal law enforcement and judicial co-operation in criminal matters with a view to delivering strong operational capabilities for the purposes of prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences”.
Our law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies are very hard-pressed at the moment trying to keep up with the growth of violence and crime in our communities. This is not the time to deprive them of the tools which they have developed over the past decade in collaboration with their European colleagues. The families of those who will inevitably be the victims of violent crime over the next decade will never forgive that. We must not let them down.