Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:08 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Conservative 9:08 pm, 5th December 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. We have had a long day and I have been given a very short straw. I want to make three points but before I do so I should declare an interest. I voted for Brexit with terrific enthusiasm. As I thought back, the first time I ever debated publicly in favour of Brexit was with Sir Christopher Soames when he was a European Commissioner back in the 1970s. At least I have a track record of some consistency.

In a debate such as this, we can easily become bogged down in the technicalities of economic forecasts or legal protocols. If I had been asked to a make a speech such as this pre the referendum, it would have been a very different kind of speech. It would have been very gung-ho in putting a strong case for Brexit.

However, I have been profoundly impressed by the referendum. It gave a voice to people. They spoke loudly and clearly, and it exposed the deep divisions in our society—on which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke eloquently this morning. These divisions will not be solved by the technicalities of customs unions, tariffs and so on; they go much deeper. When the Prime Minister says of Brexit that we are taking back our borders, our laws and our money, that is a vision of the kind of society we want to be; it is not just about the technicalities of trade and economics.

It would be a terrible mistake if we did not realise that, in this move, we are handing something on to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Therefore, the debate must have breadth. It is about society, culture and our values—about being at one with ourselves as a society as well as where we go economically. It needs a long time horizon. We are doing something which has at least a 50-year time horizon.

One thing that I have missed in the debate, not least from people who would be pro Brexit, is a sense of hope. What we do must give hope for the average person in Britain that their future can be better than the past.

The worst option that we now have—I hate to say it because it seems as if I am attacking political opponents when I am not; I say it because I really believe it—is a second referendum or a people’s vote. The vote was constitutional; it was approved by both Houses. It was a simple question. The rules regarding the result were known in advance. There was a clear majority. No election or referendum that I have taken part in ever exposed all the potential questions connected with it, and this was no different. A new referendum would undermine trust. Already the political class of which we are part is discredited. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York was reported in the press as saying—he was after all a High Court judge in the country of his birth—such a lack of trust leads to a permanent loss of confidence in political institutions and the road to civil unrest and violence.

I make my third point with a slightly heavy heart. I have been very critical of the Prime Minister. Yet, as I look at the alternatives, I see that all of them involve risk. Frankly, even if there was a second referendum and we went back into the EU, that would involve risk as well. I have come to feel that the deal is the best we can do at present. It is on the table and it has taken two years to get here. I agree with former civil servants who have said in this House that the civil servants who have been negotiating have integrity. Against that background, I am now strongly in favour of supporting the Prime Minister, even though there are many qualifications that one would want to make. The main advantage as I see it is that we leave the EU. There are risks going forward that we have to face then.

Finally, I would like to give a personal note; I do not often make these. This is the end of the day, but I will go back to the beginning of the day. I do not often make Prayers in this House. During the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle’s Prayers this morning—the two psalms that we read, and the prayers, which were followed by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—I was particularly struck by them saying that our prayers are real. I was struck by our praying, first, to lay aside prejudices—that really hit me between me between the eyes—secondly, for wisdom greater than our own; and thirdly, that we should have above all, as we approach the subject, humility.

Debate adjourned until tomorrow.

House adjourned at 9.16 pm.