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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and I congratulate her on all the work she does for the people’s vote.
It is difficult to know where to begin, when an ending seems so close yet still out of sight. In the debate in this House after the referendum decision of June 2016, I expressed deep concerns about the divisions in our country, the growing intolerance of difference and different opinions, the depiction of migrants as a threat to our way of life and, in particular, the bloated promises made to the public by senior politicians, who have since, one by one, either left the ship in which they gnawed a hole, or remained in post and singularly failed to deliver the promises and cast-iron guarantees that they offered.
Politicians were not alone in constructing this narrative. Aided and abetted by over 40 years of drip-drip anti-EU propaganda from the majority of the printed media in this country, these newspapers—largely with offshore or foreign owners—swung into top gear and warned that unless we left the EU, our way of life would be under threat. Indeed, they told us that it was already under threat, and the cards of narrow nationalism and xenophobia were thrown onto the referendum gaming table, as legal migrants from the EU were paraded as a threat. Those migrants are people and our friends, who work alongside us in these buildings, who are our neighbours and who work in every part of the fabric of our daily lives. To our national shame, these good and decent people were paraded as a threat. These EU citizens have a right to be here, as we have a right to be in other EU countries. They abide by the rules, paying their dues and their taxes, and threatening no one.
As I said in our first debate, I woke up on
This is the United Kingdom we have become, and I still feel the sense of alienation I felt as a Member of your Lordships’ House as I and others sought to defend the protection of fundamental rights and were met with, in some instances, laughter and then disdain. I listened as some blamed the EU for the rise of rampant nationalism in Hungary and Poland and, either through wilful misrepresentation or ignorance-driven prejudice, failed to recognise that it is precisely through the legislation of the EU that citizens and minorities are protected in these countries, and that any transgression is not from the European Union but from national Governments exercising their independence and sovereignty. Indeed, now provisions under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union are being considered against Hungary and Poland.
Need I remind anyone that the European Union has written the European Convention on Human Rights and other conventions into its legislative fabric, which every member state or accession state must ratify and abide by? But no—it is far easier to blame the institutions of the EU, which do not defend themselves, than to recognise the democratic nature of the European Union: a democratically elected European Parliament and the European Council, made of democratically elected Governments acting in concert. No legislation proposed by the European Commission can ever be adopted unless it is amended and agreed jointly, by the Council and the Parliament. If there is a democratic deficit, it is in the way that some member states failed to hold themselves accountable to their national parliaments for votes and agreements made in Council. I do not know about the time when the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, served in the European Parliament, but during my 15 years there I had to take part in trialogues, negotiating with the Commission, and there had to be agreement, otherwise the legislation fell. All this is relevant, because if we are to move on and heal the divisions, we must be honest about our role in the European Union and about what we achieve when we pool sovereignty, whether in the EU or, to take another example, NATO. We must be honest that every deal, trade deal or otherwise, entails a degree of loss of sovereignty, but it is about what we gain by so doing.
There is no strength in delusional isolation. The Empire has gone, and wishing it back will not bring it here. That is why the deal on offer is unacceptable, even if it is the best of the worst. It leaves us worse off and families abandoned and isolated, and, as the most reverend Primate reminded us, those least able to cope will be asked to carry the economic and social burdens. There will be cuts and more cuts, and be certain that the EU will be blamed, as will—nudge, nudge, wink, wink—foreigners.
Are families protected? Are our citizens living in the EU 27, and EU citizens who have made their homes here, protected? Will mutual recognition of judgment in custody cases, divorce proceedings and maintenance issues be protected? Will the benefits that we have accrued by working together be protected? No—but do not take my word for it. I refer your Lordships to paragraphs 95 to 97 of the European Union Committee report on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration, the deep concerns expressed about repercussions for family law in paragraph 238, and the concerns regarding human rights and the European Convention on Human Rights expressed in paragraph 197.
In conclusion, we must be honest with the public: what they were sold is not deliverable unless they are willing to pay huge costs and inflict losses on future generations. There has indeed been a failure of political leadership. We have two options: we either suspend Article 50 and form a Government of national unity to sort out this utterly predictable mess, or we put the deal to the British people and ask them to accept the realities and responsibilities of the decision to leave the EU. If this is the best deal that the Government can achieve, give the British people the final say on whether it is acceptable.