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Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:40 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 2:40 pm, 6th December 2018

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. She mentioned climate change. I will talk about climate change and then about UK citizens in the EU.

It is an awful irony that, as we sit here discussing internal UK miseries and divisions, decision-makers from the rest of the world are gathered in Poland, trying to work out how to avert the climate change disaster facing us. As Sir David Attenborough has said, it is the worst threat to life on earth as we know it. What a contrast to 2008, when the UK led the world with the Climate Change Act.

Here in the UK, all our political energy and will has been squandered by the Conservative Party, which is refighting fractures from the 20th century. It is no surprise to me that our younger generation, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, and my noble friend Lady Kramer spoke so eloquently, is so disillusioned and angry. It is their future and their children’s. It is not our future now; we have had our chance. The future is already precarious given climate change, and now we are about to stack more odds against the younger generation with an economic future that everyone agrees is worse and much more limited in terms of study, travel and opportunity. That is why I get so angry when people, such as noble Lords opposite, speak glibly of the will of the people having decided Brexit. It was overwhelmingly the will of the old people.

I see no reason why a people’s vote, based on the information of what the future actually looks like, should be construed as anti-democratic. The same people who say that such a vote would be undemocratic talk of taking back sovereignty. The fact is that, in this globalised world, sovereignty is not of the same value and does not have the same meaning as it did in 1918. Brexiteers talk about WTO rules: that is taking someone else’s rules, generally with much lower standards for the food we eat and the air we breathe.

I am sure noble Lords will remember what the UK was called before we joined the EU: the dirty man of Europe. Belonging to the EU meant we had to clean up our beaches and our water. That work is ongoing. Even the Thames, flowing past us now, still suffers becoming an open sewer every time it rains very heavily. The Thames tideway tunnel is now being constructed due to the EU and my noble friend Lady Ludford, who has ensured, through the EU, that Londoners are finally getting a decent, clean river all of the time.

EU standards and a willingness to enforce them have made an incredible difference to public health, but that work is far from finished, as air quality in many of our cities proves. I do not feel that the deal before us, which weakens co-operation and undermines the scientific community, as we have heard from many in your Lordships’ House involved in that community, will help us to deliver a cleaner environment or tackle the overwhelming threat of climate change.

I turn to the position of UK citizens in Europe and, in doing so, I declare my interests as in the register. This deal provides insufficient protection of citizens’ rights. It does not protect freedom of movement in the EU 27. It fundamentally undermines democratic rights. Britons in France, for example, will no longer have the right to vote even in municipal elections, nor can many of them vote in the UK anymore because the Conservatives reneged on their promise to deliver votes for life. They will be voteless.

What if there is no deal? When the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, UK nationals in the EU will immediately have only the rights of third country nationals. Just yesterday our EU Committee published its report. I quote paragraph 97:

“It remains far from clear what would happen to EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Throughout the negotiations, we have called on the Government to give a clear and unilateral assurance that all EU nationals in the UK would be entitled to stay and retain their rights”.

When the future is so precarious politically and it is so hard to foresee what will happen, can the Government actually give certainty to EU nationals in the UK by giving that clear and unilateral assurance? That by itself would undoubtedly help the position of UK citizens in the EU too—a point that those UK citizens have often made. What possible reason can the Government have to delay giving that assurance? When the Minister comes to reply on Monday, could he make sure that that assurance is given?