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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 2:58 pm on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative 2:58 pm, 6th December 2018

My Lords, I think this debate should be run on the famous “Just a Minute” rule of no repetition, because there has been a certain amount. I shall try not to repeat things I have said before, and probably fail—I had better sit down now.

In this very fraught and difficult debate, I have heard some quite excellent speeches. Some I agree with, some I do not: I cannot pretend that I shall emulate them. It is of course invidious to name names, but I will name two. One is the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who took a very incisive look at where our society is. I was impressed, although I did not agree with everything we said. The other is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who is in his place and whose exposition, having read the Hansard report of the debate in 2015 in the other place setting up the referendum, was absolutely excellent—I may refer to it later.

I shall make four points, all interrelated. First, trust in politicians is being destroyed. There is no doubt about that. The relationship between Parliament and the people, between the governors—the Government—and the governed seems to be becoming very shaky. We should all worry about that. We pledged to implement the result of the referendum. I am probably a rabid Brexiteer in the minds of some because I think that, having pledged something, you should stick to it. This deal, I regret to say, does not implement the pledges we have made. The Prime Minister said, “We will not be half in, nor half out”. I fear that we are with this deal. Both the Labour and Conservative manifestos said we would leave the customs union, but we will still be there. The jurisdiction of the ECJ remains. I could, of course, go on. All these broken policies do is tell people that we are not to be trusted. They do untold harm to the relationship between Parliament and the people.

My second point is linked. It is the second referendum that some people are calling for. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, just call for one. I think referendums are a shocking idea. We live in a parliamentary representative democracy which has served this country very well. It has developed very well over centuries. But we had a referendum. It was all agreed. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, pointed out that everybody said it was a frightfully good idea—it was 10 to one in the Commons—and we all agreed to implement the result. Now primarily those who did not like the result want another one. Have they taken leave of their senses? The poison and division that has been created by Brexit will be exacerbated by endless continuing arguments. We are told business wants certainty. There is no certainty with another referendum in another six months and all of that. It is an abrogation of democracy to call for a second referendum, especially by those who pretend in their title to be democrats. The anger and division that would be created should not be underestimated by any of us.

The EU loves second referendums. I remember the Danish referendum on Maastricht in 1992. They got it wrong and were told to go away and get it right. There have been two referendums in Ireland, I think on the Nice and Lisbon treaties. Again, they got it wrong and were told to go and think again. France and the Netherlands voted no to the proposed EU constitution in 2005, so the constitution was brought back disguised as the Lisbon treaty. A second referendum is denying the right of the people to decide, and we promised them that they would make the decision.

My third point is that we need to finish this nightmare of Brexit which is preoccupying the body politic and the people and, frankly, boring Parliament and the people to death. We hear that the whole time. This deal leads to endless further argument. There is no end to it, and there is no end date set in the deal. Business wants clarity. The people want clarity, and they want to move on. There is no clarity in this deal.

My fourth point is about the deal itself. We have heard about the backstop, and I shall not go into it. I am not quite sure what Macron thinks he can get on fishing or what the Spanish think they can get on Gibraltar, but it certainly is not all signed, sealed and delivered. It relies on the “good faith” and “best endeavours” of our partners. I am afraid those two terms butter no parsnips, to mix metaphors. We throw ourselves on the good will of the Commission. I regret to say that Juncker and Barnier seem to have shown remarkably little good will towards us so far.

I am going to quote at length from Sam Gyimah, whom I know a little bit, who was a remainer and who very bravely resigned last Saturday because he saw at first hand the negotiations that he was having over Galileo. I shall quote from an article he wrote. The negotiation,

“was stacked against us from the very beginning. But Galileo is only a foretaste of what’s to come under the Government’s Brexit deal. Having surrendered our voice, our vote and our veto, we will have to rely on the ‘best endeavours’ of the EU to strike a final agreement that works in our national interest. … I have seen first-hand the EU stack the deck against us time and time again … we must take a clear-eyed view on the strength of our position. So far, the EU has been able to set the timetable, the sequencing and the hurdles to be cleared at each stage of Brexit, limiting our room for manoeuvre … In these … negotiations our interests will be repeatedly and permanently hammered by the EU27 for many years to come. Britain will end up worse off, transformed from rule makers into rule takers”.

That is the reality of the negotiations we have been having. The Prime Minister’s ex-chief of staff, Nick Timothy, refers to this capitulation. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who is not in his place, said on Monday, I think it was, that it was humiliating. I cannot support this deal for that reason.

We all want to have good relations with our neighbours to avoid conflict, apart from anything else. We all want to trade with our neighbours for mutual—I say again “mutual”— prosperity. That is why in 1975 I voted to stay in the common market. Two years ago, the people voted to leave so that they were not ruled by the EU. They might want to be in Europe, because we always will be in Europe geographically, but not to be run by Europe, to coin a phrase.

If our so-called friends will not deal sensibly, we should leave on WTO terms. That is not necessarily ideal, but we trade around the world. I had blueberries from Peru for breakfast and, as far as I am aware, we do not have a trade deal with Peru. We trade with India, Japan, China and the US. We have some trade deals with them through the EU, but nevertheless we can trade around the world.

I wish the EU well. I wish it were reciprocated. I fear for the future of the EU. I will just mention the euro crisis—do not worry; I know—which will come back. I make no predictions about what will happen, but there are terrible things ahead, I fear, for the euro. There are lots of problems in Europe—I will not enumerate them as I do not have time—but Brussels seems to be going in one direction and the peoples of Europe in the other.

What deeply saddens me is the lack of confidence in our great country. It is not perfect, but it is pretty good, which is why so many people want to come and live here. I have confidence in our country and our people. Parliament entrusted the decision in a referendum to the people and they chose. In this unelected and unaccountable House, where I have to say some people do not seem very self-aware, I still say: trust the people.