Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:29 pm on 6th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord James of Blackheath Lord James of Blackheath Conservative 4:29 pm, 6th December 2018

My Lords, I start with an expression of regret at the circumstances of this debate. It is very unfortunate that we appear to have left it to the Commons—alone, in isolation and unaided—and I am not sure that I have that degree of trust in it to pass on its own an independent conclusion that does not attempt to foreshadow what we have said here. I have carefully monitored the opinions of this House for the last two days and, from those who have spoken, it is by no means certain that there would not be a majority in favour of supporting it. I do not want the Commons to get the idea that it can claim a proxy consent from us and go ahead without any further reference. There is a whole new chapter beyond next week, and we need to be part of it. This debate has been fine, but this is not an end for us; we must have another chapter to come.

Where do I stand on this? I was a Brexit voter at the time and I have seen nothing whatever to alter my opinion since. I think there would be a big surprise for all noble Lords contending the need for a new vote. I think the mood of the country has hardened, and the vote for Brexit would go up, not down. That is my gut reaction.

I took great interest in the comments of my noble friend Lord Robathan earlier this afternoon. He made two wonderfully perceptive comments. He noted that every previous attempt by anybody to run a referendum against the European Union’s interests had resulted in it being taken to a second referendum and defeated. Yes, the circumstances were different, but the unique feature is that nobody has ever gone on to run the second referendum. I think we would find ourselves with a very different issue.

The best outcome I would prefer to see is that for the present we do nothing but carry on negotiating. Europe has never had to put up with a second innings; it has never followed on. They do not play cricket over there. I would like to see them follow on and have to put up with a very big score against them this time round. I think we should do that. They have no experience of how to run a debate on a second round, and I think we should really hammer it to them. And this time, can we please have a bit of respect? We have had no respect yet. They have treated us completely as though we can be pushed around as they want, and we cannot. It is time to stand firm on all of that.

They do not recognise two important factors about us, and they do not want to know. First, we are a sovereignty, and they do not know what sovereignties are. They are all republican—they are republics. There is no collective word for republics, but I offer the word snaffle as a good descriptive word, because they are a bunch of snafflers. From my point of view, we should give them the lesson of inflicting on them another round of intense and very annoying debates. I would like those debates to concentrate on giving them a lesson in what a sovereign constitution actually means.

The way this has gone at the moment, I think the House of Commons is committing an act of treason by even recognising the ability to negotiate a treaty in which its own God-given right by the Bill of Rights is being breached. The one great power our Parliament has is that it is omniscient in all things. The only thing it cannot do is limit its own powers. That is what this Bill would do, because it would continue to endorse what came in with the treaty of Madrid and would carry that on as though it were permanent for ever. That, in my view, is treason. I would not wish to go to Her Majesty and put that to her. Under the oath we have all taken on coming into this House, anybody who took that line forward from here would be committing treason. I will not do it. I will go to the barriers—with anybody who will come with me—before I do that.

Beyond that, we have to recognise that we have got to try to change the emphasis in how they think of us. It is strange that in all of this there have been three references to the fact that we are an island. We know we are an island. It is almost as though they have just discovered it for themselves. General de Gaulle said: “No, no, no. We do not want Britain in; they are an island”. Mr Macron recently said: “Of course they would say that; they are an island”. One of the other people did as well. Yes, we are an island and a trading island. We survive, as all islands do, by trade. We should have every assistance in continuing to do that.

We are also the island that three times in the last 200 years has provided the means of putting together an alliance which has rescued Europe from itself. As Sir Lewis Namier, professor of history at Manchester 25 to 30 years ago, said, the fact that we are an island is the unique feature that means we have saved Europe. They have to put us back in the position to continue to be the positive benefit for them that they do not see us as today.

They need a history lesson. That should be the first part of resuming our dialogue with them. In 1815, we rescued them from Napoleon. I wonder how many of your Lordships recognise that Nelson’s Column stands today on exactly the position that the post-revolutionary Government had marked to mount the guillotine where they were going to march the entire occupants of the House of Commons and House of Lords for one last embrace. We did not win the Second World War or the First World War, but we were the island that put together the alliances that did. They need to remember that. I hope they never need another alliance, but they can send us an email if they ever want us to try again. We will be around.

We would like to be a prosperous, trading island. We need some sense on that and some respect for what we are. We are not a defeated nation, and Europe should cease trying to look upon us and treat us as such. We are a nation that is proud of its achievements, survival, people and monarchy. Hands off: we do not want any interference with it. We keep what we have, and it is good for you in Europe, too, so get used to it.

It has been a long debate. I have gathered a very strong impression that there is a willingness in this House to support what is on the table at present, but we should not take it until we have hammered away at getting it improved. I am sure that it can be improved, but we have got to take the initiative more strongly than we have.