EU Council - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:11 pm on 17th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 7:11 pm, 17th December 2018

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The following seems to me an accurate summary of the current situation:

Downing Street has stopped selling the Prime Minister’s flawed deal. Instead we have displacement activity designed to distract from last week’s failed renegotiation and a concerted attempt to discredit every plausible alternative as they run down the clock. This is not in the national interest”.

These are not my words but those of Sam Gyimah, until recently a member of the Government, speaking earlier this afternoon. They sum up the Statement and the current impasse precisely. The Prime Minister did not achieve anything of substance at last week’s Council and is offering no prospect of any change to the backstop provision which stands the remotest chance of assuaging her opponents on her own Benches, far less any opposition MPs. The arithmetic in the Commons is the same as it was last week and will remain so, even if the Prime Minister gets one or two further general, vague assurances from the EU in the coming weeks.

In these circumstances, to wait four weeks for any meaningful vote in the Commons—almost 30% of the time remaining until 29 March—is immensely irresponsible and clearly not in the national interest. I hope the Leader of the House will be able to tell us what the Government’s timetable is for the resumed debate on the deal in your Lordships’ House and when she expects us to be able to vote on it.

When we had our unfinished debate on the Government’s deal, I said that an election would fail to clarify matters because it would be fought by three Conservative Parties. I must apologise to the House. There are not three views of Brexit in the Conservative Party. There are now four different views being expounded by members of the Cabinet alone on the airwaves and in the press. Collective responsibility has completely disappeared, for the truth is that the Government have collapsed. On Brexit, there is no Cabinet agreement on anything. Beyond Brexit, as the Select Committee chairs forcefully pointed out over the weekend, there is no progress on any domestic policy reforms at all, because Brexit is, in their words “sucking the life out of the Government”. In normal circumstances, the Opposition would be rampant. They certainly have every justification for calling a vote of no confidence this week.

I gather that the Opposition are indeed now tabling some sort of vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, but it seems unclear quite what it means. I am tempted to say, “Nothing much new there, then”.

Let us see whether there is a substantive no confidence vote. If there were, whatever its outcome, it would have the advantage of narrowing down the options we now face. Of all of them, the Prime Minister has today decided particularly to attack the concept of a referendum. In her Statement, she says that such a vote would be extremely damaging,

“because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver”.

But that is precisely the point. The Prime Minister’s deal—indeed, any conceivable deal—could not deliver on the promises of the 2016 referendum, which were grounded in fantasy, not reality. That is why people are so disillusioned, why a majority now want to have the final say, and why they say that they would reject her deal and vote to remain if given such a say. By delaying a meaningful vote for four weeks, the Prime Minister is merely delaying the inevitable. She really should just get on with it.