Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:32 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Crossbench 5:32 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, I am sad to have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, with whom I very often agree. I had intended not to speak, but we are now less than three months from the deadline, so I feel that I have to add something. I am so shocked and alarmed by the feeling of drift and national crisis shared by many people outside Parliament and the failure to make decisions which are more important than any made since the Second World War. I do not resile from mentioning the Second World War, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, says.

I feel like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, somewhat trapped in the situation in which we are today. I am of course well aware that the decisions have to be made in the other place. There is no question of a veto, but this House has a responsibility to advise, and that is what we are doing today.

Sitting as a Cross-Bencher, I watch the toing and froing of the political parties, the major disagreements and divisions within the two major parties and the resulting acrimony. I am not the only person to watch it. Many of the public feel badly let down by the level of hostility and infighting by our elected representatives, and deserve better from Parliament.

It seems impossible to me—and, I think, to others—that, if the withdrawal agreement is voted down in the other place, we can scramble together an alternative sufficient agreement with any of the immediate consequential legislation in under the three months remaining. We should support those Members of the other place, leavers and remainers, who have—in my opinion, properly—called for the Prime Minister to rule out a no-deal exit on 29 March. This House too should do everything we can to prevent that.

To avoid this impending crisis and the sense of rising panic that preparations for no deal are engendering, the Government should either ask the EU for an extension of Article 50 for at least a year or unilaterally revoke Article 50. The European court has ruled that we can do this, as my noble friend Lord Kerr said today. These proposals might possibly need to be put to the people in another referendum. I am not particularly supportive of referenda but I cannot understand how a single referendum is a total block on any further discussion of our relationship with the European Union, or how a further referendum can possibly be seen as undemocratic. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Reid, who asked just before Christmas why we could not have a further referendum, when we have regular elections. The last referendum cannot be set in stone: in my view such an approach is itself undemocratic. If the people vote for an agreement that entails us leaving the European Union, we can reissue Article 50 and leave on those terms.

I recognise that my suggestion will provoke an outcry among the most fervent Brexiteers, but my impression is that many in the other place—and possibly a few in this House—have not yet faced reality. The problems before us have got beyond party politics. The time has now come for MPs in all parties to look across party lines and put the best interests of our country before political manoeuvres. After an extension or revocation of Article 50 a cross-party solution must be found that does not impact adversely on the poor and would meet with approval within and outside Parliament. However difficult and protracted that process might be, the British public have every right to expect Parliament in this crisis to act responsibly and guide us through the best route possible to protect our national and international interests.