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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:40 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 5:40 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, I spoke in the December debate and have no intention of wearying your Lordships by repeating what I said then. Indeed, I can only suppose that what I said then remains imprinted indelibly on your Lordships’ recollection. The reason I am speaking again is the vital change in the terms of the opposition Motion put down in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. In the earlier debate, I strongly supported an amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Butler to the then Motion from the noble Baroness. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, made plain that, like a good many of us, he supports the Prime Minister’s deal as the best, or least bad, option or outcome now available, its deficiencies being necessarily implicit in the result of the 2016 referendum—a result which many of us regretted, continue to regret and have long recognised could have no happy ending.

Those of us supporting the deal agreed entirely with the first two limbs of the original Motion from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith: that it is for the House of Commons rather than this House eventually to decide this matter, and that a no-deal outcome—to call it a “managed no deal” is really nothing short of oxymoronic—would be bad news and must be rejected. The problem was that the last limb, the regret part of the Motion, was in such extreme terms and so fiercely condemnatory of the deal now on offer that we could not have voted for that Motion consistently with our wish to encourage the House of Commons to accept the deal on offer. Although her Motion still regrets the damage that Brexit under the proposed terms will cause, it now does so in far from the same extreme terms, and I have concluded—as I understand it, this is exactly what my noble friend Lord Butler has likewise concluded—that we can in good conscience sign up to it consistently with our support for the deal.

The simple fact is that I continue to regret the decision to leave and continue to believe that it will damage us as a nation, but I nevertheless strongly believe that this deal is now the best available outcome and that the various suggested alternatives are worse and put too much at risk. For anyone interested in why I think that and why I have moved away from the earlier support I gave to the proposal for a second referendum, I refer to my speech on 6 December —or, better still, to the speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and my noble friend Lord Butler on 5 December, reported in Hansard at cols. 999 and 1085 respectively.

I shall now vote for the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, but on the explicit basis that I support the deal now on offer. Now is the moment for decision for your Lordships no less than for the Members of the House of Commons. It is now simply too late to try to keep other options open; too late to indulge in criticisms easily made of the Government’s process of negotiations over the last couple of years—criticisms of the Government for not having got the 27 to offer us a better deal. This deal, I respectfully suggest to your Lordships, should, however reluctantly, be accepted and the Commons urged to accept it too.