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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:52 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour 5:52 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, referred to Project Fear, a theme that has been repeated many times during our debates. I begin by saying that Project Fear is not limited to one side in the debate on this subject. I was due to speak in the debate on 10 December and was one of the casualties unable to do so because of the postponement of business at that time. On that very day, in an article in the Times, David Davis talked about us being,

“trapped indefinitely as a virtual prisoner of the EU, obeying its laws unless it gives permission for us to leave”.

He talked of the EU imposing its will on Gibraltar, imposing unrestricted immigration and having a “whip hand” in the negotiations. That seems to me very much like Project Fear. I urge people on both sides of the debate not to talk about Project Fear and not to rubbish the real concerns expressed by industry, our universities and some of our most important scientists by simply waving them away as Project Fear. That is a disservice to the voters and to democracy.

Our colleagues in the House of Commons have a difficult time ahead. Many of them are challenged by the positions taken by their party leaders and their party Whips, and, importantly, by how their constituencies voted in the referendum two years ago. How much do they simply reflect their constituents’ voting patterns and how much do they try to persuade them of their own views, which may be contrary in whatever direction?

I welcome the vote that took place in the House of Commons yesterday. It is an important step in standing up against a no-deal outcome. Already, however, those MPs who had the courage to vote in the way that they did—particularly the Conservative rebels—have been pilloried in the press. One headline today claimed: “They really do want to steal your Brexit”. In fact, the vote was not against Brexit as such but against a no-deal Brexit, and that ought to be made absolutely clear. As our public representatives, Members of Parliament have the responsibility to say and do what they think is in the best interests of our country. That has to be very much in the forefront of their minds as they approach the votes in the coming days.

I hope that, in the course of those votes, our colleagues in the other place will come out very strongly against no deal. I also hope that they might be willing to consider a delay to the exit date, given the current chaos, which makes the imminence of 29 March very alarming indeed. As others have said, I hope they will consider asking the people to give their view on the outcome of negotiations and whether they want to accept the deal that has been put forward or would prefer to remain in the European Union. It is with a heavy heart I say that. Like many others, I do not like referendums, but I accept the logic that, if the process began with a referendum, it makes sense for it to conclude with a referendum and for people to vote on the situation they are now confronted with.

Interestingly, earlier, the Minister had a go at Nick Clegg for saying that he wanted only one referendum and did not want another one afterwards. My understanding is that John Redwood, David Davis and even Jacob Rees-Mogg have, on occasions in the past, called for two votes. They have not repeated that since the referendum result in 2016, but they are certainly on record before that date calling for two referendums.

I agree strongly with the concluding remarks of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. It is absurd to say that democracy stopped in 2016 at the time of the referendum. Democracy does not have a best-before or use-by date; it is an ongoing process. If circumstances change and if the will of the people changes, that must be expressed, in either a general election or a referendum.

Finally, I hope very much that this House will approve the Motion tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith. It would enable us as a House to express a clear view on this situation, which we are of course entitled to as the debate moves forward to the other place and to the important votes that will take place there.