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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:04 pm on 9th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Finance Bill Sub-Committee 6:04 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, I have huge admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, but I am afraid I do not agree with much that he had to say, surprisingly enough. It has been a very interesting debate, in which he talked about angels and the horsemen of the apocalypse and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury talked about the arrangement for lorries crossing the border from Calais, in contradiction to the man who actually runs the Port of Calais.

I want to draw your Lordships’ attention to a cliff edge—not the insubstantial and imaginary creation of Project Fear, but a real one. The north face of the Eiger is a 6,000-foot sheer wall of rock and ice. In 1936, a young German, Andreas Hinterstoisser, attempted a first ascent. He was a brilliant rock climber and cleverly traversed an impossibly smooth section of ice-covered rock high up on the mountain by swinging on a rope in a pendulum motion to a lower point on the other side. Today it is known as the Hinterstoisser Traverse in his honour. Unfortunately, gravity meant that it was not possible to reverse the manoeuvre and when he and his companions were forced to retreat by a storm, they were trapped and tragically perished.

The decision by the House of Commons, by 544 votes to 53, to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union, and the subsequent vote to trigger Article 50, by 494 votes to 122 and to set a date in law to leave on 29 March is the constitutional equivalent of the Hinterstoisser Traverse. There is no turning back without putting our democracy in serious peril, as pointed out in a brilliant speech by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and by my noble friend Lord Dobbs. The Government would do well to follow the advice given by the former leader of our party, my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, in our debate before Christmas. He has asked me to say how much he regrets not being able to be here today. We should try to amend the deal, perhaps by accepting the offer made by Mr Barnier to have a free trade Canada-plus-style agreement and repeated on numerous occasions. While getting on with that, we need to start discussions now with the EU in parallel, to make our transition to trading on WTO terms as smooth as possible for both the EU and ourselves.

The Prime Minister’s deal, I regret to say, is completely unacceptable. It is not just because of the backstop. The House of Commons has no right to surrender our right to govern ourselves. Unionist parties should never risk the integrity of the United Kingdom. Nor is it responsible, when we have so many other priorities, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, pointed out, to borrow £39 billion to pay the EU for a political declaration that is long on aspiration, short on commitments and leaves us without a fig leaf to cover our nakedness in future negotiations which require unanimity. The international treaty we are asked to sign hands over the cash and leaves us at the mercy of every member state. It is hewn from rock, while our interests and demands are written in water.

I have longed for the day when we could be free of the job-destroying, enterprise-crushing European Union since I first attended European Council of Ministers meetings and saw how they operated. It is genuinely puzzling to me how people can believe that our future lies with this deal, which would leave us out of the EU but being run by the EU—an organisation disintegrating before our eyes. At the end of last year we saw Paris in flames at le weekend, Italy in revolt and extremists prospering throughout Europe, fanned by a political integration project which only the elite desire.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, who is not in his place, and some other Peers in the previous debate cited the importance of our young people and their future in defence of their determination to reverse Brexit. Thank goodness our youngsters have been spared the criminal rates of youth unemployment that Spain, Greece, Italy, France and others have endured as a result of economic and monetary union. Three cheers for Gordon Brown, who resisted the CBI and the same establishment gang who are a Greek chorus for this deal—many of whom are now here in your Lordships’ House—and who told us that we would lose the City to Frankfurt and face economic ruin if we did not join the euro. Think where we would be if we had taken their advice.

I say to the Liberals who plead for another referendum: what would the question be? If the choice is between the PM’s deal and remaining in the EU, it is a choice between remain and remain plus emasculation. If a third option of no deal is added, it is a rigged vote. This deal is a trap that leaves us worse off than now and utterly betrays the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, told us, as many have, that we need to compromise, but compromise means settling for less than you want for something better, not something worse. The deal is like the little boxes that we used to see around this place to catch the mice. They go in and cannot get out and wait patiently for someone to dispatch them. But the Prime Minister’s mousetrap could run for longer than Agatha Christie’s, prolonging the uncertainty that business and the public want ended.

So, as Ministers say on the “Today” programme, with differing degrees of success these days, let me be absolutely clear: I do not like this deal. It certainly is not in the national interest to enter into a legally binding agreement from which we will have no unilateral right to withdraw, to bind the hands of future Parliaments and to make us reliant on the permission of a foreign power or court to fulfil our manifesto promises. Nor is it in the national interest to risk fracturing our United Kingdom by making Northern Ireland a rule-taker in further areas, including goods, agricultural products and VAT. It is a gift to the Scottish separatists and, along with the sell-out on fishing rights, a slap in the face for the 13 Scottish Tory MPs elected to preserve our union.

The backstop is a back stab for the Democratic Unionist Party, which was assured that no unionist—indeed, no Prime Minister—could ever countenance a border in the Irish Sea. It betrays the trust of the British people, breaking the promise given by a Conservative Government—indeed, by all political parties—that they would implement whatever the people decided in the referendum. Now we have even members of the Cabinet openly campaigning against it and promoting a Norway solution, which they themselves rubbished during the referendum campaign. Their message is, “It was necessary for us to leave in order to remain”.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, in an astonishing feat and against all the odds, scaled the north face of the Eiger in 2007. He was not a trained climber, he suffers from vertigo and his left hand is missing its fingertips, which he sawed off himself after suffering frostbite. I asked him how on earth he managed this highly technical climb on the most vertical face in the Alps. He said that he was determined to get to the top, wanted to raise funds for Marie Curie and did not want to let down the great team supporting him. “What about the vertigo?” I said? “Oh”, he said, “I just tried not to look down”. I do not know what Ran’s views on Brexit are, but this is the kind of courage, commitment and leadership that our country deserves and needs now.