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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:04 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee 7:04 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, the great paradox today is that everyone comes here to lament uncertainty, yet, 930 days after the referendum, hundreds of people—Members of this Parliament—come to Westminster every day to debate and plot how to prolong uncertainty. The truth is that if we want to end uncertainty swiftly we can cut the Gordian knot, make a clean break—as Parliament has already voted to do—and leave on 29 March. Frankly, millions of people would delight to wake up on 30 March not having to hear the name Juncker ever again. Clouds of uncertainty and the stench of increasingly incomprehensible parliamentary intrigue would begin to dispel on the breezes of a British spring.

I do not accept a commination, from whatever quarter it may come, that that choice is not a moral one. I was taught in a Christian home to keep my word, and “leave” is a short, English word. I agreed with the powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. No one who loves this country and Parliament could view the present constitutional crisis without deep sadness. In the past we have had Peers against the people, but this is the first time—with the arguable exception of the 1640s—that we have had a crisis of Parliament against the people.

We had the people’s vote that Parliament voted for; we heard the verdict Parliament asked for in referendum and general election. Yet, since then, instead of acting as required, a majority in this Parliament have behaved as if the British people had never spoken. No wonder there is disillusionment with politics. We are also seeing the emergence in Britain of a separate political class, embedded in the comfort zone of a wider capital establishment. Perhaps this flows in part from a new sense of untouchability. Those in this House are not elected but now those in another place, who for the first time since the 17th century cannot be dissolved except by their own will, know they are secure for years and can play whatever games they choose.

How extraordinary it seems that this great Parliament, having been asked by the people to recover powers for itself to make our own rules and laws, should shy away from what our predecessors in this place fought for, for generations. Have we so little trust in ourselves and in our nation’s capacity? How shaming and arrogant I find it that, at the same time, we duck and weave to evade the choice of the electorate in 2016 and 2017. Frankly, I have led too sheltered a life to know much about swingers but I do know a little about the Vicar of Bray. A promise given should be kept. Have we so little trust in the people and their good sense? This way no good lies for the future of our Parliament.

There are only two ways to end swiftly the uncertainty that everybody laments and which has dragged on for two and a half years. The answer is not this deal, which, far from ending uncertainty, ties us into years of more negotiation on unfavourable terms with no guarantee that the torment or EU interference in our affairs will ever end. It is certainly not a second referendum, which, far from healing, would scour our body politic further, and it is not delaying the date of leaving. Does anyone believe that most of those who voted to remove 29 March from our law would ever reinstate another date? The two choices to end uncertainty swiftly are these: to ignore the people, reverse Article 50 and stay in; or to respect the decision already taken by Parliament and people and come out on 29 March—not with “no deal” as it is absurdly styled but on WTO terms, on which most of the world trades.

We could offer a no-tariff arrangement with the EU for a limited period while seeking negotiation for a Canada-style deal—a deal already offered and which might be easier to strike after the European elections in May. I see little sense in shackling ourselves to the ancien regime in what may be the 1788 of the federalists’ ever-closer union.

The BBC talks of falling off a cliff; that is the modern equivalent of the flat earth theory, disproved by an Italian working for Spaniards and ready to sail uncharted waters long before anyone thought we needed 27 unelected suits in Brussels to be able to co-operate across borders. The world out there is as big and round now as it was in 1492 and people are waiting to do business with us. Of course, leaving the EU regulatory framework has economic risks, but it is a choice that looks to the future, not the past. Listening to some, you would not begin to think that since the single market began, exports to countries we trade with on WTO terms have risen three times faster than those with the EU.

The referendum changed our future. It was a statement about what sort of country the British people wanted to see—one free to make our own laws, control our own borders, strike our own deals and be judged by our own courts. We are condescendingly told that ignorant people did not know what they were voting for. But after 40 years’ experience, they certainly knew what they were leaving: an EU rooted in the past and institutionally incapable of reforming itself, a devastating democratic deficit and the slowest-growing part of the world in the 21st century, where the economic and social time bomb of the euro is still ticking and the crisis of mass illegal immigration is unresolved.

Risk there may be in leaving on 29 March, but when in the history of our nation did the prospect of choppy water deter us from setting our course to the open seas? Let us weigh anchor boldly and with confidence on 29 March and take our place again as a sovereign Parliament and people, and arbiters of our own destiny.