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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:42 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee 8:42 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, I do not support this withdrawal agreement and I will be supporting the idea of a second referendum. My first and preferred choice would be that we acted in our traditional way with representative democracy, meaning that we just sent back our letter of withdrawal from the European Union. But that is unlikely to happen—even with renewed vigour of the House of Commons. I support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, saying that we should take no deal off the table because of its catastrophic consequences.

I have a number of questions for the Government. Do they agree that if we head towards no deal, it will be necessary for there to be legislation to address the implications of that trajectory, given that the withdrawal Act did not contemplate or put in place steps to deal with no deal? I ask that because of the great experience of the learned counsel who sits on the Front Bench to answer such questions. If there is no deal, do the Government agree that the political declaration cannot be prayed in aid by no-dealers, because it does not apply, as it is part and parcel of Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement? Therefore, it falls away as soon there is a vote against the Government’s current deal.

I want to reiterate that, along with the rule of law, our parliamentary system of representative democracy has been one of our gifts to the world—certainly to many parts of the world. It is not our tradition to run things by plebiscite. We know that some policy matters of national concern are of such complexity that they require careful research and debate and the sharing of expertise. One thing that has happened since the referendum is that the general public have been learning, in the way that all of us have, about the sheer extent of our collaborations and the benefits that have come from our work inside the European Union and being part of that trading bloc. We have had the benefits of huge quantities of information, risk analysis and economic forecasting, and professional interventions by people in business, finance, vice-chancellors of universities, academics, doctors and scientists, researchers and inventors, agriculturists, environmentalists, artists, creators, lawyers and judges, the intelligence community and indeed the police. The evidence is overwhelming that to pull out of Europe, either with this current deal or with no deal, would have serious consequences for this country and wreak havoc. I am rather pleased to see the House of Commons asserting its powers again—indeed, taking back control, as was invoked. But it is within its power to say enough, and I hope that it will consider revoking Article 50, even if only to give us more time.

Of course people would be angry if there were a second referendum and the decision to leave were reversed, but many others will be very angry if we crash out of the European Union or find that this deal will leave our children and grandchildren with dire consequences. Mrs May’s deal is being presented now as the moderate middle way. I hear that coming particularly from the Cross Benches and I want to remind people that it is not a middle, soft Brexit: it is a hard Brexit that will provide us with no protection from the economic woes coming our way. As President Trump ratchets up pressure on China through the expansion of trade tariffs, we not only have to face the consequences that other countries will have to face, but the consequences will be worse for us than for other parts of the world. The exposure of UK banks to China’s downturn exceeds the exposure of the US, the euro area or Japan and Korea combined. Analysts in the World Bank and the Bank of England have already reported on their deep concerns.

We have been told that we are ready to embrace a new golden age. Mrs May said that,

“our best days lie ahead of us”.

Who is she kidding? That is all to save face, partly because her own Ministers proved such incompetent negotiators. The markets in the UK and the US experienced their worst year last year—the worst since the financial crisis in 2008. A few lucky hedge fund managers have made fortunes from the nosedive in the values of companies in recent months but, for most, the sharp downturn is bad news—lower pension values, falling taxable revenues and greater corporate pressures. That all adds up to serious problems ahead. A lot of companies such as Apple are already feeling the pain. A lot of that is to do with the slowdown in China’s economy. Is this the time for us to leap into the unknown? Do we really trust Mr Trump and his cronies? Are we happy that Putin is so pleased with our direction of travel?

I said in the last debate that this is an elite globalisation project wrapped in a flag of nationalism and populist concerns. It is motored by ideologues, and of course they have joined forces with those with the sentimental, nostalgic feelings that many of our fellow Peers have expressed. Basically, the ideologues want deregulation at all costs. They want small government and to tear up the social contract that provides solidarity, community values, social services and care. They are people who want, as has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to tear up the rules-based progressive internationalism of which we have been a part that was forged after World War II. They see those who do not agree with them as losers. This is the world of Mr Trump, Mr Bannon and Mr Farage, and the world of Messrs Johnson and Rees-Mogg. They are basically unpicking so much of the stuff that we have worked for since World War II.

The people of this country were lied to. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, that this is a plot against our democracy, but not by people who want to remain in Europe. It is a plot by people like Dominic Cummings and the people who put together that campaign, which lied to the British people and defrauded them. He asked, “Have you ever felt cheated?” Well, people will feel very cheated when the full extent of Russia’s involvement, of foreign money involvement, of the Mercers, of Cambridge Analytica and the whole ghastly business of the corruption of that first referendum will come to light. Then people will seriously feel that there was a plot against their democracy.

I am therefore going to vote down this withdrawal agreement and hope that our colleagues in the other place will receive resounding encouragement from all of us in this House to say that there should certainly be no question of no deal, but also of no withdrawal agreement as it is currently being presented.