Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note (Continued) (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:10 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative 9:10 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, we should be very proud of the last three days of this debate. I think that there is no legislative assembly in the world that could have had a debate such as this, with such range, variety, knowledge and eloquence—all without rancour. That should be a lesson to the other House.

The House will have noted slightly different voices from the Conservative Party. That is reflected by my friends on the Front Bench. We have known each other for 20, 30, 40 and in one case 50 years and we have different views. My noble friends Lord Forsyth, Lord Lamont, Lord Lilley and Lord Hamilton made passionate speeches arguing for a no deal. They are bemused that I can still support the May package. I think that the kinder ones hope that it is not an early sign of senile dementia.

But I have my memory and I remember the debates in 1972 in the House of Commons. They were all about trade—about New Zealand and Australian butter and lamb, sugar from the Caribbean and exotic fruits from our ex-colonies. We voted for a common market. We voted again for a common market in 1975. The Europe of then and the Europe of now are two totally different communities. The people who recognised that were the two best speakers in those debates: Michael Foot and Enoch Powell. They forecast what would happen through the loss of our sovereignty and the increasing power of the centralising forces of Europe.

I realised that when I became a Minister in the Thatcher and Major years and went as Home Secretary to meet the other local Ministers of Justice. When we first got to know each other, we had to get their names and countries right and try to remember who they were at the next meeting. But they often changed; they were birds of passage. Some got promoted, some got sacked and in our case one got arrested—and they constituted the body that was meant to control the power of the Commission.

The Commission sat at a great long table, always the same people month after month, year after year. It was extraordinary. We never really managed to cope with them. We had a pretty motley crew as Ministers of Justice. The Irish Minister of Justice had to resign because he fiddled his election expenses, the Italian Minister of Justice went to jail for a massive fraud in Naples and the Spanish Minister of Justice got the jackpot prize: he went to jail for murder.

This did not entirely make me love Europe more. For me, 29 March is almost sacred because it is the day when we do not have to bother any more about the European Commission or the European Parliament or majority voting or being told by officials what to do from Europe. We gain the power to make our own laws, in our own way, in our own Parliament, for our own people, in our own country. We get back our constitutional sovereignty as an independent nation state. That is why I voted for Brexit. It was a political decision—the noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about political and trade decisions.

I know that we will not get all our freedoms back in one day. We have freedoms on fishing, agriculture and free movement, but not on trade. I am glad that we will not get freedom on trade back in one day, because it will take at least two or three years. Whatever happens in the other place, they will need a period of transition to negotiate a deal—and they will. It is possible to do a deal on trade provided that both parties want it, and we will get a satisfactory deal, but we have to be patient and to wait. At times in all political life you have to be prepared to wait and to be patient. It is difficult at times for politicians to be patient, and certainly the Brexiteers are not very patient, but they must learn to wait. As Milton said—I have forgotten what he said, although I shall remember once I have sat down.

There is clearly not a majority for no deal in this House and I do not believe that there is a majority for it in the country. The details around no deal are very problematical, as was evidenced in the speech of a strong non-Brexiteer on our side, my noble friend Lord Bridges. He said that when there are so many unknown features around it and the decision is of such magnitude, you cannot depend on, in his words, “maybe” and “cross your fingers”. So I believe that no deal will not happen. However, as many noble Lords have said in this debate, the date might be moved from 29 March to 1 July. Personally, I would oppose that because I think it would be the end of Brexit. In those three months, the campaign for a second referendum would gather pace and roar ahead.