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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative 3:07 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, as we embark on the third day of our deliberations, and the House of Commons approaches its penultimate day, I think there is not a single Member of your Lordships’ House who would not agree with the Prime Minister’s comment today that we are in uncharted waters. I would take that analogy further and say that the ship of state is at the moment adrift in a dangerous sea, with storm clouds building and with some dangerous rocks around.

If I talk about dangerous rocks, I refer noble Lords to today’s copy of the Times: just look at the stories of the world in which we live. We have President Trump threatening to devastate the Turkish economy if they invade the Kurds. We have the al-Qaeda affiliate that has now occupied or is moving on Idlib and taking over that province, so that threat has reappeared on the scene. We have the continuing drama of the Sunni-Shia conflict and the conflict in Yemen, which so tragically continues, and the continuing drama involving Mr John Bolton, who is reported in the Times today to be considering that the United States might bomb Iran, in retaliation for an attack that it thinks was carried out on US facilities in Iraq.

At the same time, closer to home we have the rise of the far right. We have the AfD party in Germany, which I see has already decided to adopt the policy of abolishing the European Parliament and is considering whether to launch in its election campaign, for the upcoming European elections, a policy of Dexit—which I suppose stands for Deutschland exit and Germany leaving the European Union.

The instability all around could not be greater. It has coincided with the shutdown of the American Government. Many of your Lordships will have received an email today, as I did, to say that the US minister counselor in the US embassy is unable to come to the House today because, while the shutdown goes on, she is not now allowed to interact with public meetings. Presumably, the great diplomatic scale and force of the United States around the world at the moment is pretty well paralysed.

To top it all, we also have reports from a new activity, of which I had never heard, called Redfish, which appears to be a Russian-sponsored invasion of social media. Using the ignorance of those people taking part in it, Redfish promotes damaging videos and YouTube presentations that are watched by anything up to a quarter of a million people. It is, presumably, a re-creation of what actually happened in the US presidential election and also, I dare to suggest, in our own referendum campaign—namely, of Russian interference and trying to achieve their own policy objectives in that way.

At the same time, we move against an unchanging background of mass migration of people and the threat of climate change, which raise enormous challenges. Against such a background, it seems to me that it is a matter of urgency for this country no longer to be lost and uncertain and failing to give the leadership that we should to our own people and to our country. We need to come together to resolve Brexit.

Everybody will know that I am a remainer. I believe that the outcome of the referendum was a tragedy, but I do not believe that it is possible to go back now. Europe has moved on. We wanted a larger, but looser, Europe. It is not looser; it is enlarged, but it has continued to try and run in the same centralised way as before. There is more majority voting. We would be stuck with the freedom of movement, and I believe that, if we did try to go back, we would be under pressure to join the euro and Schengen as well.

I look across the Chamber and pay tribute to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition. She made a very good opening speech and managed to criticise everything that we are trying to do. We know that the Motion that she has tabled says that the Opposition are against no deal and against this deal. We wait to hear what they are in favour of—because there is of course a complete silence. That was cleverly and accurately identified by Mr Andrew Marr in the programme with Mr Jeremy Corbyn yesterday. Mr Corbyn was calling for an election, and Mr Marr immediately said, “Well, if you have an election, what are you putting in your manifesto about the issues over Brexit?”—to which there was a deadly silence.

There is plenty to criticise in the proposed deal. Anybody can find difficulties and issues that do not entirely meet the objective. However, overall, the main objectives have been met. When we discussed this in the days before, in the debate that was truncated, it was the worry about the permanency of the backstop that seemed to concern most people. There have been improvements on that, and perhaps we will hear a further Statement later today that will help to clarify that.

I want to make one point, in advance of my noble friend leaping to her feet. It is simply this. The best speech I have heard in these debates was made by the most reverend Primate, whom I am delighted to see in his place. He said that we have a moral responsibility. Of course it is right that the other place has to take the decision, but we have a moral responsibility to advise—and this time we want to go forward as a country. Too much anger and too much hatred have developed over this. We need to resolve this matter now. We need to respect the majority decision, but we need respect for the minority as well. I hope that those on the Benches opposite will see that the opportunity to come together, agree a deal and go forward is in the national interest. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will pick up that opportunity.