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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:41 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 9:41 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, I am pleased to close this debate on behalf of the Government. I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions to this debate. It is a mark of the role of this House that even at this hour, the House is in its present form and so full as we conclude such an important debate on such a fundamentally important issue.

Trust and compromise. If we do not trust those with whom we engage, there really can never be room for compromise. If we have no means to compromise, we will find it impossible to achieve consensus. Trust and compromise. I am not a supporter of the idea of referenda. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, I experienced at first hand the referendum on Scottish independence. It was attended by division, exaggeration and overstatement, and was immediately followed by demands for a second referendum that have persisted ever since. But this Parliament decided that the question of whether or not we remain or leave the EU should be put to a referendum. No one forced parliamentarians to do that. They passed an Act for the referendum by an overwhelming majority. They did not concern themselves overly at the time with the precise terms in which they were going to put that to the people—they were simply determined that it would go to the people.

Then they went to the people in a general election, and both principal parties put it forefront in their manifestos that they would respect the result of the referendum. Thereafter, this Parliament passed an Act to authorise the Executive to serve the Article 50 notice, which under international law would determine our membership of the European Union. Then, this Parliament passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which defined the exit date for us to leave the European Union as 29 March 2019. So it was this Parliament which determined, both at the level of international law and in domestic law, that our exit from the European Union would take place on that date.

There followed two years of negotiations. In some places I hear those negotiations belittled. They were carried out by officials working to their instructions and performing to the best of their ability. Perhaps some would be prepared to acknowledge that, whatever the outcome of their actual negotiation. Without the withdrawal agreement I simply remind noble Lords that we do, under the law that this Parliament made and implemented, leave the European Union on 29 March of this year. That should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

We have heard reference to alternatives and mention of Labour’s six points. I was going to refer again to the lucid explanation of those points given by the honourable Member for Brent North, Mr Barry Gardiner, who is still the Front-Bench spokesman for Labour on the matter of trade—but I do not think I really need to repeat it. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, gave a very adequate summary of Labour’s position on this. I would merely mention that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, alluded to a customs union which, as described by Labour, would be directly contrary to Article 1 of the treaty of Rome and would effectively confer upon the United Kingdom, were the EU ever to accept it, a veto over the EU entering into free trade agreements with third-party countries. It is admirable in its breadth but hopeless in its intent.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats did not go into the general election with a mandate to respect the outcome of the referendum and their position, as I understand it, is that they are determined to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union by any legitimate means. I see them acknowledge that and I understand it.