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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:27 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 3:27 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I agree with much of what he said. This is obviously a crucial moment for the outcome of this negotiation. It matters a lot to this country, and it matters a lot to this House. The delay in December was neither justified nor wise, compressing as it did a significant number of consequential decisions into a short space of time. But, alas, procrastination has marked the Government’s handling of this negotiation from beginning to end.

It is not for this House to determine the outcome. That is for the other place. But it is necessary that we should express a view—we should have our say. Merely taking note of a deeply flawed and deficient deal which the Government propose to this House would be hardly fitting.

The Prime Minister tells us that this is the best deal we will get. She may be right, within the parameters of those infamous red lines, which she imposed without any authority from the Cabinet, from Parliament or from the 2016 referendum. If you exclude continued membership of the customs union and single market from the outset, and you continue to demonise the European Court of Justice, that is what you get—and a pretty poor thing it is. Moreover, you get the backstop. I have now had two letters on that from the Leader of the House, for which I am most grateful, which seek to reply to my question as to whether anything that has been said since the Prime Minister reached agreement on the deal has actually caused the Attorney-General’s advice—that we cannot exit from the backstop unilaterally—to be varied.

The key phrases are now set out in the exchange of letters and the Attorney-General’s advice. The Juncker-Tusk letter says that,

“we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement”.

The Attorney-General says that they—that is, all the things that have happened since December,

“do not alter the fundamental meanings of”,

the withdrawal agreement provisions,

“as I advised them to be on 13 November”.

That is pretty clear, you would think: it is a rather long way of saying that nothing has changed, but that is what it is.

The idea that exiting without any deal at all should be an even faintly acceptable outcome can surely not survive a reading of the economic analysis provided by the Government, the Bank of England and the NIESR. Finally, the Government have realised—as they did not when they first started to trot out the irresponsible slogan, “No deal is better than a bad deal”—that it is pretty disastrous. It must therefore be right for both Houses to state their categorical rejection of that outcome. It would be right, too, for the Government to state now that they will honour and act on such a rejection, and not play around with the false oxymoron of a “managed no-deal exit”.

The hard fact is that, if you look through the copious documentation we have now received, you will see not a single area of policy where what is now on offer can be said with any confidence to be better than what we have as a member. For prosperity, security and our global influence, we are clearly better off as a member. In most areas, the outcome is clearly negative. Can anyone seriously doubt that we will be less influential in Washington and Brussels, or in Beijing and Delhi, or that we will find ourselves with a much lower trepidation index—the measurement that determines whether other countries hesitate to kick you on the shins or to decline your representations? That is why I will not hesitate to vote for the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, which is a clear but respectful message to the other place.

What happens if the other place votes tomorrow to reject the deal? The case for then submitting it to the electorate is, in my view, compelling. I have no liking for referendums, but it was the Prime Minister of the day, David Cameron, who forced that decision on us when he decided to play Russian roulette with one of our major national assets. I do not believe we can escape that trap without another public vote, particularly now that so much more is known about the consequences of leaving than was known in 2016.

Will such a vote be divisive? Of course it will. However, I believe that the outcome of such a vote, whichever way it goes, will be more likely to achieve closure than the agonisingly protracted negotiating agenda set out in the Prime Minister’s deal.