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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:13 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative 5:13 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I would like to support this withdrawal agreement and political declaration, and I would like to support our brave, determined and dedicated Prime Minister, who has worked so hard to try to deliver the promises of the leave campaign, but in all good conscience I am afraid that I cannot do so.

I have agonised over this and respect colleagues who are so frightened by the outrageous threats of no deal that they will support the proposals, despite believing that they will damage our country, but I am convinced that this would not be in the national interest. It is truly alarming to witness the peddling of fantasies and misrepresentation of reality that have permeated our political discourse. I will support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and that will be consistent with every vote that I have registered in the whole Brexit debate.

The red lines of leaving the customs union, single market and ECJ jurisdiction are totally incompatible with the Good Friday agreement unless we impose a border in the Irish Sea that disunites our United Kingdom. That is what the backstop is about. Ending free movement and being able to agree new trade deals outwith the EU are incompatible with protecting our integrated supply chains, manufacturing jobs and services sector. These are real-world realities not explained to the country at the time of the referendum or the last election.

We are here today because 17.4 million British people —37% of the 2016 voter base—voted to leave the EU. Parliament was apparently instructed by this advisory referendum to obey its result come what may. We are asked to believe that the instructions given to Parliament by these 17.4 million citizens, out of a population of 67 million, on the basis of promises that cannot and will not be delivered, justify depriving 50 million fellow countrymen of their EU rights and citizenship. Working in pensions, I have seen many examples of mis-selling in my lifetime but never have I seen the scale of deliberate deception that has come to light in connection with the 2016 referendum.

If you make a decision to buy a pension on the basis of a false prospectus, you have the right to change your mind or to be compensated. Yet those who are shown to have been wrong on all the claims they have made about Brexit so far are allowed to peddle more myths today, such as that leaving with no deal is perfectly okay. It is not okay. It is just another Brexit falsehood. Yes, Parliament has a duty to honour the will of the British people, but how many of those 17.4 million would have voted for the negotiated terms if they had known what Brexit would truly entail? We do not know.

We are told the 2016 referendum was the biggest exercise in democracy this country has ever seen. I cannot agree with that. Actually, it was a masterly display of political spin and mendacity. Leaving aside the financial irregularities, fraudulent use of large companies’ logos implying they supported leave, and false claims that Turkey and even Iraq and Syria would soon join the EU, voters were also misled into believing the EU was the cause of our country’s problems and that leaving would make us wealthier, improve our free trade and provide all the benefits of membership without the burdens or costs.

Many people were encouraged to vote for the first time in their lives in 2016; we are told that failing to obey their instructions would be a betrayal of democracy. Really? Any voter who believes that our democracy is about ordering MPs to do what people demanded on a past date, regardless of changed circumstances or negative consequences, is surely misrepresenting democracy. Voters who believed the campaign promises and then find out they were deceived are hardly going to have faith in our democracy. I believe our representative parliamentary democracy is far more threatened by ploughing ahead on the basis of this agreement or no deal at all.

Yes, we must respect the referendum, but we have honoured the result. Anyone who disputes that has not been paying attention for the last two years. We have triggered Article 50, passed legislation to permit withdrawal and negotiated for over 1,000 hours to find ways to achieve an exit from the EU that will satisfy the British people. But the outcome is nothing like the promises they voted for. All the focus is on the 17.4 million leave voters, not the 16.1 million remainers or 13.5 million non-voters. Given the deliberate misrepresentation, outright deception and false promises, coupled with the flawed remain campaign, can Members of Parliament, hand on heart, know whether this withdrawal agreement or no deal reflect the wishes of the majority now?

How many believed leaving would make the country richer? The Government’s own figures show that even the withdrawal agreement will not do so, never mind no deal. How many were just protesting against the establishment and trying to make their voices heard because they are dissatisfied with the Government and feel left behind? Which of the problems facing our country, which leavers may have been complaining about, will Brexit and this withdrawal agreement solve? Will they solve lack of infrastructure investment, the housing crisis, education standards, the need to improve productivity or the social care crisis? EU membership has not stopped us addressing all these burning problems but leaving would make them all worse.

There is so much Alice-in-Wonderland thinking permeating this debate. Sovereignty, self-determination and freedom do not require isolating ourselves and withdrawing from international partnerships, which help bridge differences. Indeed, I fear that history may well conclude that never has so much harm been caused to so many by so few, and that we sacrificed their tomorrow for our today.