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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:37 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative 5:37 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jay. I put him in the mandarin class in your Lordships’ House—the number of your Lordships who seem to have been particularly traumatised by the decision of the British people to leave the EU. The mandarin class, of course, are people who have decided to spend a career in politics but not actually seek election. This gives them rather a different view about democratic votes from those of us who have. When I put this point to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, before Christmas he said that he thought the people should have the opportunity to vote again. On that basis, we could take a general election and produce all the same ridiculous arguments that people have been fed duff information and were too ignorant to understand the issues at stake, and therefore that general election should be held again. We trifle at our peril with democracy if we start saying that a referendum of this size—it was, let us face it, a very large turnout—should be overridden by a different decision.

My noble friend Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made the point that the country is very divided on this issue. I do not think we should get too excited. We are in the Westminster bubble here. Even if you walk just outside this building, you find people with placards protesting and waving flags. Some are determined that we should stay in the EU and others are grimly determined that we should get out. They stand next door to each other. There is a picture of a man from the remain side kissing a woman from the Brexit side standing outside Parliament.

So how divided are we? I suspect we would be much more divided if a second referendum were held. The decision would be reversed and a very large number of the people who voted to leave the EU would feel that Parliament had betrayed them, and would be given no option but take to the streets because they could not look to Parliament to look after their interests anymore. When I mentioned this earlier, my noble friend Lord Patten said I was recommending civil disorder. I am not recommending it, but I suspect you might get it because this is a problem. If Parliament does not deliver what it is about to do—and what the people have decided it should do—of course people will look to operate outside Parliament if they do not think their Members of Parliament can represent them properly.

We are now in a ridiculous situation where these negotiations have been incredibly badly handled by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, mentioned sequencing, which is a nice way of saying: why on earth did we allow the EU to make the Irish border item one on the agenda? As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, has said, nobody in Ireland thinks there should be a border between north and south. He said that the position of the Taoiseach was somewhat ambivalent, but the latest thing I have heard from him is that he does not want a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland either. The Northern Irish do not want it, the southern Irish do not want it, the British do not want it, and even the EU has said it does not want it. I do not quite see who is going to put this hard border in, and cannot understand why we have spent so much time talking about it when it is something that would fall out of a free trade deal anyway.

The position we are now in is extraordinary. We have this absurd backstop that has been imposed on us by the EU and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said, any guarantees on the backstop that we have been given by the EU are not really worth the paper they are written on. At the end of the day, they want us to stay in the EU, so why should we trust them not to hold us in there?

On a purely party-political point, reference has been made to the fact that the implementation period may go on until 2022. That happens to be when we will hold the next general election. If we are still half in the EU, still trapped in a customs union, what chance does my party have of winning an election, when Nigel Farage will undoubtedly set up another party to campaign against us in marginal seats? He will guarantee our defeat.