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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:49 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Liberal Democrat 5:49 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, I have listened to many of the speakers during the course of this debate, both in December and last week, and what appears to stand out most clearly is that we are facing an unprecedented challenge. The Cabinet has been divided, Parliament is divided and the people are divided. Despite all the efforts made by our Prime Minister—for whom I have some sympathy, as she was given an impossible task—she has not been able to achieve a withdrawal agreement which has, on the face of it, enough support to get it through this Parliament. This leads me to ask: why are we in this situation?

From the beginning, there have been errors. Initially, the previous Prime Minister and his Government made a serious error in calling the referendum without first fully informing the country about the pros and cons of remaining in or leaving the EU. To avoid the problems we now face, he should have ensured that a condition was in place for the referendum result; for example, a 60% threshold. Then, once the referendum process was under way, many leave campaigners misled the public with gross omissions or distortions of fact. Further, as we all know, once they had won, the main proponents of leave—who had promised the earth, including that we will take control of immigration and our borders, and put £350 million into the NHS every week—did not take their promises forward. Perhaps the biggest error was not to have formed a cross-party consensus for the kind of withdrawal agreement and future relationship that Parliament could support before sending our negotiators to Brussels.

We are now in a serious situation and our leaders must recognise that this is a national crisis. The economy is at risk, which means that people’s livelihoods are at risk. It is time for straightforward common sense to prevail. Members of Parliament must put aside any differences and not pursue their own political agendas. Instead, they must act in the national interest alone. Those saying that the Prime Minister’s deal is not a good deal have offered no better alternative and are being unfair to those doing their best to meet this challenge. As it stands at this juncture, with no time left to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement to replace the current one on offer, and with the reality that, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope emphasised last week, on 29 March the EU treaties will cease to apply to the United Kingdom, the only realistic options are either to accept the Prime Minister’s deal or to quickly extend Article 50 to gain more time.

The Prime Minister’s deal may not be perfect but, given where we are at this point, I think we should accept it and deliver certainty and clarity for citizens, businesses, employers and employees. I echo what my noble and learned friend Lord Hope said—that the current deal is not the end of the story; it is only an agreement for the withdrawal and implementation period, not our final future agreement with the EU. That agreement will be dealt with in the two years after 29 March, but only if we have a withdrawal agreement in place on that date, which I sincerely hope will happen. I urge my colleagues to do the right thing for the country.