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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:57 pm on 14th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 7:57 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I would like to begin by drawing attention to my entries in the register and reminding Members, if they needed reminding, that I am a strong advocate of remaining fully involved in the EU.

During this debate, a number of people have said that this is a great turning point, as though this has never happened before. I will start with some history, and draw attention to the fact that it has happened before. In the early 1930s, we had the Peace Ballot. That destroyed politics in Britain, right up to the Second World War. It shaped our attitude to the League of Nations; it made us cowards in the Rhineland; it distorted our policy in Abyssinia, which led Italy into its adventures there; and, overall, it was a disaster, compounded by regular voting against the Defence Estimates by the Labour Party and a failure of the Conservative Party to face up to its international duties. We face doing that again. This Government are in danger of being complicit in an act of monumental moral cowardice, which is where we are today.

There was never a possibility that we would get away without paying our bills. The £39 billion, which is being talked about as though it were some donation, is in fact the sum total of the liabilities we have contracted by sitting round the table in Brussels over many years. It contains all of the decisions that we have been complicit in taking. We cannot get away without paying it, unless we want to be international debt welchers, who will be taken through every court in Europe. We would also be distrusted by any international civil servants, because they will say that if we can abandon our contribution to the European Union, we could abandon it to the UN, UNESCO or any one of the international bodies we belong to. We would become international pariahs, and that is not on.

It was also inevitable that the final deal would be fashioned in such a way that no other country would be tempted to follow us. For the EU 27, the terms had to be substantially bad enough for others to decide not to leave. Allied to this, it has enabled a few outstanding grudges to be sorted out. Britain has blocked European defence for years, and now Germany and France can go ahead. We have been excluded from projects such as Galileo, and as the able former Minister, Sam Gyimah, said, we have “no voice, no vote, no veto”. We are told we will be consulted to the degree necessary. We might be, but our voice will only count if it suits the people who are listening to it. We will not be in the room. We will not have the voice, the vote or the veto. We will be outside the room.

On the practical details, when we, as Conservative Members, met Gavin Barwell, he drew attention to the non-regression clause on workers’ rights. When I challenged him, he said, “Oh, no, I am sorry, it isn’t enforceable”. I want to ask the Minister not to reply tonight, because it is too complex for his time in summing up, but to place in the Library a letter detailing what he intends to do about protecting employment rights within that non-regression commitment, particularly those covering paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, time off for working mothers and fathers, equal pay for women and limits on working hours, including a commitment to maintain the protection afforded by the working time directive. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, wrote me many letters when I was a Euro MP, asking me not to endorse the working time directive. I feel I am entitled to ask this Government whether they will endorse the working time directive.

If I could finish, and possibly upset a few more people on the way, I would counsel the Government not to do the politics of fear. It is not playing in the galleries. I live in Cambridge, and over the Christmas holiday I talked to many people. Their general reaction was, “We heard all this before. You said this in the run-up to the referendum, and nothing happened, so come off it, Richard, get real”. The argument for Europe is not about the price of carrots; it is about the future of this country as a player on the world stage and as a country which gives leadership and example by the values it believes in and projects. The amount of money we send to Brussels, which people carry on about, is frankly the price of a packet of peanuts compared to what we can do to make this world a better place. Please, stop the Brussels bashing and start realising where our future can lie. And do not make the mistake of the 1930s again.