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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:11 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 8:11 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my Cambridge colleagues, my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton. As my noble friend said, when one is in Cambridge one gets a different view of the British people’s attitude. I think that what we learn from talking to people in Cambridge is that the more the diversity and migration to this country for economic purposes that there is, the more we have benefited from it. When I look at my area, I am reinforced in my reasons for voting remain in the referendum. In passing, I should draw attention to my interests in the register.

More than 20 years ago I managed the European Parliament elections for the Conservative Party. We fought the campaign, which we won, as my noble friend Lord Callanan might recall—he was one of the successful candidates—on the basis of “In Europe, not run by Europe”. I do not think my view has ever changed. It is reflected in some of the contributions to the debate. The British people want to be in the common market, which is exactly what Margaret said and what my noble friend Lord Tebbit used to tell me time and again when I worked him: we voted for a common market and we would like to have one. We did not vote for a political union and we do not want one.

The issue is how we can give the British people what they voted for in the referendum. My successor in Cambridgeshire will probably vote against the withdrawal agreement tomorrow. She does so in pursuit of a second referendum. To do that and to reject a solution that the Government have derived to the question of what our objective through Brexit is on the grounds that we did not like the result of the referendum—which I certainly did not—is morally bankrupt. We have to start by trying honestly to achieve the result the British people voted for in the referendum.

You can say that the agreement is not quite right, which I think the Labour Party is. The Labour Party might be politically motivated—it is for it to say or to deny—by the idea that if you pull the pillars down in the temple maybe the resulting disaster enables a general election or a referendum and the Labour Party will not be blamed for the catastrophe that follows. The Labour Party should take responsibility too. It was elected to this Parliament on the basis that it would implement the result of the referendum.

I want to emphasise this in the couple of minutes available to me: there is a difference between the Government and the Labour Front Bench that might point to where one needs to go in the event that the withdrawal agreement as proposed is not accepted tomorrow, which is into a permanent customs union. I remind the House that, during the passage of the withdrawal Act, the largest majority against the Government’s position was in pursuit of a customs union. The fact that that is the Labour Party’s one evident policy raises the question of whether the response tomorrow will not be, “It must be remain versus no deal”, but maybe, “Perhaps we can adapt the withdrawal agreement further” and create what is, in effect, a customs union—a single customs territory—obviating the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to a large extent, and, frankly, creating the possibility of a common market in goods while making sure that we do not become rule takers on services, which is the principal objection to any kind of EEA/Norway solution. We will predominantly be a services economy in future. That will allow us to undertake independent trade policy relating to services, investment, and the regulations and rules that are the meat and drink of modern trade negotiations. It is not about tariffs, but those rules and regulations.

I urge those in the other place looking at what I think of as the meaningful debate—even if we do not get the meaningful vote—to read and think about what we have said. They might reflect that, whatever their personal views, they have a responsibility as parties and as members of parties to deliver on the Brexit referendum; and, in the Conservative Party, to support the Prime Minister. That is one thing that has happened since the debate in December, which I did not have a chance to take part in: the Prime Minister has secured a further mandate from her own Members of Parliament to take forward her position. We should do that.

The day after the referendum, friends of ours from central European countries sent an email, not to us but to our children. Their children are a bit younger than ours. They said, “We are really sorry this has happened, but we want you to know that, whatever happens in the future, you are Europeans and you are our friends. We want your children to know that for the future, too”. We should absolutely put that at the forefront of our thinking. We are Europeans, we are friends, and it is on that basis that we should conduct our negotiations and, I hope, bring them to a successful conclusion.