Brexit: Stability of the Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:22 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 1:22 pm, 17th January 2019

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, and I thank him for his wise words. Reflecting on these matters, as one often does, after 27 years in the House of Commons and seven years in the wilderness—as they call it nowadays—and then coming into your Lordships’ House in 2004, I have become increasingly depressed by the deterioration of the quality of British politics and British party politics in making decisions to help the citizens of this country. It started, sadly, with Margaret Thatcher, although at least she supported the single market in the European negotiations, even if it was partly because she thought it an important business matter—fair enough—and did not necessarily support its other aspects. More recently, I have witnessed the unbelievable deterioration of politics, with the catastrophe of the Brexit result and the Government’s handling of it.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, for introducing this debate today and making such excellent and wise suggestions about future possibilities of the federal union type. I look forward to seeing his Bill flourish.

This matter is so severe now in this country because we cannot get agreement between the parties on any substantial matter—we cannot really get agreement on anything. Now, at long last, Theresa May is beginning the exercise of asking to discuss these matters with the other parties—which she should have done ages ago—because we have reached a huge impasse and have no solution. That is the background.

For many years now, there has been no agreement on anything in British politics, including party funding and changing the voting system from the crude, primitive first past the post system to a PR system, as most countries in Europe have. I live in France as well, which is an exception. There, they have the two-round system, which mitigates the tyranny of the first past the post result.

I welcome the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Young, on the Front Bench today to give us the wisdom of his answers and to make constructive suggestions for the future. The situation is very grim indeed.

If the Whips had allowed me to speak for 15 minutes today, I would have spent five minutes on what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, and five minutes on what my noble friend Lord Warner said. I thank them for their speeches. However, in the four minutes left to me, I will conclude with some comments on their observations.

We have to start now to reach agreement in this country at long last. Can Mrs May do it? I was astonished—and said so at the time; I am not being wise after the event—when, immediately after the referendum result, she said, “Brexit means Brexit”. Given her authority, psychologically, as a new Prime Minister, and one without a general election result but rather elected by her own party’s members, she could have explained that it was a complicated matter. She could have suggested going back to discuss how we handle this with all the parliamentary organs and parties, and with everybody in the country. She could have said that we needed a full and proper analysis of the Brexit result. It was, after all, an advisory referendum. Even though Cameron promised that he would insist on carrying it through, that did not apply to the subsequent Prime Minister.

Then, following the election on 8 June, the Prime Minister lost the mandate to carry on with the Brexit negotiations but said that she would carry on in a totally artificial and provocative combination with the DUP, which is, I am sad to say, one of the least popular parties in the House of Commons. That party is based on Protestant extremism and the denial of women’s rights, for God’s sake; it is amazing that Mrs May even considered linking up with it just to provide an artificial majority. In a country with a written constitution, that would surely have been declared inadmissible by the augurs of the state who decide on constitutional propriety. But we do not have that. Instead, we have party, constitutional and parliamentary anarchy.

We must break through that anarchy, and we now have the opportunity to do so, in resisting Brexit and probably having a second referendum if Parliament itself cannot decide finally. Perhaps the public would accept that, and we would then have a chance to restore the quality, value and valour of the British political system in England, the main country, and in the devolved parts. If not, this anarchy and chaos will continue, and we will continue in a downward spiral into I know not what. I hope that will not happen.