Brexit: Stability of the Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:27 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 1:27 pm, 17th January 2019

My Lords, this debate has demonstrated just how timely and important it is that the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, introduced it. We should all be grateful to him for that. The debate so far has emphasised that we are in a bit of mess with our constitution. There has been a lot of piecemeal, pragmatic activity in our recent history, but where has been the sense of strategy? What is the objective towards which we are working? Where is the road map?

I have an overriding conviction that the most challenging aspect of political life is that we live in a world that is totally interdependent. The challenge for government and political leadership is to come to terms with that and to find a way in which we enable the British people to play a constructive and full part in meeting that reality. It seems to me that anything else is escapism from fundamental reality. I also accept that, in the impersonal and technological age in which we live, in which the very thought of global interdependence is intimidating to so many people, there is a yearning for identity. What has gone wrong is that we see these two things in conflict. They are not. We should encourage a sense of identity and look for ways in which people can find their identity.

The next challenge is for leadership to explain that there is no way we can find a successful part in the world, or have a stable world, simply on the basis of identity. We have to co-operate, and the challenge now is to how these people with different identities come together and work in the interests of humanity. That is the challenge which has been brought home by our agonising over Europe.

What is this identity? We have to be honest with ourselves. I am conscious and glad that I am a Scot and English. My mother was a Scot and my father was English. It is interesting that they came together in an international context. They always said that learning to bring their two cultures together in their personal life was part of understanding the challenge I have just described.

I come down in favour of a convention on our constitution in which we can give strategic consideration to all these matters and see how far what we have shapes up to the challenge and how we might make it better. I know that people who look at and talk about this matter have an anxiety—it has come out in the debate—first, about the English dimension and the fact that the English, cussedly, do not seem to have an English identity and, secondly, that England is so large. A regional approach that gave real significance and political structures to regions within England would help resolve that issue.

Living in Cumbria for the past 25 years—having been very much part of the south-east before that—has demonstrated to me that people have a strong Cumbrian identity which can be related to a northern identity. These are the kinds of issues which would come out, and with which we could begin to grapple, in a convention.

I end with an anecdote. Immediately after the referendum my younger grandson, who was then 13, coming up to 14, rang me in an activated frame of mind because they had had in his comprehensive school a mock referendum and 80% had voted in favour of remain. He was struck by this and said to me, “Grandpa, I want to ask you a question. Was your mother Scottish?”. He had not known her; she had died before he was born. I said, “She certainly was Scottish”. She had become very much part of England during the war and so on, but she was Scottish. He said, “I thought so. Will you give me a promise that if Scotland goes independent and remains committed to staying in the European Union you will immediately apply for dual nationality?”.