Brexit: Stability of the Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:39 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 1:39 pm, 17th January 2019

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, for initiating this debate.

My overall conclusion is that there will be no effects of Brexit other than it being weaponised by individual political parties for whatever they see as their own advantage, but I believe there will be unforeseen consequences of Brexit which may now be coming to the surface. All my political life, devolution has been an issue. I began in the middle 1960s. Gwynfor Evans had been elected as a Welsh nationalist Member of Parliament and in November 1967 Winnie Ewing became a Scottish National Party MP in a by-election caused by Harold Wilson putting Tom Fraser into the chairmanship of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, having learned nothing about losing by-elections from Lord Sorensen. Winnie Ewing won. She went on to have a long and distinguished career in Europe and became known as “Madame Ecosse”. I say that by way of background.

I am not particularly a fan of devolution. I take a very similar view to Gordon Brown about the advantages of countries and nations working together. That is one reason why I am a strong supporter of the EU. However, I also counsel people to believe that the people who voted in the referendum were not concerned about the United Kingdom. In East Anglia, they were concerned about immigration, taking back control and what Brussels might do to them. As an active campaigner in the referendum debate, I did not hear Scotland or Wales mentioned on a single occasion.

People have mentioned our precious union. That is rather like the special relationship. We often mention it here, but you never hear it mentioned in Washington. I am afraid the precious union does not play to the gallery in East Anglia at all. As far as people there are concerned, Scotland is a very different country, as are Wales and Ireland.

Nobody seems to have quite twigged to the fact that there is a big difference between Scotland and Ireland over Brexit. The difference is simply this: one day there will be a vote, and if Ireland votes for reunification, Northern Ireland will automatically become part of the European Union. It will not need to apply because it is covered by the German Democratic Republic convention that a country that unites itself peacefully will have automatic entry. If the island of Ireland united, it would join the EU instantly. It could not be stopped under the treaties and the way the EU is structured. Scotland would have a very different perspective. As my friends in Madrid will tell you, it would be a long and difficult negotiation because Madrid, which does not recognise Kosovo, for instance, is not going to set any precedent that might damage its internal cohesion, which is as fragile as ours. That is possibly one of the unforeseen consequences.

I would like to see a greater sense of solidarity in the United Kingdom. We seem to spend all our time talking about devolving and getting away from each other. We will soon be the most overgoverned nation in Europe. At the moment, that trophy is held by Belgium, where I live part of the time. All I will say is that for every layer of government, there is an added layer of confusion, so on the settlement, let us settle down and leave it for a time because nothing is to be gained from constantly meddling with it. It may need tidying at the edges, but I do not think it needs fundamentally looking at again.

My final word is to a party not represented in this Chamber. I wish that the other parties in Northern Ireland would get together and get the Administration in Northern Ireland up and running again. It is very difficult to treat Northern Ireland seriously when you see parties deliberately stopping the development of the democratic process there. If they believe in Ireland, I ask them to respect the people of Ireland.