Brexit: Stability of the Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:44 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Crossbench 1:44 pm, 17th January 2019

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Lisvane for this vital discussion. The Brexit settlement, whatever its final nature, has had to include discussions about Gibraltar. It is technically outside the United Kingdom, but the Gibraltar discussions have an impact on Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. The attitudes and approaches of the United Kingdom Government or, more correctly, Her Majesty’s Government, have an implication for territories where Her Majesty remains sovereign and Head of State. It is not just a fact of the nature of our unwritten constitution; it is also about the nature of the constitution that we display beyond the borders of the United Kingdom to the territories where Her Majesty is sovereign.

In this Parliament—certainly in another place—we are used to what might be called disputatious debate, where things can be aggressively said across the Chamber, one to the other. It can be extremely distracting, and the tone of how that debate is conducted has affected whether we believe that this United Kingdom will hold together, which has wider implications. It could be said that this Brexit process has caused distracted debasement of our national political order. The tone of what should have been the representation of the best of British democracy, as seen abroad by Her Majesty’s other territories, has instead been a dogfight of refusals and an inability sometimes to accept and consider compromises in the national interest or to hear one another through. It is even possible that we might suffer the greatest broken promise of Brexit: based on party arguments, Westminster could be seen as untrusted and incapable of serving the national interest. I am sure that is not a model that Her Majesty would wish her other territories to follow, given that we set them free in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s to follow a model that allowed proper politics and proper democracy based on compromises.

We often speak about the importance of soft power to the United Kingdom—soft power framed in great institutions such as the NHS, the BBC, our archives, our museums, our universities and, of course, Parliament. If the display of this important soft power in a world that needs the reality of that soft power to be for its benefit, not for its dismissal, is one that cannot settle issues of union, collaboration and partnership, and even our relationship with our nearest neighbour—by country, let alone by community—this Parliament will have failed in the soft realities of Brexit. This is not about how we leave the European Union but about how we conduct the processes by which we leave, the relationships between the parts of the United Kingdom and the display of what this mature democracy should be for the nations that are forming, from fledgling beginnings, what they want to be—the ideal model of responsible and honourable leadership.