Further Developments in Discussions with the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:08 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour 4:08 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, faced with our likely imminent departure from the European Union, I feel alarmed and concerned about our country’s future. But I should say, too, that I feel great personal sadness as 40 years ago this year, at the beginning of my political life, I was elected to the first directly elected European Parliament. I remember that date as one of hope and idealism—things not always associated with debates on Europe. I also remember with affection and respect some German MEPs who had opposed Hitler and had been in concentration camps. I remember leaders such as Willy Brandt. I also remember our first President of the European Parliament, Simone Veil, one of the most remarkable and inspiring women of the 20th century—courageous, honest, intelligent and compassionate—who herself had, against enormous odds, survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

Furthermore, at the end of my time at the European Parliament, we saw the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the enlargement of the European Union, which Britain had championed. It was an enlargement which, in the days of the Cold War, had seemed an impossible dream. During that time, we also saw and helped the efforts that Britain and others made in creating the European single market, which many people now seem keen to turn their backs on.

So my experience of Europe over the years has been far from the caricature of the EU by some. For example, I do not remember ever being dictated to by faceless bureaucrats, being run by Europe or bullied by Europe. In four years of attending European Council of Ministers meetings in agriculture, justice and home affairs, general affairs and foreign affairs, I do not remember us ever being outvoted. We protected our interests successfully, but we also co-operated with other countries in the interests of all of us.

Furthermore, Britain has shown over the years that flexibility, rather than rigidity, is often the outcome in the EU. We and others did not join the euro; we did not join Schengen. Yet, somehow, we have swallowed the myth that Europe dictates to us and is capable of moving in only one centralist direction. It is interesting to read some of the foreign press, because you get a different impression of Britain, which is often described as being highly successful in pursuing its interests. Of course, we are extra-lucky in that our language is the main means of communication.

Bringing the situation up to date, on 26 February the Government published their statement on the implications for business and trade of a no-deal exit. I am amazed that there has not been more outrage about what that document contains, not least the forecast that no deal would mean the economy in my home area of the north-east of England shrinking by a staggering 10.5%. The figures for other parts of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, were also dramatic. Even if those figures were only half accurate, they should be enough to take no deal off the table straightaway. I only hope that the House of Commons ensures that this week the idea of leaving the EU without a deal is firmly laid to permanent rest. Surely the EU is not about making regional inequalities, which are already great in our own country, even greater. The figures for the north-east alone would make me oppose Brexit and I hope the Minister, as a fellow north-easterner, agrees with me.