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 4:47 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 4:47 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, we are approaching the Brexit end game and are three weeks away from the cliff edge of no deal—a crisis that was totally avoidable. There is a real danger that this week we will again see a round of political games in the House of Commons, with the livelihoods of working people and the future of businesses in Wales and throughout these islands at stake.

My views about Brexit are familiar to the House. I was a committed remain voter, as were a majority in my county of Gwynedd, a majority of Welsh speakers and a majority of those who identify their nationality as Welsh—as shown by Professor Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University only this weekend. If they were voting now, as YouGov has shown, the people of Wales would vote to remain by twice the margin by which they voted to leave in 2016. I suspect that is why Brexiters are profoundly opposed to holding a confirmatory referendum. They know full well that, now the people know the deal the Government have negotiated, a majority would reject it out of hand.

People in Wales would now vote to remain for three reasons: they have seen the implications for our manufacturing industry and our farmers; our tourist industry fears losing lucrative overseas visitors and EU nationals working in the hospitality sector; and our universities are shedding jobs and our young people want to retain the right to live, study and work in other European countries.

The Prime Minister’s deal has been overwhelmingly rejected by MPs. She has failed to get any significant improvement to it, and it will probably be defeated again tomorrow evening. If that happens, on Wednesday we must have a clear-cut vote to reject a catastrophic no-deal Brexit, and the Government must undertake unequivocally that, if MPs so vote, they will move an order to withdraw the cliff-edge 29 March deadline, by seeking either a postponement of Article 50 or its withdrawal altogether. There is no earthly point in having an Article 50 application if we have not the foggiest idea of what sort of relationship we want in place of our current EU membership.

As I have previously stated, I was willing to accept that the referendum vote was to leave the EU but without specifying the new relationship Brexit voters wanted with the EU. My colleagues and I were willing to compromise, provided we retained unfettered single market access and continued to have the benefits of the customs union, vital to the Welsh economy. We recognise that some parts of England have problems arising from high levels of inward migration, with a perception—rightly or wrongly—that this undermined local indigenous workers. We are certain that this could have been tackled by negotiating a regionally applied emergency brake, which the EU was willing to consider. There was an agreement available to meet the economic concerns of Wales, which was acceptable to Scotland and which avoided the Northern Ireland border issue. Mrs May drew red lines in the sand far too early, and did not have the flexibility to see that these would have to be adjusted to secure a consensus on Brexit.

Let not the Brexiteers claim that the failure to negotiate an acceptable Brexit is the fault of civil servants or of the wicked Scots or Irish; or a BBC plot, as we heard earlier; or double-dealing by EU negotiators. All the leading roles in the Brexit negotiation have been held by Brexit-backing Cabinet Ministers: by David Davis, who over a two-year period negotiated for just four hours with Monsieur Barnier; by Liam Fox, who said that this was the easiest negotiation ever; by Boris Johnson, who insisted he could have his cake and eat it; and by Dominic Raab, who negotiated the current deal, then resigned in protest over what he had achieved. Let not the Brexiteers blame others for not getting a deal; it is the fault of their own political friends, and let the people fully understand that reality.

Where do we go from here? I suggest three steps. First, if the May package is approved by MPs, it should be put to the people in a confirmatory referendum, and Article 50 should be amended by order to provide the necessary time for a confirmatory vote. The choice between the May package and the status quo should be on the ballot paper. Secondly, if the May package is again rejected, MPs should vote on a no-deal Brexit. If they back no deal, it should be put to a confirmatory vote, between a no-deal Brexit and the status quo. Thirdly, if MPs reject the May deal and a no-deal Brexit, they should then vote to suspend Article 50 for the time needed for cross-party talks to establish a consensus proposal, which may well involve a customs union or a single market deal, or a Norway-type deal, and for that to be put to a confirmatory referendum with the option of remaining in the EU on current terms. Such a process does exactly what the Brexiteers demanded in the referendum: that control be put back in the hands of MPs. A confirmatory vote on the outcome does exactly what the Brexiteers wanted: it gives the people the final word.

If the Government lose their deal and reject all these options, the Prime Minister should surely do the honourable thing and stand down. At that stage, senior people in each party should come together to form a cross-party Government to lead Parliament through the alternatives I have described. Then, after the confirmatory vote, they should call a general election to establish a new Government to take matters forward as sanctioned by the people.

Small though we be, my party, Plaid Cymru, is willing to play a constructive role alongside other parties that recognise the vital importance of the European Union but also accept the need for the people to have the final say. I hope that the people of good will across the House will accept something along these lines as absolute necessary if we are to extricate ourselves from the mess in which we find ourselves today.