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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:34 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Finkelstein Lord Finkelstein Conservative 6:34 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, it has been a genuine privilege to listen to many compelling speeches; I do not say that for the sake of our usual politeness—I have found it really illuminating and I thank those who have spoken before me.

The euphoria that greeted the Conservative unity on the Brady amendment was something to behold, was it not? Now that unity had been achieved on the Conservative Benches, it was going to be easy to get this thing through; all that had to be done was to go to Europe and explain that the Brady amendment had gone through. It reminded me very much of the story of the matchmaker in the shtetl visiting the peasant and saying, “I’ve got a match to propose. I would like to marry your son to the daughter of the tsar”. The peasant said, “But we are peasants, and my son is stupid”. The matchmaker then said, “Never mind that. Do you agree to the match?” The peasant said, “Well, of course”. “Excellent”, said the matchmaker, “I’m half way there”.

To my mind, it is remarkable that, at this late stage, there appears to be little appreciation that there is more than one party to a deal. We have a deal, and of course it is not exactly what we want because there is more than one party to the deal—and because leaving is not a very good idea. Blaming the deal for the intrinsic flaws of Brexit is a transparent strategy.

I understand that, in the other place, it is likely that the deal will be rejected and Parliament will be asked to rule out no deal. One noble friend said to me in the Library, “You can’t negotiate with the EU if you’ve ruled out no deal”. I responded, “We are not just negotiating with the EU; we’re also negotiating with you”. I want my Brexiteer friends to understand fully how strong is the determination that many of us have to stop us leaving with no deal. I have supported leaving because we had a referendum. It was my parliamentary duty to do so, having voted to have that referendum. I never thought it would be a good deal—I did not think that was possible—but leaving with no deal is another thing altogether.

First, there is no mandate for no deal. The Vote Leave website and manifesto say:

“Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop—we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave”.

That is quite clear, and it is still there on the website: there is no mandate for no deal.

Secondly, as far as I am concerned, no deal is morally unacceptable. It is not a way to treat an ally. It is not a way to treat our European friends. It is not a way to treat the citizens of this country who live in other countries and it is not a way to treat European citizens who live in our country. That is not the country I live in. We pay our bills. We keep the law. We do our duty and our word is our bond. We will not leave without a deal while I have to take responsibility for that.

Thirdly, no deal would be a huge economic blow. That is not why I became a Conservative—to pursue ideological plans that damage ordinary people’s incomes and their prospects. I became a Conservative because I believe in bourgeois stability. I said in my maiden speech that my mother had been in Belsen and my father had been in Siberia—and Pinner was nicer. That is basically my politics and I do not follow this ideological idea.

Fourthly—and this is my response to the excellent speech of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—no deal would not be a clean break. It will not last. We will not end up having no deal. We will have a deal in the end, having first sustained a major economic blow, so no deal is not what has been touted: the end of everything and we can now get on with other things.

Finally, I want to make a broader point that is perhaps slightly more difficult for the majority in this House to accept. This House has fought at all stages for Parliament to take control and, rather to my embarrassment, I have often found myself out of sympathy with that. The greater the control we have taken, the greater the fiasco has become. I have opposed all these measures because it all sounded so fantastic—Parliament should take control; the great history of this country and so on—but actually, it meant that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jeremy Corbyn should be in charge. That has always struck me as a sub-optimal idea.

Having taken control, the people who wanted it had better be sure that they can produce a majority for something. I have heard a lot of people say that they will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal because they want a second referendum. Do they really think they will achieve that? I have heard a lot of people say that we should reject the Prime Minister’s deal because then we will get a softer Brexit. Are they absolutely certain that they will get this softer Brexit, much of which consists of things that the Opposition whipped against when we had debates on the subject—even though on one occasion they lost? Just saying that you are against no deal does not guarantee that there will be a deal. In my view, the safest way to deliver and do our parliamentary duty is for the House of Commons to support the Prime Minister’s deal, with all its flaws.