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 6:40 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Cavendish of Furness Lord Cavendish of Furness Conservative 6:40 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Finkelstein never fails to amuse. Less often does he convince me. He says, as so many people do, that no deal will give an economic blow and, like everyone else who says so, does not explain why, but I will come to that later. As I intend to make passing reference to my family business, I start by declaring an interest, which can be found in the register. Before moving to more general matters, I want to raise an important issue on which I would welcome a response from my noble and learned friend the Minister when he winds up. I have given notice of this, although very late in the day.

On 14 January at col. 40, 1 drew your Lordships’ attention to the deeply held concerns of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff, and Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6. They contend that the withdrawal agreement undermines, perhaps fatally, the ability of the British Government to discharge their primary duty: the defence of the realm. They have now joined forces with Professor Gwythian Prins—I hope I have pronounced his name right—emeritus research professor at the LSE, and have addressed the issue by proposing a defence treaty between the UK and EU.

These three highly distinguished men implore Parliament to prioritise national security in these words:

“We commend it to Government and Parliament and urge its immediate adoption as a safe re-statement of long-established tenets that are essential to maintaining the defence of this Realm”.

What consideration are the Government giving to this proposal, having in mind the huge implications that it contains? Given that the party opposite’s leadership has a habit of siding with those who are not always our friends, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, may wish to comment on the proposed defence treaty and her party’s commitment to keeping this country safe.

It is fair to say that the affection in which I hold my country and its people, far from being corroded by the cynicism that sometimes accompanies growing old, is actually growing warmer. Over six decades or so, I have at intervals been deeply disappointed by the results of those general elections that did not go the way of my choosing. With hindsight, I understand now that the people were always right and, accordingly, I have an ever-increasing respect for and trust in my fellow country men and women.

When the people lend the political class their wisdom, they are owed something in return. I have read and listened to a large number of contributions over the last few months from people from all walks of life who voted to remain in the EU but who not only accept the result but embrace it and seek to explore the opportunities that leaving the EU may present. That such people have experienced disappointment is of course beyond doubt and I pay warm tribute to them for their acceptance of the democratic process. I have been told by several speakers today that the minority never get a look-in, but I have shown my respect to that section repeatedly.

There is a distinctly different cohort who have been referred to, who also voted to leave, who refuse to accept the result, often pretending that they do, and resort to every kind of device to reverse Brexit or at the very least salami-slice it to the point where it becomes Brexit in name only. It is not the beliefs of these “reversers” that are so objectionable; it is their insistence that they are right and that the people are wrong. They are members of a readily identifiable elite who openly conspire to overturn the referendum result by trying to delegitimise the vote using specious arguments essentially denying the mental or moral capacity of ordinary voters to decide important issues. With those who challenge the intellectual or moral capacity of ordinary voters, there is always an underlying assumption that somehow the more educated sections of the population have more wisdom or judgment in making political decisions. It is plainly the case, and history surely shows, that the highly educated are no more gifted with political wisdom or insight than anyone else. I tend to side with William Buckley who said in 1963 that,

“I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University”.

However, I wonder whether there is not something else at work here: fear among the political class surrounded by things of which they perhaps have incomplete understanding. Here I include some of the mandarin class, having listened to some of that class this afternoon. There are many people, not least in your Lordships’ House, whose intellect I envy and whose achievements I hugely admire, but the regrettable way in which our institutions have evolved has meant that pitifully few of these clever and able people ever get anywhere near the rock face of our nation’s entrepreneurial journey. I look at this speakers’ list and I think I could count on one hand the contributors who have ever built, grown, manufactured, marketed or exported anything.

As I have said before, I do not know what a so-called deal will mean for my family. I suspect there will be problems and that we will not be able to avoid them. It will be no different from the usual surprises that regularly confront those of us who take risks. We intend to be ready for them. I rather take the view that the pain and disruption will never exceed the pain and disruption visited on us at regular intervals by the Labour Party’s paymasters. I am utterly bewildered by the spineless defeatism on the part of a majority of politicians and, of course, most of the media in the face of a clean break. Many speakers say how much they dislike no deal, as did my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, but rather fewer say why.

The people of this country want their stolen sovereignty returned to them. They want to be governed once more by people who are accountable, and they want the issue resolved now. In 2016 the electorate was asked to give a verdict, in 2017 Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed it, and now is the time for Parliament to ensure its delivery. Trust in our political system is at stake. The cost of betrayal will have no limits. The millions who feel betrayed will seek remedies in ways that we have no means of predicting. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said that he fears an explosion of rage, and so do I.