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 7:01 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 7:01 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, I am sure there is no one in your Lordships’ House who does not admire the courage of my noble friend Lord Shinkwin; I certainly do. But I have to say that I could not disagree more profoundly with the speech he has just given. I remind him gently that FDR was the man who brought the New Deal to the United States, who understood what people needed and who delivered.

I have taken part in most of these debates, apart from two when I was in hospital, and each has its own flavour. I shall remember from today’s debate two things in particular: the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who talked of his shame—one of the greatest public servants of the last century talking of his shame—and the witty, scintillating and very profound speech of my noble friend Lord Finkelstein. On the day of our last debate he had written a brilliant article in the Times. I doubt whether as many people will be able to read his speech as read his article, but it was on a par with that.

Along with my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and many others who have spoken in this debate, I very much hope that the Prime Minister will carry the day tomorrow in the other place. Of course, her deal is not perfect but, as I have said before, if you leave a club or institution, you cannot expect to retain all the benefits of membership. Her deal is a brave one and I believe she deserves to succeed. Having said that, one has to be realistic. I hope that, as I speak, she is speaking in Brussels or Strasbourg, or wherever she has gone, and will be able to come back tomorrow with something more than a piece of paper. If she does not, I shall still support her deal and I hope that many more in the other place will support it than did so last time, as we approach 11 pm on 29 March.

However, I want to spend a little time on what we need to do if her deal does not carry tomorrow and we have the other two votes: one on no deal and the other on timing. One has to acknowledge, in parenthesis, that if the deal is carried as I would wish, some adjustment of time will almost certainly be needed to get all the consequential and necessary legislation through the two Houses; but let us put that to one side. If, following the failure of her deal—which, again, I hope does not happen—there is a large majority for no deal, then I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Finkelstein that there will have to be a delay. I hope it will not be inordinately long, but there will have to be a delay.

What we have now to address is what we do if the deal falls during that period of delay. We all have a duty to put country before party, and to seek to come together in both Houses—separately and collectively—to come up with something that does indeed honour the result of the referendum but does not unnecessarily impoverish and endanger our country, our economy or our people. How do we do that? Again, I apologise for repeating a suggestion I have made before but, if Parliament is going to take any sort of control, it must shelve party ideology and preference and come together. I have said before, and I say again, that I believe there would be great wisdom in having a joint Grand Committee of both Houses to examine the various options.

Before that committee met, it would be sensible to have indicative votes so that we know where there is likely to be a chance of capturing a parliamentary majority in the other place; that is where it counts. But we have something that we can contribute to a Joint Committee: there is enormous expertise in your Lordships’ House, and long experience. Of those of us with a largely political background, some of us were there when we went into the European Economic Community on a free vote—the Common Market as it then was. Beyond the political, there are those in your Lordships’ House who have held high diplomatic office in the Civil Service and who have a degree of collective experience and wisdom that can and should be pooled in the interests of the nation.

If we are to recapture a degree of allegiance for our democracy in the nation, we have to act as a national assembly that puts the country’s interests first. I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench who will wind up to comment on this and to say that he will pass on this suggestion to those who have to make decisions. I hope it will not be necessary; I hope the Prime Minister will get her vote tomorrow. However, if she does not, we have to come together with our colleagues in the other place, regardless of our political ideologies and backgrounds, to try to rescue something that honours the result of the referendum, but does not impoverish our nation.