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 7:18 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee 7:18 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, I will not enter into that one, but I will declare my interest as a resident for nearly 40 years of Italy and a lover of that great country and its people. That experience has influenced my attitude to what the European Union has now become.

I have not spoken lately on the subject, but my view has not changed. It is simple: the British people were asked by Parliament to decide this question. In the greatest ever exercise of democracy in our history they did so, by a majority of 1.25 million. Parliament then made law for us to leave on 29 March—in 18 days’ time. Those are the facts, that is the expectation—and leave we should.

Again today, those of us who hold that view have been called “wild” or “extreme”. “Extreme” is a favourite adjective of those who do not want Britain to leave the European Union at all. I confess that I am extremely committed to the decision of the British people being respected in full, and not in name only. I am extremely depressed by the obduracy and arrogance of EU negotiators, and by the weakness of our own handling of negotiations. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, I am extremely concerned at the prospect of a humiliating draft agreement that would prolong rule-taking and wrangling for years, perhaps indefinitely. I am extremely distrustful of a Labour leader who promised to take Britain out, then in every Division in either House has whipped the bulk of Labour votes—the votes needed to break Labour’s word to the people. And I have to say that I am extremely dismayed that so many in this oh-so-superior-feeling Parliament have spent recent years plotting, week in, week out, to undermine and dilute the referendum result. Remember that? Leave—17.4 million times leave.

We have a Commons immune from dissolution, which, as my noble friend Lord Dobbs so powerfully said, has forgotten the promises on which it was elected and set itself against the people. In a crisis of Parliament against the people there is, in a democracy, only one party that must bend, or be made to bend, and that is Parliament—better by its own wise judgment before a general election, but, if necessary, after one. However many twists and turns there are in Westminster, on this great question the British people had their say and, in the end, they will have their way. How much better if that were to come on 29 March, as millions expect.

Nine hundred and ninety-one days after the referendum—what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, earlier called “instant gratification”—many today tell us that they want more time. How much time? Nine days? Ninety days? Nine hundred and ninety-nine days? On what conditions, and to what end? I share the worries of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about that. But if there is a long delay—for which, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked—the chance surely must be taken for Britain, as a continuing member of the European Union, to take part in elections to the European Parliament. Let us see what manner of verdict the British people return at those elections and then judge the case for a second referendum.

We hear a call for trust. I fear that trust was a little dissipated along the road from Lancaster House to the backstop. Trust was certainly corroded by Project Fear’s calculated falsehoods. I think that trust would dissolve if the Cabinet, having lost their deal—although the Prime Minister alone could take that decision—sent a Minister to the Dispatch Box of the Commons to rub the 29 March exit day out of the expectations of the British people.

There is also a call for unity. Unity, such as I never recall in this party or Parliament, was squandered by clinging to the coat-tails of the very institution the British people voted to leave. Lately, unity has been undermined by a new doctrine of Cabinet irresponsibility, when Cabinet Ministers publicly declare opposition to Cabinet policy and are rewarded for it. Trust in politics would be best served if all, from the topmost in the land to the foreshores of Aberdeen and Hastings, returned to the bosom of country and party, where the majority voted not to remain, not to rule-take but to leave.

Every Member of the House of Commons must this week ask themselves, “Do I stand by the promises I gave my electors and let my country leave, as we in Parliament have already voted to do, on 29 March? Or do I continue in the weevil-ridden ship this Parliament has sadly become?”—a ship which it seems a piratical crew is now ready to seize to hoist the 12-starred banner of a second referendum, in which we heard today that leave would not be allowed on the ballot paper. Of course, we must examine whatever piece of paper the Prime Minister brings home this evening—but I, for my part, would respect the people’s call to leave. That must mean voting down the withdrawal agreement as it stands, rejecting the call to disarm Britain by taking a deal on WTO terms off the table and rejecting the call to delay for no certain purpose.

I have no doubt that the noble Baroness who will follow me—a European Unionist to my European—will say that that is irresponsible. But I could never count it irresponsible to do as the people have twice decided, once in a referendum and then in a general election. They still say that people did not know what they were doing when they voted to leave. I think that after 43 years’ experience of living in the EU, they had a pretty good idea of what they were leaving. As for not understanding, I ask: did they vote for more billions to be paid to the EU, to be rule-takers without any say in making the rules and for more influence for Brussels over Britain’s defence? Did they vote for foreign bureaucrats to try to divide our kingdom within itself, for us not to compete to attract business and create jobs and for us to have to beg for permission to leave? Did they vote to be still in 1,000 days later, or did they vote to be out—and out, frankly, long before 29 March?

When it comes to not understanding what people were voting about, I submit that the failure to understand lies not with what the British people said but with those in Parliament who do not want to listen: “There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear”. I hope even now that the Government and Commons will cashier Project Fear, reject delay, have the courage to come out of the EU in the manner that my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne so powerfully described earlier, and step into that free-trading world that is on offer—and do it just 18 days from now. Further delay would prolong uncertainty and have grave implications for our body politic.