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 7:44 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 7:44 pm, 11th March 2019

There is a very material distinction between being able to resign from a treaty which makes provision for such a move and denunciation of a treaty. We have no intention of denouncing our obligations. We have proceeded under the mechanisms provided for by the Lisbon treaty—namely, Article 50.

The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, alluded to her background and experience in Europe, which I acknowledge, but I notice that we have seen the European Economic Community transmogrify through Maastricht and Lisbon into something quite distinct from that ever anticipated by its founders.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, wondered why the DUP could not see the economic benefits of the backstop. I have no doubt that the DUP can recognise such economic benefit as there may be, but it sees more clearly the constitutional challenges that could be presented. It is that which has caused it concern.

My noble friend Lady Noakes observed that there was really nothing to debate at this stage. It appears to me that noble Lords have raised several issues for debate here, but of course we are left in anticipation of what may occur during the course of negotiations that are still to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made it quite clear that, in his mind, all roads lead to Rome—or perhaps not Rome but a second referendum. I acknowledge his desire to go in that direction.

My noble friend the Duke of Wellington made a plea to all parties to compromise, and that is indeed what we seek to do here. He underlined how important it was that we should leave on 29 March with a deal. It is the Prime Minister’s wish that we should leave on that date with a deal.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in his inimitable fashion, observed that there were no new facts and that it was therefore necessary to deal with fantasy. I respond: it is never necessary to deal with fantasy and I would not intend engage with it at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, asked about the meaning of a hard border. That is a border that includes any physical infrastructure with related checks and controls. It is not something that anyone desires for the island of Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in alluding to the proposition that 16 year-olds should have the vote in a second referendum, observed that it was their future. I say, albeit with a degree of optimism, that I also regard it as my future. Therefore, I claim an equal interest in the outcome of the present negotiation, albeit not for necessarily the same length of time.

The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, alluded to the difficulty and dangers that would face us if we were found to breach the trust that has been placed in Parliament as a consequence of the referendum. I say no more of that.

The noble Lords, Lord Horam, Lord Armstrong and Lord Inglewood, referred to the proposition that we find ourselves in a mess. We find ourselves in a very challenging position because we are engaged in a deep and difficult negotiation in which we should expect the EU 27 to represent properly their interests, not ours. I acknowledge that, but I would observe that the darkest hour is often just before the dawn. As dawn rises in Strasbourg, we hope to see the outcome of the further, potentially final, negotiations that will bring the withdrawal agreement before the other place tomorrow.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, alluded to EU minimum standards in the context of workers’ rights. I would point out that the United Kingdom stands well above those minimum standards in many areas, particularly in relation to maternity benefits, paternity benefits and elsewhere. Indeed, it has been reported that we stand second only to Sweden in the standards we maintain, so we are not driven by Europe on such standards. Indeed, I suggest that we drive Europe forward in many instances.