Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:58 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:58 pm, 25th March 2019

The noble Lord used the words “later on”, so perhaps he could wait until I am later on in what I am going to say.

It is extraordinary that a former Minister could use the words “national humiliation” about listening to elected politicians, and Mr Fox said today that the Government could ignore MPs’ indicative votes if Parliament’s stated choice went against the Conservative manifesto. So there we have it: the Conservative manifesto—that of a Government who failed to win an outright majority—is more important than anything else. Furthermore, the Statement that has just been repeated uses the excuse that, “Well, perhaps the EU will not accept it”, to fail to promise to heed the decisions and the views of MPs. Of course, the Prime Minister may not be able to deliver on what is asked, but surely she should have committed to making that her new objective—either her negotiating aim, or, if it was something else, to do that. It is shameful that the Government refuse to heed the elected House.

We know the dangers of no deal, and so do the Government: that is why that nuclear bunker under the MoD has been reopened, so that the Armed Forces are prepared, while the Cabinet Office is readying itself by working with local authorities, airports and businesses for what will be a calamity, and briefing privy counsellors accordingly. The Government know the risk of that.

I had been about to say that today’s political chaos is completely unprecedented. However, as I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—our national treasure of a historian—is here and about to speak, I will leave it to him to judge whether this is really the worst political mess that this country has found itself in.

We hear about this best from the people—up to 1 million of them on Saturday’s magnificent march. When I last looked, there were 5.5 million signatures to a petition to revoke, and dissatisfaction with the Government is at an all-time high: just 11% “satisfied”, and 86% “dissatisfied”, a net minus 75% dissatisfaction with this rudderless Government, headed by a Prime Minister with no authority.

We have to find a way forward. There are probably five ways out of this. The Prime Minister could try to get her own party behind the deal—I wish her well with that, because it does not look as if she has succeeded so far. She could get the deal changed in the way that I have outlined. It could be that Parliament takes over. It could be that the people take over with a new referendum—or perhaps the people could take over with a general election. However, the Prime Minister’s Statement gave me no confidence that she was willing to rise to this challenge, that she is in charge, that she is willing at all costs to avoid no deal or that she is willing to move to encompass the national interest. We have to wish our colleagues in the other place strength and determination, because it is they who must now grasp the situation and act accordingly.