Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:19 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 7:19 pm, 25th March 2019

My Lords, if there is one thing I agree with the noble Lord about, in his interesting speech, it is the importance of trust in our political system. We are in a major crisis. Historically, that will be true for many years to come. What worries me is that the public have lost confidence in our political institutions and the way they work in the context of the Brexit debate, and that confidence will take a very long time to rebuild, because it goes beyond the Brexit debate itself.

The paradox of our situation is that just as the young—look at the schoolchildren who are showing us how they see their priorities—are discovering that the world is totally interdependent, and that we have to stand together in the interest of humanity, so many people in Britain want to march in the opposite direction. I find that—not to overuse the word—a tragedy. If political leadership, at a juncture like this, is about anything, it is about enabling people and helping them to understand the realities of the world in which we live, to meet the challenges inherent in that and to rise to the values that are essential if we are to meet those challenges.

When we talk of values, one other thing that has come out clearly from the Brexit story is that we talk about British values but it is not at all clear what British values are. There are people in Britain—as was demonstrated by the million people marching on Saturday, and the petition with five and a half million names—who want to belong to the world and want us to be an embracing, inclusive society. But there is also a political trend in our society—we are not alone in Europe in this respect—that positively rejects that concept and sees a xenophobic, exclusive future for our nation. If I am allowed to use a word not often used in our debates, love is absent and hate prevails.

We have a tremendous challenge to leadership here—I was very struck by how well that was spelled out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle earlier in our debate. But there are other issues. For example, in the age of globalisation there is a distinct sense of insecurity among many ordinary people; they yearn for a sense of identity in society. What may come out of the Brexit saga, therefore, is a realisation that we have to re-examine our political institutions pretty fundamentally if we are to face the future.

This comes in the context of devolution and related issues. It is a shame that we have not had the political vision to go for a federal, or at least confederal, United Kingdom, in which the Scots could feel Scottish, the Irish could feel Irish, the Welsh could feel Welsh—and even the English could come to feel that it is good to be English. People would also see, however, that to meet the world’s challenges it is essential—not just an option—to co-operate. If that is true of the United Kingdom, it is true of worldwide society as a whole.

Having said all that, I have just one other fundamental point to make. There is a deep anxiety—we all encounter it in our relationships and so on—about the adequacy of the body politic. How capable are we of facing up to, grasping and beginning to handle the fundamental challenges? That makes it absolutely unthinkable that, in whatever way we decide to move forward on Brexit, we do it without seeking the approval and endorsement of the people as a whole. Otherwise, we will be making the decisions on behalf of people who have no confidence in us. That is not a sound basis for the future.

We have an unwritten constitutional tradition in which consensus is very important; we may not talk about consensus but there is an underlying sense that you have to carry the nation as a whole with you in whatever you are doing. From that standpoint, it may well be that we have to face further changes in our own constitutional arrangements, not just in those with Europe. We cannot, however, arrogantly assume that, having almost set out to bewilder and disturb the population about our own capabilities, we can then make the strategic decision on our own. Whatever is recommended—whatever comes out of this—must be put to the British people.

I also believe that—to be true to what I have been talking about—leadership, in its best sense, becomes indispensable. It is not a matter of fixing, or concocting, arrangements and deals; it is a matter of vision, of standing up for what you really believe in and having the vision to portray the challenges, what is necessary to meet them, and the destiny we seek for our country. We do not have that anywhere in our political system at the moment. We must all take that to heart—and until we get that right, our democracy will be in deep trouble. We must rediscover leadership, vision, purpose and principle. We must know what is good and what is wrong.

Compromise of course will be involved. That is not a bad thing: I often reflect that compromise is the moral centre of politics. But we must distinguish the good compromise from the bad compromise—the good one that enables the nation to move forward and the bad one that will set you further back, on the slippery slope to some kind of hellish, nationalistic, myopic, hateful society. We seem to be in danger of making the wrong choice in that context. It is time for leadership, and I hope that we rediscover that leadership before it is too late.