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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:31 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bowness Lord Bowness Conservative 8:31 pm, 25th March 2019

My Lords, I may be alone but I always feel that there is an air of unreality about this present situation—especially given that we in this House are spectators, watching a potential disaster unfold before our eyes. Apart from a few Brexiteer zealots who still believe their own propaganda, we all know that we are participating in a process that will lead to the United Kingdom being politically and economically worse off, as well as in terms of world influence. Sadly, there have been few references to the need for European unity and the part that we could and should play in that. It is even more extraordinary that a Government whose primary task must be to safeguard the nation in the widest possible sense are acting as they are.

However, we are in extraordinary times, and we need extraordinary measures. I hope that, somehow, we will find the political leadership that will honestly address the nation and tell it the problems that we face. Yes, you voted to leave the European Union. Yes, we have done our best to negotiate that in a way that leaves you as well off—or, as the leavers would have you believe, better off—as you were as members of the European Union. But that has not proved possible. There are two reasons for this. First and foremost, there is not a better deal than membership of the European Union. Secondly, in an attempt to meet your wishes, we trapped ourselves in a set of red lines, which rendered our aspirations, which are now set out in the political declaration, impossible to achieve, as those aspirations are largely incompatible with the red lines.

An honest assessment would tell the people that revocation of Article 50 or, at the very least, a long delay, is necessary while we belatedly decide what we want from our relationship with our closest and most important partners. Sadly, I feel that I shall wish on, because there is no evidence of any political leadership prepared to take such steps. The May deal does at least give us a transition period but, if the Government throw away that time in the same way as they have thrown away the time since the referendum, we will be in no better state to decide what we want in December 2020 than we are in March 2019. Such incompetence cannot go on.

Ministers have stood at the Dispatch Box in this House and told us that we cannot be kept informed of progress in the negotiations for fear of prejudicing those negotiations. However, this time and for the future, we must decide what we want before we go into those negotiations. This dysfunctional Cabinet and Government have no idea of where we are seeking to end up. Whether it is the May deal, another deal or no deal, we shall still have to have a close relationship with the European Union. What that is has to be established as a matter of urgency, and it will take leadership and not constant capitulation to the ultra-Brexiteer party within the Conservative Party. Until this is resolved, we are only delaying the ultimate disaster to a later date. It cannot go on, and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that to the House at the conclusion of this debate.

On a previous occasion I asked the Minister a question which he did not answer. If this deal does not go through, what is plan B? I hope that this time it is plain enough to him that the House and the people need to know.