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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:29 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench 9:29 pm, 25th March 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hannay, who was an extremely distinguished UK representative in Brussels.

As tail-end Charlie, I can be pretty brief. I was struck by a remark made by my noble friend Lord Hennessy. He asked: what have we done to ourselves to find ourselves in this present position? I suggest that part of the answer is that we have lost touch with ordinary working people. Part of that is that we have ignored their real concerns, including those about the scale of immigration to our country, but also many other things, including housing and education. Worse than that, they feel that we have condescended to them: that we know best and they should know better.

Immigration is only one issue, but it was undoubtedly a major factor in the referendum, and it will be a critical factor when the public come to judge the outcome. It is also an important element in two of the future courses proposed, an element that is often distorted. The first concerns Norway. There, my fox has also been shot by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. The Norway model provides no useful benefit in terms of immigration. Any measures are limited in scope and duration. They must be reviewed by a Joint Committee with a view to abolition and there is a risk of retaliatory measures, so they have never been used, never will be used and are no use to us.

The second aspect concerns Article 50. Some people have made the extraordinary claim that we could control EU migration if we only adopted Belgian-type measures. These turn out to be measures designed to deal with benefit tourism. Belgium has issued eviction notices to a couple of thousand people a year, but no one knows whether they left or whether they have come back. For the UK, that is completely irrelevant. We have 2 million EU citizens here and they arrive in their tens of thousands every year. It is absolutely unfeasible and in any case irrelevant to bring that argument.

The only honest conclusion—I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was avoiding it—is that reverting to EU membership means continuing with immigration that we cannot ourselves control. Noble Lords may not think that that matters, but that is the fact of the matter and we should accept it. We should not try to deceive the public on this matter, which is of greater concern to them than to many Members of this House.

This brings me to the Government’s deal. It is a deal that should give us some control over immigration. Unfortunately, the subsequent White Paper has produced proposals for post-Brexit immigration which are dreadful. In the medium term, as I have mentioned before, they are much more likely to add to net migration than reduce it. Beyond that, more generally, we would be tied into the EU with no voice, no vote and no sure means of escape. We would face years of trade negotiations with virtually no cards in our hand, as I think my noble friend Lord Hannay was implying.

What an astonishing outcome for a country with our history of influence and achievement. However, I think we may find that the EU has overplayed its hand, and I rather hope that, as a result, this deal will not go through.

Lastly, where can we go from here? The referendum indeed gave a clear instruction, as the Government had requested. If a different path is now chosen, there will have to be another referendum and, as the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, pointed out, the question has to include whether we wish to leave entirely. That would mean that, at the end of a second referendum, there would no longer be an argument about people not understanding what was involved, et cetera—they have been hearing about it for two years, they are fed up with it—but they will have reached a view and we should not condescend to them. If we find that the vote goes the same way, as I believe it might, so be it. I think almost anyone would accept that second referendum result. Equally, I would accept a second referendum result that went in the opposite direction.

Let us be frank. The reputation of Parliament is at rock bottom. To seek to override purely by legislation a referendum that Parliament itself called would be a body blow to the institutions of our government and it must not happen.