Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:46 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour 9:46 pm, 25th March 2019

I entirely agree with what the noble and learned Lord has said. I see that the noble and learned Lord, the Advocate-General, has come to sit next to the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, to put him straight on all of this.

Let us move on quickly to the things that matter more than that. The issue is what the country is now faced with. In that debate we are now really a spectator, as has been said. At this stage, we are watching as the House of Commons considers what to do. We may well find that, through the mechanism of indicative votes—personally, it is what I hope we will see—it will now consider all the possible alternative routes for this country. As has been said by a number of your Lordships, we are reaching that point at a very late stage and, as has also been said, that is as a result of the obduracy of the Prime Minister. One has to respect her stamina and perseverance but, as already raised in this debate, the fact remains that there are people whose voices have not been heard by the Prime Minister. It was remarkable to watch on the television yesterday who was turning up at Chequers. I admire their motorcars, and there were two exceptional ones that I envied, but it was surprising for the people of this country to see that this is how their future is being decided—by private discussions with just a small group of people.

Now, I hope that that will not happen and that the House of Commons will take charge of the situation. I have no doubt that it will take into account many of the points that your Lordships have discussed today. I am glad that there was a reference during our debate to the position of young people. I have seen the benefits of Erasmus in my own family, and I saw the young people during the march protesting about their lack of voice.

I think that only the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, referred to the contribution that the European Union has made to peace and security in Europe. I was struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, at Saturday’s march and I am sorry that he is not in his place. This was powerful stuff. He has said it before in this House, although perhaps not in those words. As I recall, he said that being alone was not Churchill’s wish or hope; it was his fear. Peace and security is a very important matter which no doubt the House of Commons will take into account when it considers where we go from here.

Inevitably, your Lordships have talked about the legitimacy of a referendum. Again, it is for the House of Commons to consider in its indicative votes whether that is a way forward. I myself have never understood the objections to a further referendum on democratic grounds. I appreciate that people who thought they had achieved a particular result the first time round do not want to see it rerun. However, regarding legitimacy, in an earlier debate in this House—I do not which one it was; it might have been the first debate but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Newby, can tell me—the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, used the colourful if slightly whimsical example of his maiden aunts being invited to make a choice on the basis of inadequate information. I therefore agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who asked why this would be undemocratic.

As a result of what the European Council said, there has also been much discussion about the need to hold further European elections. If that is the case, it will be, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said, inconvenient—one could perhaps put it more strongly than that—but I find it difficult to describe it as undemocratic to ask people to vote in an election. That is perhaps why the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, referred to the need to give people the final say. However, that is not for us to decide today. Looking at the annunciator, I see that there is a Division in the Commons. Maybe I should sit down before we find out what is going to happen over the next few days. Arguments were powerfully put by my noble friend Lord Adonis. I am not sure that I agree with the sequencing that he has in mind but that was not the fullness of his observation.

In an earlier debate, I drew an analogy with the play “Waiting for Godot”. At that stage, we thought that there would be a further opinion or a further amendment to the legal position that would cause us to reconsider what we had been saying about that. I quoted the Irish critic who had referred to “Waiting for Godot” as,

“a play in which nothing happens, twice”.

I hope that we are not going to see nothing happening three or four times.

We have to move on for the sake of the country, and it is now to the other place that we must look to get the guidance and establish the direction in which the country will be going. That is what I look forward to seeing at the end of this evening when the House of Commons decides about the procedure, and during the rest of this week, when it makes its decisions on the votes.