Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 10:00 pm, 25th March 2019

I do not want to go further than the comments of the Prime Minister which I have just quoted. This is in line with her comments on 26 February, when she said:

“So the United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/19; col. 166.]

I will reply to my noble friend Lord Balfe, who called for an indefinite extension to Article 50. I am afraid to tell him that that is not possible. Any extension has to have an end date. As he will know from European law, Article 50 is a mechanism for leaving the EU, and an indefinite extension is, of course, not leaving.

Many noble Lords spoke about revoking Article 50 and mentioned the online petition and the march that we saw at the weekend. I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, spoke approvingly of both, but carefully avoided committing her party and saying whether Labour is actually in favour of either of those options. Indeed, if she carries on sitting on the fence, she might end up with spelks in her posterior. There is no doubt that there are clear and strongly held views on both sides of the debate. That has been clear since the referendum, when the largest democratic exercise in our history took place, with 17.4 million people voting to leave—as noble Lords are no doubt tired of me saying.

My old sparring partner, the House’s resident heckler, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, talked about the impressive march and petition. They were indeed impressive. Let me say, however, that we govern this country by the ballot box and by this Parliament and not by numbers on demonstrations, or indeed by internet polls. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, was very careful not to mention either—because, of course, he was a member of the Blair Government when we had a similar, and even bigger, demonstration against the Iraq war and by the Countryside Alliance—and we all know what happened as a result of those demonstrations.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, slightly bizarrely called on us to revoke Article 50 and then to hold a referendum. I agree with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, made on this. It seems slightly strange. If we do that, what are we going to hold a referendum on? Is he seriously saying that we could revoke—in other words, tell the EU unconditionally that we are going to stay as members and then maybe, possibly, decide that we are going to leave again? I think that that was possibly one of the more ridiculous of his strange ideas.

The Government have long been clear that failing to deliver on that vote would, in our view, be a failure of our democracy. On this point I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. In response to my noble friend Lord Hailsham, it remains a matter of firm policy that this Government will not be revoking Article 50 because to do so would contradict the result of the first people’s vote, which we are committed to respecting. This Government are committed to delivering on the result of that referendum and leaving in a smooth and orderly way.

I was particularly struck by the interesting and insightful speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham. She referred, for noble Lords who did not hear her, to her sadomasochistic tendencies. Now, before noble Lords get too excited, she was referring to a forthcoming book, which we will all read with great interest, on the history of European referenda, and how she thought referenda were a device for demagogues and dictators and were always a bad idea, but maybe we should have just one more of them, so bad are they. Of course, ignoring referendum results is a common feature of the European politics that she studies so closely.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, spoke about the European Parliament elections, a subject very familiar to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and of course myself. The Prime Minister has been clear that, should there be a further extension to Article 50 beyond 22 May, that would mean participation in the European elections. As she has said before, it is our firm belief that it would be wrong to ask the people of the United Kingdom, three years after voting to leave the EU, to then vote in the European elections.