Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
At the end insert “but this House, whilst recognising the necessity of the Regulations, regrets the manner in which Her Majesty’s Government have conducted withdrawal negotiations with the European Union which has resulted in widespread uncertainty as to when the United Kingdom will leave and about the status of European Union citizens, as well as undermining business confidence; and calls on Her Majesty’s Government to pursue without hesitation any course of action in relation to those negotiations which is approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
My Lords, Members of this and the other House have spoken of their shame or embarrassment about how the Prime Minister and the negotiators she appointed, Messieurs Davis, Raab and Barclay, have handled our dealings with the EU. Today’s statutory instrument is a manifestation of their failure. The Prime Minister has failed to unite her Cabinet, her Government, her party or the Commons, let alone the country. It starts with red lines and a failure to reach out to the 48%. It ends with a lonely, tax-funded, failed plea to the public and the humiliation of eating hundreds of her words. Those words, “We are leaving on
The noble Lord’s embarrassment, which he carries with a good grace, is as nothing to the uncertainty now facing our ports, businesses, holidaymakers, citizens living across the EU, farmers, importers, manufacturers, traders and hospitals, and EU citizens here. Today, they see us changing our law, not simply to remove Friday’s date from the statute book but to insert two new dates. It still is not clear when we are due to leave the EU. It is almost beyond parody. I now wonder what phrase the Minister will use to replace the old mantra. Will it be, “We will leave on a date yet to be confirmed,” or “We will leave, don’t know when, don’t know how”? Perhaps we will meet again some sunny day.
Today’s change via this SI is, of course, necessary, but it would have been unnecessary had the Government heeded the advice of your Lordships’ House. In May last year, the amendment proposed and so convincingly argued by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, replaced
“such day as a Minister of the Crown may by regulations appoint”.
My colleagues behind me have begged me not to use the words “I told you so” today, but I cannot resist. In May, I warned the Minister that,
“the negotiations … will be affected by the timetable”,
and that, given that,
“the negotiations could go on a bit later than everyone wants”,
having a particular date fixed in an Act of Parliament, passed in mid-2018, would be,
“a very unhelpful position for our negotiators to be in”.
I predicted—I promise these are my words in Hansard—that,
“the withdrawal agreement could contain a leaving date of a week or two … after the two-year period, which would allow the last-minute arrangements to be made”,
“if that suits all the parties and if our Government would like to sign up to it, it would seem silly not to be able to do that”,—[
Of course, it was not just me. Our own EU Committee said:
“The rigidity of the … deadline of
Your Lordships agreed. By 311 votes to 233, we passed the amendment tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, by a tidy majority of 78. We are here today because the Government did not listen.
Unfortunately, we now face the same again, which is why the last part of our amendment calls on the Government to pursue any course of action in those negotiations sanctioned by a resolution of the Commons. We stress this because Ministers and Mrs May keep telling us that they will not be bound by today’s votes in the elected House, which might be a bit of a problem for them anyway, if Robert Peston is correct. He reports that the Cabinet Secretary and the Attorney-General informed Cabinet that if, at the end of the Letwin process, MPs passed a Motion mandating the Prime Minister to pursue a new route through the Brexit mess, whether a referendum, a customs union or another option, then the Prime Minister and the Government would be in breach of the Ministerial Code and the law if they failed to follow MPs’ instructions. The impression created by the Prime Minister that she could ignore the results of the indicative vote process is not true if those Ministers who briefed out of the Cabinet are to be believed. Perhaps it is because those briefings are right that the Government down the other end have just tried, shamefully, to end the indicative vote process, although they lost that vote. It is that reluctance to heed the views of MPs that makes the last part of our amendment so important, even if, as I said, it might be unnecessary should the law indeed require the Government to follow the outcome.
Indeed, I am as questioning on that. That apparently, from very good leaks, was what the Attorney-General said to the Cabinet. Unfortunately, I do not have access to it. It may not be the case, but that is what was being briefed—I do not think that the Attorney-General will be speaking utter nonsense, which is what I think I heard from the other side of the House. It is what Robert Peston says.
As I just said, that is what he was told by Ministers present in the Cabinet. I was not there; he was not there. I am reporting—
Sadly, Robert Peston is such a good journalist that he does not name his sources. I would love to know just as much as others.
I certainly share that view, although just occasionally it is very useful. The real point is, of course, the political one: the Government briefing that they will not go along with the MPs’ choices and then, just now, trying to defeat the Business Motion so that the indicative votes do not have to take place seems to suggest they do not want to heed what elected Members say. It is for that reason that the last part of the amendment has become more significant than when we originally drafted it.
I hope the House will support the amendment and regret the shambles that got us here from not listening to the noble Duke, therefore causing some of this uncertainty for business and citizens. Of course, we agree that the instrument is necessary to ensure we have clarity on our statute book. As the Law Society of Scotland says, it is,
“essential to ensure consistency in the operation of UK law with that of EU law”.
“there would be great uncertainty and confusion in the operation of UK law”.
We agree with the instrument, but we do not agree with the method that got us here. I beg to move.
My Lords, I cannot resist rising to support this statutory instrument. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has already mentioned, last May a very sensible cross-party amendment was carried convincingly by this House, tabled by myself, the noble Baroness, and the noble Lords, Lord Newby and Lord Hannay. Therefore it had complete cross-party support. It was very unfortunate that the Government did not accept it. It was carried here but rejected in the other place.
At the time, the Government stated that they had no intention, under any circumstances, of seeking an extension. However, when first tabled in the other place, the original Bill—subsequently an Act—did not include a date. I fear that the date was only inserted at the behest of the European Research Group. We in this House argued that there was no point in putting in a date when it might have to be changed in circumstances which none of us could, at that moment, foresee. Now that the Government have agreed an extension with the European Union, clearly this statutory instrument must be passed. The Minister has already explained the legal chaos which would be created, now that it is agreed with the European Union, if the exit date were not to be changed in our domestic Act of Parliament. I hope the Minister will accept that point when he winds up.
Although the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, was a co-signatory with me, I very much regret that I am unable to support her amendment to the Motion. We all have our views about the way the negotiations have been handled and the excessive delays which have occurred, but at this point, we really need resolution, and we must pass the statutory instrument. I hope the House of Commons will, in the next few days, reach an agreed position. If I was there, I would still support the Prime Minister’s deal. Should that not carry, I hope some alternative proposal comes forward. At this moment, we must have clarity for our citizens and our businesses, and, in my opinion, we must support this statutory instrument.
My Lords, we on these Benches support this statutory instrument as a necessary measure to prevent confusion and uncertainty, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, have said, if the Government had listened to this House when it advised against putting in a fixed date, life would have been considerably easier. Both
We are sympathetic to the sentiments in the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I cannot improve upon what she said about the unfortunate way in which the negotiations have been conducted. This is not the place to go on at length about that, but the mess we are now in was predictable and, indeed, predicted. We agree that it would be very odd if the Government said that while they felt instructed by the people, they defied the will of the House of Commons, and indeed, as we have had cause to say before, they refuse to get an update on the will of the people from 2016—which, of course, amounted to only 37% of the people. All the indications are that views have evolved.
The Government have allowed themselves multiple bites at the cherry, as MPs have, but will not allow the people even one chance to rethink. That is very arrogant. We on these Benches would of course want to add to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, by ensuring that whatever version of Brexit comes out as the top preference of MPs should then be put back to the people, for them to have the final say on whether they support it or wish to opt to remain.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who is having some fun today, expressed himself astonished yesterday that,
“the Prime Minister can go to a meeting in Brussels and, suddenly, what is in statute is completely irrelevant”.—[
It is not quite like that. MPs voted for an extension to Article 50 and, for once, the Prime Minister did what the House of Commons told her to. She requested an extension, which became the European Council decision of
The point I was making was that the Prime Minister went to Brussels and made a request, which was refused. She was offered two dates and signed away the effect of the legislation without coming back to Parliament and asking it to express a view. I am sure the noble Baroness agrees that that is an extraordinary constitutional position.
It is that, rather than with anything I have said.
I noted that while on Monday there was an insistence from the government Benches that this decision by the European Council represented international law, at least by yesterday things had moved on somewhat when the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred to EU and international law. I am, however, puzzled by her insistence that the European Council decision and the UK’s agreement to it constitutes a binding agreement in EU and international law. It seems to me that that decision is simply a binding legal act under EU law, to which the UK is now and at least until
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, will speak to the issue that he raised yesterday about the legality of the two alternative exit dates and I will leave that to him. From these Benches, we can accept the convenience of needing only one statutory instrument, and not potentially two, to cover both the scenarios envisaged in the European Council decision.
Finally, I want to ask about the position on the European Communities Act. I cannot remember whether I asked this yesterday or the day before. The Explanatory Memorandum to the present regulations says:
‘“Exit day’ is the day by reference to which provisions of the 2018 Act, including the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 … take effect or come into force”,
but that is not my understanding. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act says that the repeal of the European Communities Act takes effect on exit day. My understanding is that an SI is needed to bring that into force; indeed, the briefing from the Library says:
“This provision of the EUWA”— namely, the repeal of the European Communities Act—
“has not yet been brought into force”.
So even beyond exit day, unless there is an SI to bring into force the repeal of the ECA, the ECA will continue. Can someone explain how that interacts with these regulations? Even if you change exit day, do you still need an SI to bring in the repeal of the European Communities Act? I look forward to the clarification which I am sure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, who is looking impatient, will be able to give me.
My Lords, I support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, and I thank him for addressing the legal question I raised yesterday. I am satisfied that these regulations are valid; the legal issue is whether exit day is specified in the statutory instrument when it refers to two possible dates. I agree that that is so: it is specified, and for this reason. It seems to me that the purpose of the power to amend the date of our exit, as expressly stated in Section 20(4)(a) of the 2018 Act, is to ensure that domestic law on exit day is consistent with our treaty obligations. This SI accurately implements in domestic law the current treaty obligations in the light of the extension of the Article 50 period. Unhappily, that still involves more than one possibility as to the future, and the SI accurately reflects the reality under EU law.
There is a risk that a court might take a different view on the validity of the SI; I would not expect it to do so. I am, however, surprised that Ministers did not adopt the simpler, risk-free option of specifying
“In that event, the United Kingdom will indicate a way forward before
If that occurs, and if agreement is then reached on the way forward, it may involve an exit day different from either
I understand that the noble and learned Lord, the Advocate-General for Scotland, will be replying to this debate for the Government. I have a question for him which builds on the question put at the end of her speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. As a matter of domestic law, exit day is highly significant under the 2018 Act for various purposes, but one of the central functions of exit day is given accurately in paragraph 6.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum:
“Section 1 of the 2018 Act repeals the European Communities Act 1972 on ‘exit day’, whilst the saving and incorporation of EU law into domestic law (known as “retained EU law”) … take effect on and after ‘exit day’”.
Various provisions of the 2018 Act were brought into force under Section 25 of that Act when it was passed. Those provisions include Section 20, which defines exit day and confers the power exercised in this statutory instrument to amend exit day. Also commenced and brought into force when the 2018 Act was passed were Sections 8 to 11 and other provisions which confer powers on Ministers to make regulations such as those we have been scrutinising in recent weeks. There have also been more recent commencement regulations, such as SI 808/2018, which provide for the bringing into force of other provisions of the 2018 Act.
What have not been brought into effect are the substantive provisions in Sections 1 to 7 of the 2018 Act, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. They have not been commenced—they are not yet part of our law and will not have effect on exit day. This may be surprising to some noble Lords, and indeed to people outside this House, but it is not yet part of our law that the European Communities Act 1972 is repealed on exit day. It will not be part of our law until Section 1 of the 2018 Act is brought into force.
Could the noble and learned Lord say whether this analysis is correct? I am optimistic that it is, because the Explanatory Memorandum says in Paragraph 6.5:
“These sections of the 2018 Act have yet to be commenced”.
Am I right in thinking that the Government have not yet brought Sections 1 to 7 of the 2018 Act into effect because, if the House of Commons were to approve the Prime Minister’s deal or if there were to be some other deal, the Government intend the anticipated European Union (Withdrawal Implementation) Bill to amend Sections 1 to 7 of the 2018 Act so as to provide for EU law to have some continuing legal status during the transitional period? I emphasise that I would welcome that, but it would be helpful to have some clarity on this question.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, will be horrified to discover that I agree with a great deal of what she has said. I will not support her amendment because I do not agree with the last clause, but no one in this House could think that things are going well. Perhaps somebody does, but I do not think so. We have a Government who, frankly, are in chaos—I say so to my Front Bench—a Parliament in disarray and, regrettably, a Prime Minister who appears to have lost the support of her Cabinet, her party, the Commons and, I fear, the people. For me this is a very sad day, because I had always hoped to support a Conservative Government.
This SI, as we know, enacts something that has been imposed upon us by the European Commission, Herr Juncker and Monsieur Barnier. I would think everyone feels some sadness over this, whatever position they take; Parliament passed the Withdrawal Act—it was fiercely contested, but agreed—and now it is dismissed by the Council by diktat. I find that worrying, and it should be understood that that is why people like me wish to see the supremacy of UK law restored.
This legislation seems to me somewhat dishonest. Let me explain why. I have not counted, but the Prime Minister is alleged to have said in Parliament 108 times that we are leaving on
Many in this House may imagine—some smugly, perhaps—that this will lead to our cancelling Brexit and staying in the EU. Again, I say that this will undermine the trust of the British people. Those who think that must understand the damage being done to our political system and to trust in Parliament. We have gone beyond a simple matter of disagreeing, frayed tempers and civil discussion while we disagree into hate speak. Vitriol has been released into the body politic. We no longer disagree civilly; people argue in such a way that I think some have been driven mad on both sides. It is not civil disagreement when someone smashes an egg on Jeremy Corbyn’s head; it is going much too far, as the magistrate found. I understand that Michael Gove’s wife was told by someone at the weekend that they hoped her husband would drop dead within 100 yards. This is lunatic. Where are we going? And I fear it may get worse.
Parliament made a promise. I believe that referendums are a terrible idea but Parliament promised that it would enact the decision of the British people. I am glad to say that I was not here to vote for the referendum Act in 2015, but I was able to support leave in 2016, although I still thought the referendum a bad idea. We, collectively, as a Parliament—as a political class, if you like—made a promise to accept the decision of the British people. Now, today, we are backsliding. I fear we shall not be forgiven by a great many people outside here and I fear for the future—I really do.
I have no idea what will happen and I shall not predict. It is very unwise if one does. We should not imagine or pretend, however, that Parliament or the Government come out of this well. I fear it will be a long time before that trust between Parliament and the people, and trust in the Government, is restored—if indeed it ever is. If noble Members do not believe me, they should go down the Corridor and speak to MPs—Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem—and hear what their constituents are saying. They are losing faith, if I may put it that way.
I agree with so much that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said that I hope, for once, we can come together on this, although not on her amendment. I will oppose it but I will not support the government SI, should it go to a Division. It breaks faith with the British electorate and those who believed what the Prime Minister has said more than 100 times.
My Lords, I was a signatory to the amendment to the then European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2018 that would have avoided the Government being in this predicament today, but I will not go on at any great length about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, have explained the history very well. It is perfectly clear that we—and, above all, the Government and the Minister—would be in a better place today if that amendment had not been overturned in the Commons. But it was and now we are busy repeating the exercise. I take some comfort, however, from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, having confirmed that there is nothing in the statutory instrument that prevents our doing the whole thing again if 11, 12 or
On the rather bizarre discussion that went on in the other place about whether domestic law was overruled by international law, I entirely concur with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford: it is not international law that is overruling, it is European Union law, because we are still a member of the European Union, and the statutory instrument is prolonging that. I say only that the Minister and anyone else who wishes that we had left on
The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is a masterly understatement of the damage that has been done. There is no reference to the large sums of public money which have been spent preparing for the eventuality that no deal was better than a bad deal, which has proved to be just about the most useless piece of negotiating capital that has ever been used—a real piece of damp spaghetti. That is sad. I therefore support her amendment.
I cannot resist responding to the most extraordinary speech that I have heard since the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said that the British people would come to heel on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, “You had better get used to having your laws made by people who are not accountable”. As we know, the change in the date was made over dinner by people who are not accountable. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said with zeal: “If only they’d listened to me and our advice here”. The Act was passed by an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, the elected House.
Turning to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, I could not help but think, seeing the mess we are in today because Parliament is stuffed full of people who have deliberately set about trying to frustrate the result of that referendum, of what his very great ancestor said—that nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won. There are no victors here, and the losers are the millions of people in our country who took the Prime Minister at her word when she said that we would leave the European Union on
I thank my noble friends on the Front Bench for having had the courtesy to listen to someone who has not, so far—I do not believe he will—entered this debate to say, “I told you so”. That is my noble friend Lord True, who yesterday pointed out to the Government that they should not subvert our due process by suspending Standing Orders to bring this statutory instrument before the House. The Government are to be thanked and congratulated on the fact that they did today what yesterday they said was impossible: they got the Joint Committee to look at the SI, and the Joint Committee miraculously found a printer who was able to print the results of its deliberations, and the House has been suspended so that we can see what the committee had to say on this important matter. It had nothing to say at all.
It had nothing to say at all because this is a stitch up—a fait accompli. The Prime Minister went to Brussels and signed up to this extraordinary proposition —I agree with many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—with these two dates, where people who are not accountable to our voters imposed conditions.
Indeed, it suggested to, or instructed, my noble friend the Prime Minister to go to Brussels and ask for an extension, but we got two dates and diktat about what we had to do about them. That is a completely different proposition. I do not suppose that we will get another coalition Government but I must say something to the Opposition Front Benches, which may take pleasure in what is happening in the other place. A group of Conservative MPs has, extraordinarily, handed power to Jeremy Corbyn and the Scottish nationalists and worked with the Speaker of the House of Commons, in breach of convention. Today, at the other end of the building, the Executive is the House of Commons. Indeed, such is its enthusiasm for this new state of affairs that it has extended this situation until Monday—and there is nothing to stop it doing so until Tuesday or Wednesday. Moreover, it is reported that that same Speaker—again, against convention—is preventing the Prime Minister bringing her deal before the House of Commons again because it has been considered before, yet the Cooper-Boles amendment gets presented again and again. I rest my case: we find ourselves in an unpleasant place, which has come about because of a conspiracy by remainers.
I will give way in a second. There has been a conspiracy where Members of both Houses have sought from the beginning to frustrate what 17.4 million people voted for. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Robathan that this has done huge damage to Parliament and people’s trust in politics. In this unelected House, some Members glory in the fact that they have been able to undermine what a huge majority in the House of Commons voted for in asking us to accept our fate of being told what to do for the next two years against what people voted for in a democratic vote.
Can the noble Lord explain to the House why, after she was requested to seek an extension, the Prime Minister decided of her own motion on the date of
I am unable to assist the noble Lord. I have no idea why the Prime Minister has done a whole load of things throughout this process. It has brought us to a very poor position.
Oh yes it is. My noble friend has supported the ERG throughout, as far as I understand it. He has always ignored those of us who have totally accepted the result of the referendum. If he had read a single one of my speeches in these debates, he would know that we want a seemly Brexit that recognises the interests of the 16 million people concerned about a decision they thought was mistaken. Where is my noble friend’s allegiance to democracy in all that?
My noble friend described members of the ERG as being involved in a conspiracy because they sought to ensure what every single Conservative Member of Parliament stood on—a manifesto that said we would leave the single market and the customs union. I describe that as an act of integrity—of keeping their word to the people who elected them. For my noble friend to suggest that he has always been in favour of this and has been working assiduously to deliver what they stood for election on is beyond parody.
My Lords, I am normally quite an optimistic man, but now I am really very close—at least in parliamentary terms—to despair. I despair for the Commons, I despair for your Lordships’ House and the way we have behaved over the past two years, and I despair for the British people who are being so appallingly governed. As an ex-Deputy Speaker, I am really saddened by the way our long-understood and cherished parliamentary rules are being thrown aside by people who should know better in their reckless campaign to stop us leaving the EU. As my noble friend Lord True explained to the House yesterday, it is vital that we differentiate clearly between the issues that may divide us—however important—and the structures and mechanisms that allow us to decide these matters in an orderly way. In stormy seas, it is important to cling to the structures that have served us so well in the past. Without a firm and settled framework in which to work, we will descend into chaos—indeed, perhaps we already have.
This leads me on to the pantomime taking place in the Commons today: a circus, with the Speaker as ring- master and the Prime Minister and Government as mere onlookers. What nonsense: indicative votes. All these suggestions and countersuggestions—second referendums, Norway, customs unions, hard Brexit, soft Brexit—have only one thing in common: they are all designed to prevent us leaving the European Union. That is what it is all about; it is a very simple matter. There is a pretence of accepting the referendum result, and I have heard it again in the Chamber today. How many people start their remarks by saying, “I completely accept the referendum result”, and then go on in their speech to indicate quite clearly that they have not, do not and never will? They call it improving the Bill or a better deal for the country. The truth is that they want to stop us leaving and to stop happening what the majority of the people in this country voted for and still want.
We have been told times without number by the Prime Minister that we leave on
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Robathan, I was rather enthusiastic about the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. It starts rather well, going on about how the Prime Minister has conducted the negotiations very badly, and regrets,
“the manner in which Her Majesty’s Government have conducted withdrawal negotiations with the European Union which has resulted in widespread uncertainty as to when the United Kingdom will leave”.
“Hear, hear”, to that, I say. I would have been happy to support that. But the amendment goes on, of course, to say that we should support all the machinations in the other place, where Executive powers have now been transferred to the House of Commons and away from the Government.
If that is what the noble Baroness wants, quite clearly the Labour Party is resigned to remaining in Opposition in perpetuity. As we do not have a written constitution, this will become enshrined in the way we do our business, and the Government will not be able to govern in the future—and that will apply to any future Labour Government as well.
The real problem is that these negotiations could not have been conducted worse, if anybody had tried. One of the problems—here I speak in support of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—is that people have constantly wanted to rule out no deal. No deal is not half as bad as everybody likes to make it out to be; indeed, as the preparations have been done for no deal, most businesses now are prepared for it. For some reason, all this hysteria has been built up about no deal. The result is that, by mandating the Prime Minister to rule out no deal, we have completely undermined her negotiations with the EU. It would have been totally different had she actually been able to say, “If you can’t give me concessions, we will end up with no deal”. That has not happened. As a result, the EU has said, “We have given you an agreement and we have no wish to renegotiate it”. There is no downturn potential whatever for the EU from facing her down, which is what has happened constantly.
As my noble friends have said, the result is that the Prime Minister has been in a position where she has told us—108 times—that we will leave on
It is all very well Members on the opposite Benches laughing. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, actually wants us to stay in the European Union—
Yes, he has been honest enough to say that. But who are we, as an appointed House, to tell the British people that they got the referendum result completely wrong and that it should be reversed? We have had this argument so often before. Where does it leave Parliament if Parliament cannot deliver on a referendum? A referendum is a delegation by Parliament to the people to make a decision. If Parliament does not carry out the decision, where does it leave us? It is a disturbing issue, and not one that all these remainers, particularly in your Lordships’ House, are really prepared to address. But what happens if we end up back in the EU, which the people have told us we should be leaving? People do not like to think about this very much, but it has enormous ramifications for democracy in this country.
We are now in a very difficult position, seeing endless extensions of the date on which we might leave. I am very sad that
For the record, the noble Lord may not be aware of breaking news. The Prime Minister has agreed to resign before the next phase of Brexit, in reality—I was going to say appropriately—because she will not stand in the way of a desire for a new approach in a bid to get Tories’ deal through.
My Lords, perhaps it is inappropriate to continue, therefore, with the speech that I was going to make, but I will start anyway. Earlier this afternoon, I was having tea with my son and past the window went a tugboat which was going against the tide. It was really struggling. I know how it felt. But I cheered myself up with the thought that the tide turns. The water goes down stream in the end—the tug was going up stream, I should explain.
Perhaps I can cheer up my noble friend Lord Framlingham by emphasising that 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union and this genie is not going back in the bottle. If we fail on this occasion, there will be another chance to get it right. After the second Punic War, which imposed the Carthaginian peace that Mr Boris Johnson likes to talk about, there was a third Punic war. That did not end well either, but perhaps this one will end better—for the Carthaginians, that is.
As noble friends have said, the Prime Minister said 108 times that she would leave on
“You vote to leave? We’re out. That’s it. We’re going”.
George Osborne said:
“There’s no second vote. This is the crucial decision of our lifetimes. Do we stay in the EU, a reformed EU or do we leave?”
Yvette Cooper said, “I don’t think you should be trying to unravel a decision the public has made”, and so on and so on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, speaks of her hope that there will now be a U-turn on the second referendum issue as well as all these other issues. She is hoping for a Government who will do that. Maybe she should heed the will of MPs on this because the Wollaston amendment on a second referendum was turned down a few weeks ago by 334 votes to 85. But now they want a second vote on the second referendum and scheming is going on by Keir Starmer, Dominic Grieve and co to try to avoid an embarrassing defeat of that second vote on the second referendum. I understand that the Beckett/Kyle amendment, which is the result of this scheming, is a strange beast that tries to avoid getting blamed for this second referendum being turned down in Parliament.
Some of us wanted to abide by the result of the first referendum. Some of us are not convinced that there is any need to delay. Some of us are convinced that we were ready to leave. We may never get the chance to know just how wrong the scaremongering about no deal was. But we have known for three years that we were supposed to leave on
Like my noble friend Lord Robathan, I deeply regret having to see this change enacted. I will not support the Government in making this change, but I cannot support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
The comments we have heard from noble Lords on the Conservative Benches over the past half-hour demonstrate the reason why that once great party is in the position it is in at the moment. It has not come to terms with the basic problem, which is Brexit itself. Brexit has now destroyed two Prime Ministers in a row. It has virtually destroyed this Government. It has proved to be a totally unviable policy. The best advice I can offer, with great humility, to the next Prime Minister is: do not proceed with Brexit or it will destroy you too, because the recriminations have started. They always start in situations such as this. We have had speeches about betrayal and claims that somehow Brexit, which was begun by this Government, was somehow inflicted upon us by the European Union. This is all delusional. Until we cease the delusions, we will not be able to get things right for the country.
What is the right way of describing what has happened? It was not possible to negotiate a Brexit deal that met the promises that were made in the referendum campaign three years ago. That was not because of the actions of people like me—it turns out that the noble Lord thinks we are somehow responsible for the fact that Brexit did not work—but because of the nature of the Brexit proposition. It was not possible to leave the club and keep all the benefits. That was the fundamental delusion and the lie that was told to the British people.
The great unravelling is starting. I suspect that the recriminations we have heard this afternoon will be just the beginning of what will happen for a long period. It is extremely sad for the country—I understand that—but the conclusion which I draw, and which I believe the House will draw in time, is that the best way of dealing with this is not to proceed with Brexit but to be honest with the country that this is not a project that could be taken forward with advantage.
The noble Lord has made a speech. Will he at least allow me to finish my remarks? Then, I will happily give way to him.
The right thing for Parliament to do in this situation is to put its wisdom at the disposal of the nation, which is our job, and, now we can see the fruits of Brexit and the situation we are now in as a country, put it back to the people in a referendum giving them the option to remain. This is not a complicated situation; this is a simple situation. I am well aware that the recriminations will carry on for a long period. Indeed, I think that will inevitably be the case because the damage that has been inflicted on the country by this process is very great. Our job now is to seek to move forward, and in the crisis situation we now confront, where the second Prime Minister in a row has been brought down by a policy which has simply proved impossible to implement, the right thing for us to do is to call a halt to this national nightmare, hold another referendum and give the British people the opportunity to put a stop to Brexit.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I believe I am right in saying that he was elected to Oxford city council or district council at one stage. I fought many elections, as did many noble Lords. We were held accountable by our electors for what we had said. It does not matter what side one is on, one is held accountable for that which one has said. What is happening now is that what people said in the referendum campaign and since, and what was promised, is being stood on its head.
My Lords, I do hope that we can lower the temperature a bit. Although I happen to believe that our duty is to save Brexit and to try to unite the country, I am one of those who deeply regretted the result of the referendum, and I have always made that plain. Along with colleagues, I tried to make the Bill better last year by supporting the amendment proposed by my noble friend the Duke of Wellington. However, I accept that we are indeed—in those infamous words—where we are, and I believe that it would be wrong to have a second referendum. We have to try to make Brexit work, difficult as I know it will be. I am utterly convinced that no deal would be a disaster for the country, and I have made that plain time and time again.
I am one of those in my party—and there are a number in the other place—who have said repeatedly that, although the deal is not perfect, you cannot retain all the benefits of membership when you leave an institution, and the Prime Minister’s deal is as good as we are likely to get. I very much hope, even now, that it will prevail and that we can move on to the next phase. We are not even at the end of the beginning; we are at the beginning of the beginning. A great deal has to follow on, and I would like us to get on with it.
The Prime Minister has shown enormous resilience and great courage. I believe that her judgment has frequently been wrong, but she has exercised her patriotism in a perfectly reasonable way. She will now step down, as we heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, a few moments ago, and that is the right decision. It is now incumbent on the other place to try to choose someone who will be able to infuse some of the spirit of a Government of national unity.
The future is not in strident, right-wing Toryism. I joined the party 63 years ago—the year of Suez. I have never, until the last year, felt ashamed, but the party has split in a fractious and factious way that has not served the interests of the country. I hope that all my colleagues who accept that Brexit has to come to pass will now reach out and that there will be an attempt across the Floor—because we know that the Labour Party is also split on this issue—to find some common factors and come together. The strife that has existed since referendum day has not served any useful purpose.
I have always been something of a student of the English Civil War, and I have begun to understand it over the last two years. The time has now come for peaceful progress. I trust that what has happened in another place today will lead to the acceptance of the Prime Minister’s deal and we can then go forward.
My Lords, I am greatly impressed and relieved that so many Members of this House have expressed an interest in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. It appears to have taken us rather more than an hour to arrive at the conclusion that we are all in favour of the instrument and that we understand its purpose and the requirement to ensure that the domestic statute book is not left in disarray—because we are not anarchists and we do not wish to invite anarchy upon our heads.
I will say little about the instrument itself, but I will address some of the points that have been raised by noble Lords—albeit that I do not intend to be drawn into issues about conspiracy theories or about the shape of any party, because it is a case of country, then party, rather than party, then country. Furthermore, I simply wish to draw together the contributions that have been made.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about her amendment and that of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on the exit date. She suggested that the Government did not listen. The Government did listen, but we did not agree. The position is simply this: a mechanism was introduced into the Bill at Section 20(4) so that the issue of the exit date could be easily addressed and reviewed by way of an instrument such as that which we have before us today.
There is then the matter of the noble Baroness’s amendment. The noble Baroness has been guided here by that legal oracle Robert Peston. I would suggest that this is an unsafe route to follow, and indeed that she might reconsider her position. But let us look at the terms of the amendment itself which,
How reckless would that be?
I notice that the first Motion selected for voting this evening in the House of Commons is that of the honourable Member John Baron, to leave the European Union without a deal on
I just wondered whether the noble and learned Lord was speaking on behalf of the Government, who were threatening that we should be leaving the day after tomorrow with no deal.
When I am at the Dispatch Box, I always speak on behalf of the Government; that at least is my understanding. I am addressing not the matter of the policy of the Government, but the matter of the amendment and where it would lead us. On that, my respectful view is that it would be a wholly reckless course of action for this House to adopt. I invite noble Lords to consider very carefully the precise terms in which it has been expressed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, raised a number of issues about the position of the ECA and the matter of its repeal, in the context of the statutory instrument. Indeed, this touched upon points then made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick: that the 2018 Act had been enacted but a number of provisions had not yet been commenced, having been deferred from Royal Assent. I accept that his analysis of the commencement provisions is, as I understand it, entirely accurate. In particular, there has been no commencement provision in respect of Sections 1 to 7, albeit that there has been commencement provision in respect of a number of other parts of the Act.
I confess that this can lead one into difficulty; certainly, it led me into difficulty on an earlier occasion in this House when I observed, in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, that the provisions with regard to European elections were repealed because that is expressly provided for in the 2018 Act—without appreciating that those provisions had not been commenced. I have some sympathy for the need for a detailed analysis of what has been commenced and what has not. That said, I want to be clear that the reason for not commencing Sections 1 to 7 is that as a general rule such commencement provisions are brought in only as and when the relevant statutory provisions are going to be required, and it is not for the reason suggested by the noble Lord. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that any withdrawal agreement Bill may amend the withdrawal Act provisions with regard to retained EU law to reflect what is or may be agreed in a withdrawal agreement. Therefore the withdrawal agreement Bill may well address a number of features of the existing 2018 Act.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Robathan, alluded to the Prime Minister having expressed the opinion on a number of occasions that we would leave the EU on
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked whether the European Council determination was a matter of EU law. It is a decision under EU law but, obviously, one that is recognised at the level of international law. It is therefore a matter of EU law, as an expression of determination that is recognised by Article 188 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union as binding upon any member to which it is directed, but is also a decision of determination that would be recognised at the level of international law. That is why, although we have agreed these dates at the level of international law, having regard to the duality principle we have to ensure that they are also recognised and implemented at the level of domestic law.
There were a great number of other observations but perhaps I can touch upon just two. First, my noble friend Lord Forsyth suggested that this Government had achieved the impossible, and I am obliged to him for his suggestion that we are capable in that regard. Nevertheless I would have to draw back a little from that proposition, which he mentioned in the context of the functioning of the Joint Committee. The point that I simply make is that it is not for the Executive to direct these committees on how they function and discharge their functions. As it transpired, that committee very helpfully, readily and appropriately brought its proceedings forward, but it was not for the Executive to try to bind it to do so.
If my noble and learned friend checks Hansard, he will find that I said the Government had achieved the impossible by finding a printer who was able to print the result. His boss, the Leader of the House, told us that that was one of the things that it would not be possible for this Government to achieve.
Again, I am very pleased at my noble friend’s acknowledgement that we have achieved something that was otherwise regarded as impossible. It is encouraging that we have such support, at least from our own Benches. [Laughter.] Those opposite are the Opposition, not the enemy. We must do something about knife crime.
Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, repeated, as he has done often before, his uncompromising advice on what we got wrong and how to put it right—but on this occasion he did it, as he said, with humility, so some things are beginning to change. The other observations that were made in this invigorating debate really had nothing to do with the instrument or with the Motion that has been tabled. I therefore shall not pursue them at this time of the evening.
I finish by begging to move that the instrument should be approved and again encouraging noble Lords to look carefully at the precise terms of the Motion that is to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. We cannot have a situation in which the Executive are purportedly bound to any Motion that has not yet passed in the Commons. That way lies chaos, which is the one thing we do not need at this point in time. I am obliged to noble Lords.
That is not fair. How can I follow that? I will say two things to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen. He mentioned Robert Peston; of course, when I first came here, his father Lord Peston was sitting behind me. I think he would have enjoyed today’s proceedings, maybe for all the wrong reasons.
I should also say to the noble and learned Lord that using the example of the Baron amendment, which called for a no-deal exit, does not come across well from a Government who have been threatening that we would leave with no deal the day after tomorrow. New paragraph (b) in Regulation 2(2) of the statutory instrument still says that we could leave without a deal at 11 pm on
We had some interesting interventions on my amendment from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, who reminded us that this was an ideological choice at the beginning. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us about the cost of all this, as did the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Robathan. From the feed coming through, I understand that the Prime Minister’s resignation will be dependent on getting the deal through, in which case the Conservative Party leadership contest will start on
There were interventions on the SI itself, rather than my amendment, from the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth, Lord Pannick, Lord Warner and Lord Cormack, the noble Viscounts, Lord Ridley and Lord Waverley, and my noble friend Lord Adonis. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, also spoke. He told us that he is normally an optimist, but is now nearing despair. In an earlier debate—I think it was when we were doing the Bill—we had Hope, Pannick and Judge. As the hope is rather fading, we are closer to the panic than we were at that stage.
I think my amendment has provided an opportunity for the House to express its concern about the chaotic way we got here and where the blame lies. Even if there was not complete agreement on the last bit of the amendment, I think it served its purpose in allowing the House to express its views, without having to divide. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
My Lords, the House of Commons is still considering this instrument. In view of the urgency of both Houses’ decisions today, it may be appropriate and for the convenience of the House if we adjourn during pleasure until the result of the other place’s consideration is clear. I therefore beg to move that the House adjourn during pleasure until 9.30 pm. I assure the House that we will not conduct further substantive business when we resume.