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Amendment to the Motion

Part of Flags (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 3rd April 2019

My Lords, I am following five scintillating speeches which call into question the nonsense of these regulations. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for his ingenious amendment, which is fair in dealing with the technical points but also had a historical background. We have had messages from all parts of the House asking the Minister, with his excellent Scottish credentials, to think again and withdraw this instrument now before it is too late.

I was not able to take part in the Grand Committee at the end of March on this subject because of other duties, but I very much followed it and agree with what has been said today. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for reminding us of the historical background, too, and the painful history of this country’s relationship with and attitudes towards the Republic of Ireland—the Irish Free State, as it was initially after independence.

There was a famous Irish ambassador in London a few years ago called Joe Small, who was a friend of mine. He was rather small. I once had occasion to phone him and ask, “Joe, can you tell me when you think that the note of condescension disappeared from English and British voices when they talk to Irish people?” He said, “I tell you what, I’ll put that in my computer and come back to you in 10 minutes”. He did that and said, “It was five years ago, when incomes per capita in the Republic of Ireland overtook those in Britain”. That was a pretty good example of things getting back to normal after the painful history that we have had.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, referred to the nonsense in the details of these regulations in some detail. I will not go into that now but conclude with a few remarks relating not to the flag as it is—it was originally the Council of Europe flag, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, said —but to the flag of the European Union, which is now our precious asset in emotional and practical terms. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has today, maybe unwittingly, found reason number 293 for us staying in the European Union and not leaving after all. It is a very good one so perhaps it should be higher than 293 and closer to the top, since flags are so important.

On the wider background of the UK I have always had found it very painful that, as a member state of the Union for a long time, this country was one of the larger ones that routinely never flew the European flag on government buildings. That is why I introduced my rather tedious and boring EU information Bill when I first came into the House of Lords; it included a clause about the flying of the European flag on government buildings. It is really painful to see this daft anti-European sentiment growing in Britain, particularly in the last few years. The European flag has never been flown on government buildings; on hotels, yes, and of course on embassies of other countries in the European Union—and sometimes on others as well. Aspirant countries such as Albania are applying to join. When I went there last spring, it was full of European flags. Albania is very enthusiastic about being a member of the European Union.

By the way, although it is not strictly relevant to the subject, the flag of the European Union is a precious asset and I pay tribute once again to the activities of the flag wavers outside, who have now been there for well over two years. Now they are there from 10 am until 8 pm, or later; they now have European flags with lights on them so they can show them at night. Their poles are getting taller and they have had tremendous publicity. Last Friday, we had the pleasure of honouring Steve Bray, the chief flag waver, at a function at the National Liberal Club when we said thank you to him and all his colleagues for staying there in bitterly cold weather and never deviating. The only day they stayed away, wisely and sensibly, was when the antis came on 29 March to register that they were leavers—with some high-temperature elements, I think. It was a sensible idea for them to stay away that day to avoid any trouble.

My EU information Bill is still on the list for a Committee of the Whole House in due course. It is not making much progress but does not now include flag-waving, which would have sounded illogical in view of the attitude in this country. I would love to be able to put that provision back in later on, if only we could. The Minister could give us all a psychological boost by withdrawing these regulations in view of the excellent speeches already made today.