European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:17 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 7:17 pm, 4th April 2019

My Lords, I have been present for every speech today. I was sorely tempted to intervene on the odd one or two, but I kept reminding myself that I have to be diplomatic and brief during Second Reading and not upset anybody. I was always under pressure, thinking that, somewhere in this building—or on the estate—lots of meetings would be going on, trying to sort out or ease our clear difficulties with the Bill’s timetable during the day. Of course, this culminated in the welcome Business Statement by the Government Chief Whip, which I was very pleased about, so I will not make some points and I will not take very long.

I am moving the Motion because this is a Private Member’s Bill—it is a Public Bill and has the same status as any other Bill that happens to be led by a private Member—and I was asked if I would kick it off in this House. It is sponsored by Members of Parliament in the Commons from four political parties; it is not a Labour Party exercise, despite the constant refrain from a couple of noble Lords earlier. We are not in a normal situation; nobody is arguing that. The timetable of Brexit is an internal timetable in the UK but there is an external timetable, which we do not control, in the European Union.

Our role is not to rubber-stamp the elected Commons at any time; I make no apology for saying that. We need to consider what is sent to us. We do that—for example, that is why we do not vote on Second Reading—but we also have to consider the context in which it is sent to us. This is not normal. We are considering not Brexit—I am certainly not—but how now, today, the Commons is dealing with the Bill, because the case is not the same as it was one, two, three or four months ago. It has been forced into this situation. I was a Member there for only 27 years; others were there a lot longer. It is clearly now under extreme pressure, which is why this Bill was promoted. The Commons decided to take responsibility and control of the decision on a no-deal Brexit. We have gone past the stage where many members of the public thought no deal meant not leaving. That was the theme for months. When discussions relating to leaving without any arrangement took place, people assumed we would not leave. That is not the case.

For example, this morning we heard our police leaders in the UK warning about using language on Brexit that inflames a sensitive situation, possibly leading to violence. This is the UK today: police leaders warning us about our language on Brexit because it is potentially leading to violent acts. We heard the odd potential threat subliminally during the filibuster earlier today. This is a really serious situation. In my experience—45 years in Westminster—this has never happened before.

We also know that the Cabinet was last week warned by the National Security Adviser about a substantial rise in food prices as a result of leaving without a deal. Coincidentally, it just so happens that this House was due today to debate the evidence that the EU sub-committee reported as long ago as last May about food price rises due to Brexit. There is abundant evidence, which clearly the National Security Adviser has—he probably has better evidence than we have—that this is potentially a serious problem.