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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:29 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Howard of Lympne Lord Howard of Lympne Conservative 7:29 pm, 4th April 2019

My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Lord. He and I crossed swords many times in the other place, and I always emerged from those exchanges with a great deal of respect and a touch of affection for the noble Lord—but I regret to say that I disagree what he has said to the House this evening. The House of Commons and this House decided to delegate the decision on the future of our relationship with the European Union to the people of our country in a referendum. They did that without qualification. The question on the referendum paper was not, “Do you want to remain in the European Union if we can get satisfactory terms?” or, “Do you want to leave if we can get satisfactory terms?” Rather it was a clear question: leave or remain? The country delivered its verdict without qualification. It said, by a relatively small but clear margin, that it wanted to leave.

Parliament then voted to trigger Article 50 and did so without qualification. Article 50 meant that we would leave the European Union two years after the article was triggered. There was no qualification. It was not a question of our leaving in two years’ time if we could get a reasonable deal; it was that we should leave. That, I believe, is what we should have done last week, but we did not. That was because Members of both Houses of Parliament did not get the answer they wanted. There was a considerable majority in both Houses for us to remain in the European Union. After the result of the referendum, some Members of both Houses who had been in favour of the UK remaining accepted the verdict of the people in good faith. Some accepted it but tried to limit what they saw as the damage. They were reluctant accepters of the verdict of the people. Others—far too many, I fear—have sought to thwart, obstruct and reverse the decision of the people and have never really accepted the result of the referendum.

I believe we should leave the European Union without, if necessary, any overarching agreement. In the end, I was persuaded of the merits of the proposal put by the Prime Minister to Parliament for a third time and I would have reluctantly voted for it. However, the proposal did not achieve the support of Parliament. In those circumstances, I would leave without a deal, which is why in due course I shall vote against this legislation.

I do not want to repeat the points made very eloquently by my noble friend Lord Lilley in his speech today before he was cut off in his prime, but it is the case that we could leave. Preparations have been made on both sides of the channel for us to leave in relatively good order, and that is what I think we should do if the Prime Minister cannot achieve agreement to the terms she has negotiated. The former Governor of the Bank of England has suggested that we should do so with a six-month standstill. After we have left, we should agree with the European Union to trade with each other on the same terms. That is a sensible proposal and I would even go so far as to say that we should give each other 12 months in which to negotiate a satisfactory trading agreement. I have no doubt that if that step were taken, it would be perfectly possible to reach an agreement along those lines.

Given that, I speak against the Bill currently before your Lordships’ House. When the moment comes, I shall vote against it because I think we have to honour the result of the referendum, and the time has come for us to do so.