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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:09 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 9:09 pm, 4th April 2019

I must proceed, if my noble friend will allow me. I am grateful to him.

I find it extraordinary that those of us who believe that what is essentially at stake in Brexit is the future of our democracy and say that that is the most important thing should be characterised as hardliners. The fact that this language is used goes some way to explain the disillusion that there is among so many of our fellow citizens with politicians.

The endeavour of Brexit is about the self-respect of a country that has centuries of tradition of parliamentary government but gave away too much of its parliamentary government in 1972. It is significant that older people, who have longer memories of our parliamentary government and democracy, have been more disposed to vote leave, and that younger people, who have been brought up in a culture of cynicism about politics—a cynicism that I think derives from the democratic deficit of the European Union, in which we are implicated—are the main remainers.

The Bill, and the procedures under which it has been introduced and is being treated in Parliament, abrogate important elements of the constitution. It is flawed even in its own terms. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, reminded us, it betrays a profound misunderstanding of the respective roles of the legislature and the Executive. Parliamentary government does not mean Parliament governing, and it is very wrong, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, have intimated, that the Prime Minister should be dispatched by Back-Bench legislation to negotiate with the Council of Ministers with her hands so tied. That is an insult to her and her office. It is not in the gift of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to determine unilaterally the date of our exit.

As the constitutional proprieties have been so comprehensively junked in recent times, we would be well within our rights if we were to reject the Bill and ask the other place to think again. Of course, we will not do that, but I hope that we will seriously amend the Bill on Monday.

Meanwhile, I hope that we will indeed leave on 12 April. Our departure will be more ragged than it need have been because it has not been well prepared for. The House of Commons does not want us to leave with no deal but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked: what would the extension be for? The House of Commons may not like no deal, but the House of Commons has been completely unable to determine what it wants. If we leave on 12 April or shortly afterwards, we can then embrace our birthright, renew our democracy, embark on a politics of reconciliation, address ourselves to the major issues that have been so badly neglected during this Brexit saga and seek a progressive internationalism for our country.