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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:32 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour 9:32 pm, 4th April 2019

My noble friend, as always, has taken the best parts of my speech. However, he is right.

We are in the gravest political and constitutional crisis that this country has seen since the Second World War. I am troubled by the tone of the debate this afternoon. There seems to be—certainly on one side of the argument—little realisation of how serious the crisis is. This might be a flawed Bill, brought here by an extraordinary process, but nevertheless it is part of the solution to the crisis in which we find ourselves, and that is why it should be supported.

The idea that Britain could leave the European Union credibly with no deal has always been a fantasy. The popular view was that coming out of Europe would be like bargaining about buying a house or a second-hand car and that unless you are prepared to walk away you will never get anything. This is a complete fallacy about the nature of our relationship with the European Union.

We have been in the European Union for 45 years and in that period the depth of integration across whole fields of our national life has been huge. It started mainly as a customs union, developed into a single market and in recent times there have been important developments in the security field which are vital to the safety of people on the streets in this country. The idea that we could simply walk away from all of this without any consequences or massive disruption is a complete nonsense.

I say with a heavy heart that I blame the Prime Minister for the fact that this argument has gained strength. I greatly admire—perhaps it is a false view—her sense of dogged public duty, but she made a terrible mistake in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017 when she allowed her chief-of-staff, Nick Timothy, to insert into that speech the populist line that,

“no deal … is better than a bad deal”.

That has been the driving force for the argument that has grown about no deal being a credible alternative for coming out of the European Union.