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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:42 pm on 4th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 9:42 pm, 4th April 2019

My Lords, I was on the phone at 7 am to one of my fellow directors in Australia. I said to him, “What a mess our country is in. It’s harming the UK so much”, and he said to me, “Karan, Brexit is not just a mess for the UK; it is a mess for all of us around the world”.

There is no question that Brexit was caused by the faction within the Conservative Party that has existed for more than 25 years and is vehemently anti-Europe, as we have seen today, and by UKIP, which polled 14% of the vote in the 2015 elections. Sam Gyimah, the former Minister, recently said in the Evening Standard that ambitious Conservative MPs used to talk about the economy and the big society, but:

“Now ambitious … MPs are saying, ‘I have no fear of no deal’”.

We have heard time and again in this debate that no deal would be a disaster by all accounts. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, a world-renowned economist, has said that the damage could be up to £200 billion—20 times the £8 billion to £10 billion a year that we contribute to the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord True, who is not in his place, said that I have spoken in 40 debates about the European Union. It may be more. We have looked at specific aspects of Brexit. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and I spoke on Erasmus and Horizon 2020, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and I have spoken in many such debates. In consumer rights and every field that you look at, no deal is a disaster for that area. It will be a disaster for our universities, our businesses and our consumers. This Bill is required because we are in a crisis. We are in an emergency and are facing a cliff edge. We have been watching a train crash in slow motion. The train is about to crash and in fact it nearly crashed on 29 March.

The Government and the Prime Minister have lost control. By how much more can you lose control than losing by 230 votes—the biggest loss in history—then 140-plus, then 50-plus? Three times the Prime Minister has gone back to MPs and asked them to change their minds, yet the people of this country are not given one chance to change theirs. That is hypocrisy beyond belief. How many times today, throughout the afternoon and in this debate, have I heard mention of the 17.4 million people? As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said: what about the 16.1 million? A true democracy is one that respects a minority, let alone a large minority. Let us not forget that, in the nationwide referendum in 1975, the number of people who voted to remain in the European Community was—wait for this, my Lords—17.4 million. The difference is that that 17.4 million people made up not 52% but 67% of the number that voted—an overwhelming, definite majority.

We have a divided Parliament, a divided House of Commons and a divided country. The House of Commons has voted more than once to say that no deal is not an option, but the Prime Minister has not been willing to legislate for that. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, started this debate by saying that there is a lack of trust. The most important thing that I have learned in business is trust. If there is no trust, there is nothing. How can we now trust the Prime Minister and the Government when they say, “No deal is better than a bad deal”? They refer to “the will of the people”, but which people? They are talking about the people who voted three years ago.

Then they say that the will of the manifesto has now overtaken the will of the people. However, when it suits them, the manifesto is ignored. What about the grammar schools and the dementia tax? What about the fact that people do not read manifestos? There are more than 200 items in every manifesto. First, people do not even know that they exist; secondly, they do not read all 200 items; and, thirdly, they do not vote for the one item in the manifesto that says, “We will implement the result of the referendum”. It is nonsense to say that.

The electorate has changed. We talk about the 17.4 million and the tyranny of the majority, but three years later two of my children are now of voting age, whereas they were not in June 2016. Three years later, there are 2.4 million people of voting age who were not of voting age then. Three years later, the youth who did not turn out to vote regret that they did not. If given another chance, they will mobilise and turn out in droves, and that 1.3 million majority will seem a pittance. This Bill is essential to delay Brexit and prevent no deal.

There is one thing that no one has brought up. In the final stages of Brexit, this House has been left out completely. We should have had all the meaningful votes and indicative votes that have been going on in another place. We should have been doing them side by side in this House to show what we feel about the issue, just as we do with legislation. We were not given the chance, although finally, today, we have been given a chance to have a say through this Bill. Time and again, it has been pointed out in the context of this Bill that the House of Lords is the guardian of our wonderful, special unwritten constitution and that it is a check and balance on the other place, yet time and again the Prime Minister has tried to sideline Parliament. She started by trying to implement Article 50 without coming to Parliament. It took the brave Gina Miller to take on the Government, the law and the whole of our constitution, with the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary being stretched and challenged, and finally we got a say through the courts. The Government then tried to bypass Parliament in not disclosing their legal advice.

Today, after 12 and a half years in this wonderful House, which I absolutely love, I have seen it at its worst. I have seen blatant filibustering by Members of the extreme Brexit wing. Seven Motions took seven and a half hours, but it felt like seven and a half years. They were strung out deliberately; those Motions could have been debated within one hour. In my 12 and a half years, I have never seen anyone use the Motion, “That the Question be now put”, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, just to put an end to the first round of filibustering, let alone seen it used so many times just to vote to get on with things. The worst part is that a lot of the movers of those Motions had their names down to speak in this debate, but there are only two of them here; the rest have scratched.

Then the Government tried to insert a Motion from the Finance Bill Sub-Committee of the Economic Affairs Committee, which I have sat on for many years, to do with making tax digital. There were two other debates, one of them to do with Europe, which I was going to speak in but were scratched, but that Motion was left in. And who were the speakers in that debate? People who signed up at the last minute who are Members of that extreme pro-Brexit wing, who I have never seen in all my years in that Finance Bill Sub-Committee having anything to do with the committee or speaking on anything that it has produced. Luckily, that debate was pulled at the last minute.