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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:03 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Conservative 10:03 pm, 4th April 2019

My Lords, I declare, as before, my various European interests, as detailed in the register. I have been on holiday for the last week, as I had thought when I planned it that we would be out of the EU by now. While away, I have watched with dismay the way the other place has rejected yet again the Government’s deal. I really think that this Parliament has demeaned itself, and it has again failed. So it is unsurprising that, with the Government unable to carry their own deal through the House of Commons, Parliament should wish to legislate to prevent the country leaving without a deal.

In view of some of the comments made this evening, it seems necessary to repeat what I have said before. I have long since accepted that we are leaving the European Union, and would support the Prime Minister’s deal time and again, but we cannot leave on 12 April without a deal. If the Government cannot get their deal agreed by next Wednesday, we must try to agree a further extension with the EU 27. The Prime Minister has agreed to seek such an extension. The reason why this Bill is necessary is because we cannot be sure that certain elements of the Government—or the Conservative Party—will not seek to prevent her carrying out her intention. In fact, I think that the passing of this Bill will strengthen her hand within the Government. With the help of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, I am sure that the Bill can be improved on Monday, and that will also strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in her negotiations with the European Union.

The Prime Minister has said that she will seek only a short extension. I would support this. I have always thought that it would almost certainly be necessary to request a short extension. However, I am clear on this. Given the choice between a longer delay and leaving with no deal, it would, to my mind, undoubtedly be in the national interest to agree a longer delay. Only those driven by ideology still believe in a no-deal Brexit. We should all take serious notice of what was said earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, who is no longer in his seat. A much-respected economist from the London School of Economics, he did not in any way exaggerate the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.

It worries me that those from all parties who seek to deliver Brexit but at the same time to minimise economic damage—those who are trying to seek cross-party agreement to get us out of this difficult situation—should be vilified from both the political extremes. I would like to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and other noble Lords, in applauding the efforts of those people—Sir Oliver Letwin, Yvette Cooper, Dame Caroline Spelman, Hilary Benn and others. This is surely a moment for moderation and pragmatism. In this House, and in the other place, we serve the country, not political parties or ideologies.

To my great and profound sadness, we are leaving the European Union. However, it is in that spirit that I support this Bill. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for taking over the Bill—I think it a pity that the Government did not take it over themselves—and I very much hope that on Monday we will pass it.