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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:09 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative 10:09 pm, 4th April 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in the gap and to follow the words of wisdom of my roommate and noble friend Lord Cathcart and someone as experienced in EU matters as my noble friend the Duke of Wellington. I speak as someone who voted remain. However, I am not convinced that the Bill is the right approach and, like my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, I will vote against it should the opportunity arise. I have dealt with the EU all my career and I do not believe that the EU 27 will let us leave without a deal in the short term. I fear that the Bill plays into their hands.

Frankly and first, it is an attempt that will make the negotiation by the UK with the EU 27 of an acceptable deal more difficult or even impossible. It also goes against the past promises of both main parties. Those who advocate this week’s takeover of Parliament have, I suggest, become more impudent. I believe that this abuse of the constitutional norms could bring Parliament into disrepute and set the Parliament against many of the people, with potential damage to the constitution. There is the added point that if everything goes wrong with the Bill, we do not know who to hold to account.

Secondly, as a businesswoman and former member of the Government—and indeed the bureaucracy—I very much dislike the increasingly last-minute nature of business in the UK Parliament and the UK Government. Looking at the Bill, I have several questions of detail such as about how the dates work, what happens about our European elections and what is to be done about any conditions that the EU may impose, notably on our reason for any extension.

I believe that this country would be much better served if we had proper preparatory paperwork and explanatory notes on the Bill, particularly given its constitutional significance. However, I appreciate the acceleration of work by the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee, allowing the usual channels to find a way forward and therefore agree to a Committee stage on Monday. The fact that there was a special report on concerns about rushed legislation and amendments as HL Paper 116–I, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hunt, shows the scale of the problems that we can have with rushed legislation.

Finally, I was astonished when I heard the House of Commons Speaker ruling that this is not a money Bill. I will as usual be probing on the financial implications and impact of the Bill—both positive and negative, because they go both ways as a result of any delay—even though I have not been able to persuade the parliamentary authorities to agree to having amendments to require the necessary impact assessments or a sensible post hoc review on such a very important issue.