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Brexit: Appointment of Joint Committee - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:29 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 4:29 pm, 3rd July 2019

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and particularly glad to give unequivocal support to the Motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition; I am just sorry that it has taken so long.

Three years ago, in the wake of a referendum that had divided our country almost equally, I told your Lordships’ House that we needed a Parliament that could come together and look at the facts. I was anxious to have an innovation: a Grand Committee of both Houses. It could have been done. I like to think that had it been done, we might not be in quite the mess that we are in today. Certainly, were it not for the ending of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, we would not be in this mess. Many of the points made cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, would have been appreciated by many of the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have had this extraordinary dichotomy that, on the one hand, 56% of the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain and, on the other, their only parliamentary representatives who take their seats in Westminster are leavers. When the history of this period comes to be written, I think that this will be seen as one of the most significant facts.

Having been in Parliament for just over 49 years, I am very depressed for our country as we approach 31 October. Of course, I hope fervently that a deal can be done. Like many remainers on this side of the House and on the Cross Benches, I would have accepted the Prime Minister’s deal, as negotiated by Olly Robbins, to whom the Leader of the Opposition referred in her speech. I wish Her Majesty’s Opposition in the other place had realised that you cannot leave an institution and retain all the benefits of membership. This was a deal negotiated by a determined and expert team, agreed by both sides; Parliament should have accepted it.

We are where we are, but where is that? I am ashamed for my party because of the way we are conducting the leadership election. It should have been decided in the other place. I do not know what the result would have been, but whoever had been elected Prime Minister—elected leader of the party and gone to the Queen to receive the seals of office—should have been working now. We are wasting time that we do not have to waste. I thought it grotesque—I use the word deliberately—that yesterday, when we had more news of the gravest crisis in Hong Kong since the handover, our Foreign Secretary, who I personally admire and like very much, was in Northern Ireland with Mr Boris Johnson, appealing for the party vote.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said quite rightly that we are dealing with 0.3% of the electorate, but in Northern Ireland we are dealing with 500 paid-up members of the Conservative Party. What a distortion of priorities, an appalling spectacle and a national disgrace that we should be conducting this election among 160,000 people in the whole of the United Kingdom when we desperately need a Government. I honour Theresa May, but she is a lame duck Prime Minister and the Government are in a state of suspended animation while this goes on, with nobody knowing who will occupy which posts after the votes have been counted. I appeal to those who control the rule-making in my party—a party that I have hitherto always been proud to belong to and to which I have belonged for 63 years—to realise that this is not the way to choose a Prime Minister. It may be the way to choose a Leader of the Opposition but not a Prime Minister.

What can we now do? The answer is: not a great deal. I wish I could share the sanguine approach of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. I admire him greatly; he has done great service in both Houses of Parliament. He is just stepping down, having had a very distinguished period as chairman of our International Relations Committee, and we are all in his debt. I hope he is right in all that he said, but I fear he is too optimistic.

What could a committee of both Houses do, composed of good men and true, as it would be, with a great deal of expertise from your Lordships’ House? The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, would have to be a member of it so we would have to give him his summer holiday, but it is just possible that it could produce a persuasive report that would make whichever candidate emerges as the winner, and as the new Prime Minister, realise that above all his responsibility was to the nation.

To chase the votes of the sort of people who turned their backs in the European Parliament yesterday is totally shameful.