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Brexit: Appointment of Joint Committee - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:21 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative 5:21 pm, 3rd July 2019

My Lords, my contribution to this debate will be brief, partly because I have already expressed my views on many occasions, and in part because, if I speak at any length, my anger, shame and distress at what my party is doing to this country and to itself will become too apparent. All I can say in Mr Johnson’s favour is that his policies are somewhat less destructive than those advocated by Mr Corbyn and his immediate circle. I recognise that that is a lukewarm endorsement.

I support the Motion. Indeed, I cannot see any rational reason for opposing it, certainly not the procedural reasons that I suspect the Minister will advance, nor even the sophisticated arguments of my noble friend Lord Bridges, with whom I normally agree, or the less sophisticated arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Robathan. No-deal Brexit is not yet government policy, so the Motion reflects—indeed, underpins—government strategy. The Motion provides for a Joint Committee of both Houses, long called for by my neighbour and noble friend Lord Cormack. It implies the taking and consideration of external and independent evidence, doubtless to address the very questions identified by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Paddick. That is highly desirable.

A report from such a source would ensure that, at a critical moment—one certain to arise—the public would be better informed about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, which is precisely what my noble friend Lord Bridges called for, and I wholly agree. Surely, the existence of a better-informed public is a necessary condition to taking back control. Incidentally, this Joint Committee could examine what I fear is the somewhat optimistic analysis of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. I normally agree with him, but I should like to know what external experts have to say about it.

To move away from the somewhat narrow terms of the Motion, I conclude with the following observations. I regard the whole policy of Brexit as an extraordinary act of national self-harm—political, economic, cultural and diplomatic—and one that will threaten the very unity of the United Kingdom, so eloquently spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Reid. It is entirely unsupported by plausible assumptions or credible evidence. It is being driven by obsessions of a largely absurd and harmful kind.

I do not accept that the referendum of 2016 provides any democratic authority for crashing out without a deal. In 2016, the electorate was assured that Brexit would be a smooth, orderly process providing for seamless trade. That is not what will happen if a no-deal Brexit occurs. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made wholly plain in a masterly analysis, now that the relevant facts are so much clearer, there would be nothing undemocratic about a further referendum. Indeed, such a referendum is now probably a necessary precondition to the revocation of Article 50, which is what I think we should now do. There is evidence from the polls of a shift in public opinion. Moreover, after three years, a new and large cohort of young voters is now enfranchised, and it is surely right that their views on their future should be taken into account.

Finally, any suggestion that Parliament should be prorogued to prevent elected Members of Parliament challenging or overruling the decisions of Ministers would be a constitutional outrage. Such a policy must be resisted by every possible proper means, including, if necessary, a Motion of no confidence. While to support such a Motion would certainly risk possible disaster, it might avert certain disaster. Those who bring forward or participate in a policy of prorogation for the purpose identified will bring lasting shame on themselves and the party to which they belong. It would almost certainly lead to their political destruction and it would subvert the basic principles on which parliamentary government rests. I am going to vote for the Motion.