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Brexit: Appointment of Joint Committee - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:34 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat 6:34 pm, 3rd July 2019

My Lords, this has been an extraordinary debate. Three years after the vote to leave the European Union, it is in many ways extraordinary that we are still debating what the consequences of a no-deal Brexit could be or considering the need to set up a committee to look at them.

As the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, suggested, this debate is arguably rather too late. One might think that it should have happened in July 2016 rather than July 2019. During debates on the EU referendum Bill in 2015, one or two of us called on the Government to have documents that looked at the consequences of leaving the European Union and the alternatives to membership. There was some reluctance on the Government Benches to produce such documents but eventually they did so. In addition, there was of course the notorious Treasury document that raised the spectre of the massive implications of leaving the European Union.

Those were government documents and perhaps received relatively little scrutiny. During the referendum campaign, they were rubbished by the leave side. If there is a case for a committee to look at these issues, it must be a committee of both Houses of Parliament and not the Government marking their own homework. We need full information, but it requires full and frank discussion on a cross-party basis and across both Houses. There needs to be truth and there needs to be trust.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, eloquently articulated the urgency of this matter and the things that need to be looked at—governmental preparations, legislative preparations and business preparations. He is absolutely right, but we on these Benches draw a slightly different conclusion. They are the right questions to be asked, but surely we are not going to ask the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, just to go away, write that paper and bring it back. It requires all parties to be part of this. It is not just about the Executive; it is about the legislature as well. It is about us doing our job as a responsible Chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, raised some concerns. He seemed to think that this was an “unedifying” Motion, asked questions about our role and thought that it was perhaps a little cynical and was simply trying to tie the hands of a future Prime Minister. From a sedentary position, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said, “Well, of course, that’s what Parliaments do”.