Amendment 6

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 15th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee 3:45 pm, 15th July 2019

I thank the noble Lord. I think it would be helpful for the House to hear the other side of the river speak, as it were—the minority that we are. I was not minded to take part in this Bill, though I am troubled by the high-handed intervention in Ulster affairs and other parts of the Bill by MPs in another place, and will be listening carefully to what my noble friends say later.

I tabled my amendment because I am concerned by the attempt to hijack a Northern Ireland Bill to—let us be blunt—stop the UK leaving the EU on 31 October or to weaken our negotiating position. It was a move instigated by my right honourable friends Mr Grieve and Sir Oliver Letwin. They were supported by the usual galère of referendum-deniers and pushed towards the line by the votes of more than 220 Labour MPs. Yes, Labour again: with 76% of the votes for Mr Grieve, Labour has been, since 2017, the single greatest political force obstructing Brexit.

This amendment does not touch the call for progress reports, but it prevents exaggerated machinery being added for repeated debates, which some have admitted is to stop Brexit on 31 October. Sir Oliver Letwin declared that these amendments would “prevent Prorogation”, and we have heard that argument today. But Mr Grieve freely admitted that his aim was to prevent Brexit on 31 October. Both rather arrogantly took it for granted that if they were defeated—as they were—your Lordships’ House would act as they instructed, and hey presto, here we are with Amendment 7. Your Lordships’ House is again invited to be the doormat for a defeated party in the other place.

The motive for all this is clear, whatever the pretence. One of the two men likely, though not certain, to become our next Prime Minister has said that he would honour the verdict of the referendum and take Britain out of the European Union on 31 October. The tablers of this amendment want to stop him. Some will tell us today, as we have heard already, “Oh, it is nothing to do with Brexit. It is all about protecting Parliament”—the very Parliament they wish to remain subjected to the superiority of EU law. Is it nothing to do with Brexit? I really do wonder.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who spoke eloquently, states on his website that he is an EU law nerd and veteran of more than 150 cases before the ECJ. He argued that, even if Brexit were delayed, the British people did not need to be given the chance to vote in EU elections—“Do not let the people speak”. The noble Lord described as moving my noble friend Lord Hailsham’s words, which were that Brexit was an act of national self-harm that moved him to anger, shame and distress. We may safely conclude that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is not an enthusiast for Brexit.

My noble friend Lord Hailsham has always been open. From the outset, he declared his wish to frustrate Brexit, as did the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I do not know about other noble Lords, but I have never seen the name of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on an amendment to do with the EU and concluded that it might be about advancing our exit. This amendment is designed to do one thing: to make it harder to leave the EU on 31 October. If, in the light of 17.4 million votes in a referendum and the result of the European elections, your Lordships’ House wishes to align itself with that objective, so be it. Our names will all be counted in the Division lists. Perhaps the days of this House will then also be counted.

The smokescreen of this amendment, as we have heard, is all about stopping Parliament being prorogued, so Parliament can have a say. Make no mistake that my right honourable friend Boris Johnson—as has been made clear by my noble friend Lord Hailsham—is the target of this, as he is the target of a relentless campaign of personal vilification. Mr Johnson, it is said, wants to prorogue Parliament to “force” Britain out of the EU. Mr Johnson, of course, has said no such thing, but we have since had the spectacle of a former Prime Minister, himself responsible for the longest political Prorogation in modern times, threatening legal action against one of his successors to prevent him giving considered advice to the sovereign. Is it not extraordinary for a former Prime Minister to argue that the duty to advise the Crown should be taken away from the elected Prime Minister and given to unelected judges?

We are now told that, seven days before seeing the sovereign, a Prime Minister must send a letter to Mishcon de Reya, which I gather is a law firm. I count myself fortunate to have had no dealings with it and, after this, I intend none. Who elected it? We were told that what a Prime Minister advises a sovereign must be subject to judicial review. What next? Will the Supreme Court require and subpoena transcripts of the weekly Audience to find out the purport of the advice the Prime Minister is giving? Will the Prime Minister’s advice have to be accompanied by an explanatory note from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick?