Amendment 2

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Goldsmith Lord Goldsmith Labour 4:15 pm, 17th July 2019

My Lords, as I said on Monday, I reject the idea that this amendment does not have an important impact on Northern Ireland too, not only because it ensures that the supervision and reporting provisions that are now in the Bill can be considered constructively by Parliament, but because—and who has forgotten this?—Northern Ireland has been at the centre of all the debates that we have had in this House about Brexit. The possibility that we should be forced to leave without a deal, I would have thought we would all agree, is one that deeply affects the people of Northern Ireland.

I had thought that on this issue we were approaching something like unanimity that it would be constitutionally improper and wrong in principle to suspend Parliament in order to push through the final stages of the Brexit arrangements without Parliament being in a position to oversee, comment on or effectively have any role in that. Those who have said that this would be wrong are not only Cross-Benchers—the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, made it very clear, in an extremely good speech, why that was so—but others on this side of the House, such as the Liberal Democrats, as well as many distinguished Members of the Conservative Party. We all know about Sir John Major’s statement that he would judicially review an attempt to push through Brexit without a deal, and the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has been reported as saying that it would be wrong and a “very bad idea” to suspend Parliament, and I respectfully and fully agree with him.

As I said in the debate on Monday, none of this means that the amendment would stop Brexit taking place. There is, as others continually remind us, existing legislation. What is more, we cannot unilaterally stop our departure on 31 October because, as a matter of international law, unless that is extended by agreement between the EU and ourselves we will leave on that date. But that does not mean that Parliament should not have a role in what takes place. It can change its mind. It can do many things, including change the law. It would be grossly wrong—a perversion of our constitutional traditions—and irresponsible, in my view, to prevent Parliament being able to present, comment, oversee, supervise and, if it so chooses, take other action. That, and nothing else, is what this amendment is about.

Of course, the incoming Prime Minister—let us assume it is Mr Johnson—may wish to proceed without further inconvenience from Parliament. Let him persuade Parliament of that. Let him persuade Parliament that the route he has chosen will succeed. That is what parliamentarians should do and what we should do in a democracy. He cannot and should not adopt a royalist approach, as King Charles did. That is what we are trying to prevent, and so many Members of this House are concerned about that. It is Parliament that safeguards our freedoms and ensures that we remain a free land; that is how we do our democracy. To allow that to be set aside would be wrong.

It is said that Mr Johnson has not said he wants to do this, but he was given a clear invitation from this House on Monday to say clearly that he would not. He was invited to telephone the Minister. I look forward to hearing in his speech, which he will make in a few moments, whether he received such a phone call. I suspect he did not—otherwise we would not still be debating this amendment—but that is the way to deal with that; it could be done. Obviously, I hope Mr Johnson does not intend to suspend Parliament. He has many other ways of making clear to the EU what our future should be, but let us not lock the mother of parliaments out of debate by a procedural device.

I have listened carefully to those who have spoken against this. The noble Lord, Lord True, spoke at length on Monday; I have not heard anything new in his arguments. I listened intently to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, whom I respect, but I did not hear any argument there that carried the day, as far as I was concerned. Ultimately, she was concerned that there would be an abuse by passing this amendment. I respectfully say to her that the abuse would be if we allowed a situation in which Prorogation could be used for a wrong purpose simply to push through something that Parliament is opposed to.

I therefore hope that noble Lords will support the amendment if the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, decides to divide the House. I hope he will, and if he does we will follow him.