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Moved by Lord Marlesford
After first “Commons” to insert “, and in recognition of the fact that the vote of 17.4 million people in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union is no longer relevant and may be ignored or further deferred”.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord True asked me to speak to this amendment; it is an interesting amendment to speak to. The amendment relates particularly to the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit and the effect of this guillotine on them. I point out that fact because, in the past, noble Lords have not always read the amendment. As the amendment says, it comes,
“in recognition of the fact that the vote of 17.4 million people in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union is no longer relevant and may be ignored or further deferred”.
That is a very depressing situation for those people. They are not following the intricacies of what is happening in your Lordships’ House today. They will be as mystified as some of us are. None the less, all I can say is that a dangerous impression is being given by today’s proceedings and, to some extent, by yesterday’s proceedings in another place: that the view of the people is being ignored through Parliament’s hijacking of what they said. I suggest that that will have an interesting ripple effect if and when an election takes place, not least because the terms of an election have changed—in recent hours, almost.
Not long ago, the movement was for a fresh referendum. At that stage, the discussion was all about what the question in the referendum should be. In fact, the Brexit side worried considerably about whether the question would divide the Brexit vote. This morning, of course, Sir Keir Starmer, on behalf of the Labour Party, gave a clear, unequivocal and, I hope, binding view that, in a general election, the Labour Party would campaign to remain. By doing so, he has succeeded in dividing the remain vote because, in that situation, the remain vote will be divided between the Liberal Democrats, who have always believed in remain, and the Labour Party, which has not always believed in remain. In fact, it has been very difficult to know what it does believe in. Perhaps we ought to look at the backdrop to all this. Why on earth are we in this position at all? I had better declare my own position very clearly, in case it is of interest to anyone: in the referendum I voted, marginally, to leave. If there were to be another vote or referendum, I would vote enthusiastically to leave because of what I believe has been happening in Europe. I would like to remind noble Lords of the backdrop to all our discussions.
In my view, the EU project is proving a tragic example of weakness through strength. The original purpose of bringing peace to a war-torn Europe in the treaty of Rome 1957 was achieved long ago. The successor objective of bringing together for free trade and economic collaboration an enthusiastic group of like-minded democratic European countries to enhance their mutual stability and prosperity was a success for many years. As President de Gaulle famously described it in 1962, the year in which the common agricultural policy was launched, it was meant to be a group of nation states retaining their cultures and their legal, political and national identities and traditions: a “Europe des patries” or “Europe des nations”—I think he used both phrases.
Earlier, the American states had joined together to forge a new democratic identity in a rather similar way. The world flocked to the United States to become American and to find wealth. The rights of states were set out with admirable clarity in 1791 in the 28 words of the 10th Amendment to the American constitution. It was not until 200 years later, in the EU Maastricht treaty in 1991—30 years after the signing of the treaty of Rome—
I understand the points the noble Lord is making, but the amendment proposed is to add some words to the Motion to make a political statement that can be made without that appearing in the Motion. I wonder whether the noble Lord might agree that it does not advance the debate in this House to consider the addition of these words. We should be considering whether the House will finish consideration of this Bill, when it arrives, by the end of Friday. That is the real point before us. I wonder whether the noble Lord would agree that that is what we should be considering.
I am afraid I do not agree at all. If the noble and learned Lord is proposing to move the closure of my speech, let him go ahead and do so. I wish to make my own speech, and I do not wish to be told by him what or what not to say. Is that clear? I thank him very much.
At any rate, it was not until Maastricht that we attempted to have in Europe a policy similar to the rights of states; it was spelled out in many pages of Brussels jargon that the EU should not assume powers better exercised at national level. By then it was too late, but since then the Eurocrats have had many happy hours finding exceptions to limit the impact of subsidiarity. The introduction of a single currency without central economic government was always a challenge. The European Central Bank, established in June 1998, has done a fine job, with distinguished and successful presidents who have resisted the pressure to accommodate political priorities of individual euro states. The introduction of European monetary union, with fixed exchange rates in January 1999, paved the way for a smooth final arrival, three years later, of a single currency—the euro—for 300 million people. Since then, the ECB has successfully coped with the difficulties.
The problem of the EU—the problem that has caused all this to happen, from 2016 up to and including today—is that the EU Commission, based in Brussels, has one nationally appointed Commissioner for every country, and every Commissioner is expected to subordinate their national interest to the collective good. The Commission has the sole right to propose new European legislation. It has sought to aggregate to itself more and more power. In theory, the Commission is answerable to the European Council of Ministers representing the national Governments at the head or departmental level. In practice, everything is sorted out behind the scenes by Commission officials in consultation. Many states have been unhappy for a very long time at the way in which the Commission has been behaving. I believe that is the main reason why there has been such an enfeebling of the European Union.
I declare an interest as a part-time resident of Italy, as my noble friend knows and the House will know. Does he agree that the points he is making are exemplified by what we have seen lately in Italy, where unelected Commissioners descend and lecture elected Governments about what budget they might be allowed to present? Even more recently, an effective parliamentary coup—something we may get used to this country shortly—has taken place to install an unelected Government.
Yes, indeed. Of course, all that is what caused David Cameron to call a referendum in the first place. One must realise that when we voted to leave the EU, the Commission was outraged. It was also fearful. Once one country had taken such a step, others might follow and the whole edifice could come crashing down. Methodically and skilfully, it set about making the UK’s departure either impossible or too difficult and expensive to pursue. In this it had the collaboration of senior British civil servants, who had been equally shocked by the referendum result. The Commission has repeatedly made it clear that there are no circumstances in which the withdrawal agreement offered to Mrs May in November 2018 and subsequently, as we all know, rejected three times by the House of Commons—by the British Parliament—will be reopened for further negotiation.
The main sticking point has been the land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The EU Commission has insisted on a so-called backstop clause in the withdrawal agreement, which—this has been said and cannot be said too often—could mean that the UK would have to remain indefinitely in the EU customs union to avoid a hard border. Absurdly, it is felt by both sides that a hard border of any sort could cause the fighting between the two sides to start again. I simply do not believe that is true. The traumatic effect of the fighting was far too great. The Good Friday agreement, which took place with the help of the Americans, is much safer than people think.
The obvious example is an invisible sea border. It is interesting that only today—this is all happening now and is relevant to the legislation—it is suggested that it might be possible to have one island for the purpose of agricultural trade. If we were to have one island for agricultural trade, in my view, and presumably in the view of those who put forward this idea, this does not break the concept or idea of having a Northern Ireland which is part of the UK. I therefore hope very much that this could be extended to all sides. That would be very much better.
Mrs May, who was respected for her fortitude but not admired for her lack of flexibility in negotiating, has landed us in a state where we have to discuss this emergency legislation today. The Conservatives suffered a crushing defeat in the May elections for the European Parliament—the Labour Party even more so. That is why we have had a change of Prime Minister. The Labour Party is in even greater difficulties, largely because its leader, Mr Corbyn—this is totally relevant to the legislation that the House of Commons is in the process of passing—has been unable to make it clear whether he believes in staying or leaving.
I happen to know why that is the case. I read the Morning Star rather regularly. On
“We may well see Article 50 extended, allowing extra time either to renovate Prime Minister May’s ‘bogus Brexit’ deal or to hold a second referendum in the hope that almost three years of hysterical anti-Brexit scaremongering will reverse the results of the first … In any event, the aim will be the same: to maintain Britain’s subjection to pro-big business EU rules that would obstruct the policies of a future left-led Labour Government”.
Below, there is a lovely advertisement, “Corbyn and the Star”, offering a T-shirt which bears,
“the two great left symbols of our era—Jeremy Corbyn and the Morning Star”.
This is the big problem of Europe. It has divided politics in a most unproductive manner. I hope very much that we will not continue with the sort of discussion which the party opposite has put down in the form of a guillotine for its legislation. It will be very bad for the future of this House, which is rather more important than it seems to think.
My Lords, I support the excellent amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. It is badly needed, because, as so often over many years, this House seems to have forgotten the result of the referendum. It has forgotten that it voted for the referendum Bill, that it voted for Article 50 legislation, and that it voted for the withdrawal Act.
I need to remind noble Lords that the referendum, at which 17 and a half million voted to leave, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, was the biggest single democratic vote this country has ever had. I am always surprised in this House when noble Lords—
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, would have realised that we were trying to make clear the implications of the guillotine Motion which we are discussing, which is an extremely arrogant Motion.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for clarifying the issue for the noble Lord, Lord Harris.
The fact is that this House too often forgets the result of the referendum. I must correct the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on one very small point. David Cameron did indeed legislate for the referendum, but only because of the electoral pressure he was under from UKIP. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Pearson is here tonight. We had the referendum because the then Conservative leadership was frightened of losing even more voters and MPs to UKIP.
Passing on from that, the Brexit voters in the referendum have continually been misrepresented as a lot of ignorant backwoodsmen. Of course, that is not the case at all. A huge number of people voted to leave. We have heard the cries from noble Lords who are not here now—the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and others—for a people’s vote. I thought that the referendum was probably the biggest people’s vote we have ever had. I remember sitting in the Chamber in April when it was said that we needed another people’s vote and all the banners outside said: “Let’s have a people’s vote”. Well, in June, we did have another people’s vote. We had the European elections, when the Brexit Party smashed every other party to smithereens. It got twice the number of votes of the Conservative and Labour parties put together. I congratulate the Liberal Democrats, who got 17% of the vote, just under half the Brexit Party vote.
The idea that leaving the EU is some oddball movement and that Brexiteers are deranged is far from the truth. I hope the Government will understand that. I hope the Prime Minister understands that and continues the course that he has set so far. I believe it is important that the House accepts the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, because it makes it quite clear what this is all about. It is about Brexit. In the end, this whole arrangement and this debate today are about Brexit. It is about why people voted to leave and not letting them down. I support the amendment.
My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. My noble friend Lord True’s amendment, which was moved by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, is trying to perfect the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, by inserting the true motive behind it. It is not that my noble friend Lord Marlesford agrees with the sentiment that the referendum result should be ignored—far from it. I am sure the noble Lord is aware that my noble friend Lord Marlesford and many of us in the Chamber this evening fully wish to respect the result of that referendum. My noble friend is trying to make plain what this Motion is all about.
Of course I understand that it is intended to be some sort of ironic statement. But noble Lords who support this amendment must be clear that, if they vote for it, their names will go down in Hansard as believing that the referendum result no longer matters. That is what their vote will be cast as saying.
I do not think that that would be the case. If anybody reads in Hansard what my noble friend Lord Marlesford has said this evening, they will know exactly what he thinks about the result of the referendum.
I would like to make an additional point in respect of the referendum result, in which 52% of the country voted to leave the European Union and 48% voted to remain. In your Lordships’ House, we have never come close to reflecting the political reality in the country—far from it. That is why, whenever a Motion relating to Brexit is moved, the result always opposes that of the referendum in one way or another. This House needs to think carefully about its legitimacy if it continues to act in a way that is out of line with popular feeling in the country. I believe that this applies also to the other place, where parliamentarians vote in a way that is wholly unlike the referendum result.
Perhaps I can help my noble friend. I think that the Prime Minister is about to canter to her rescue. He has told us that he will appoint to the House of Lords, as soon as he can, scores—maybe a hundred—heroes of Brexit, who will be able to enjoy themselves on these Benches. It was in the newspapers—indeed, it was in the Daily Telegraph—so it must be true. The heroes of Brexit will come cantering to the rescue and make credible this legislature.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for reminding me of that. If he followed me on Twitter, which I do not suppose he does, he would know that I have said that the idea of a hundred new Brexit-supporting Peers coming into your Lordships’ House would be a great start in remedying the imbalance that exists.
A great start, but not necessarily the finish, to getting the right balance in your Lordships’ House. I believe that this House and the other place need to think very carefully when acting so out of line with the result of the referendum. Through that referendum, Parliament ceded control of the decision to the people—the people are the ultimate source of authority in the country—but has been trying ever since to take it back, both in this place and the other place. We run the risk of doing serious harm to the institutions of Parliament.
My Lords, the issue before the House is whether or not to agree the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I suggest first that the noble Lord withdraws it, but I suspect that that is not going to happen, and, secondly, that the House does not accept the amendment. The reasons are those that have been given already. It does not add to the point about the programme Motion, which says that the Bill, if it reaches us, should be dealt with in accordance with a procedure which would give two clear days for it to be dealt with. I respectfully suggest, as was the point of my intervention on the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that it is not helped by adding this statement, whether ironic or political. The real question ultimately is whether or not the programme Motion should be agreed. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. If not, we will oppose it.
Does the noble and learned Lord not think that the public are entitled to understand what the motivation is? Is he unhappy about the lending of the girdle of honesty by this amendment to the motivation for the Motion before us?
The motivation is very clear and has been clearly expressed. What we are trying to avoid is a situation in which the United Kingdom crashes out of the European Union without a deal. That is what the Bill, which has been published, does. It requires that there should be either a vote of the House of Commons approving exit without a deal or an agreement that is approved. That is what it does, and the British people can see that. No doubt the noble Lord and others might say that there is a different reason for it. They are fully at liberty to make that point however they want, but it does not need to be stated in legislation.
The noble and learned Lord used the words “crashes out”, which is the slogan of remainers, day after day, everywhere you look. Does he accept that “crashing out” is an opinion?
I am not going to engage in this debate; we have had it so many times. We have seen it so many times in predictions, and most recently in the Yellowhammer report. Whether or not the noble Lord likes my language, I am making the point that this amendment should not be accepted. That is what I invite the House to do.
The noble and learned Lord talks about the feelings of the people. Something I want to endorse from my noble friend’s intervention is that, since 1910 or thereabouts, your Lordships’ House and the people have walked hand in hand. “The Peers and the people” has been an expression that had real meaning. I fear that that is not the case any longer and my impression, as an inhabitant of the north-west of England, is that people are beginning to question the point of your Lordships’ House if it ceases to be on their side. This particular Motion would put paid for ever to the respect that this House has among the people.
My Lords, I say to my noble colleague that this is about much more than what happens with Brexit. This is about how we govern ourselves, what Parliament is about and the role of the people. We have already had some banter about parliamentary sovereignty and stuffing this place with a hundred Peers. Of course, soon it will be a discussion not about the role of this House but about the point of this House, if it carries on as it is.
We have had impassioned speeches over the course of these debates, which have been going on for three years. I know that people are getting very wound-up about the fact that they might have a few fewer days to discuss these matters, but we have been going on for a very long time. We have had all sorts of discussions about the principles of parliamentary sovereignty. I remember my noble friend and much-loved colleague Lord Patten making an impassioned speech, some time ago, in which he talked about parliamentary sovereignty in his erudite way. I seem to remember that he had picked up a copy of AV Dicey, the fount of all knowledge and principle on parliamentary sovereignty.
I can relieve my noble friend of the rest of his anecdote because one of the shames of my life is that, even though I did papers in constitutional history at the University of Oxford, I have never opened AV Dicey in my life. I have read Tom Bingham and a lot of Burke; I know the difference between Burke and Rousseau and am on Burke’s side, which is where my views on parliamentary sovereignty come from.
My noble friend will forgive me then for my errant message. While he is quite clear that he did not open AV Dicey, my memory is that he quoted from it. He will forgive me, I trust, if my memory is playing tricks on me. My noble friend mentioned Burke, who has been much quoted on the role of a Member of Parliament. I remind the House that, at the very first opportunity after Burke made his pronouncement, the electorate threw him out and never allowed him back into the House of Commons.
This is one of the most honest amendments, if I may put it that way. It talks about recognising the fact that the vote of 17.4 million people to leave the European Union is no longer relevant. Why do we forget that the people were made a solemn and sincere vow at that time that it would be their choice and that their decision would be honoured? They had that vow not only in political speeches but in writing. Those leaflets were put through the letterboxes of every house in the country. It should have come as no surprise because the Liberal Democrats had long campaigned for a referendum at that time. Noble Lords may remember the leaflet bearing the image of Mr Clegg which went out in which the Liberal Democrats campaigned for a real referendum. “You will decide”, it said. I do not know what happened to Mr Clegg, or what he is doing now, but I know what happened to that promise. The people were given that promise at a referendum. Every single party said it would honour the result of that referendum.
My noble friend perhaps is not aware of the statement by the Supreme Court after the referendum which said that the statute authorising the referendum simply provided for it to be held without specifying the consequences and that the change in the law required to implement the outcome of the referendum must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely, by legislation.
Yes, of course, but I am sure that my noble friend—he is a dear friend—is not suggesting that the promise that was given to those 17.4 million people, indeed to the entire country, has actually been fulfilled. We know what the object of so much of this is: it is not actually to decide which way we are going to get out of the EU. Out there and in this Chamber, there are people who are not worried about no deal; they want no exit. That is absolutely clear.
Does my noble friend agree that, ironically, they are the no-dealers because they want everything to stay the same? They do not even want an adjustment of a withdrawal agreement or anything of that sort. They want no deal. They want us to stay in the Community.
I entirely agree with my noble friend. It is one of those ironies that the Lib Deems started this with those leaflets with Mr Clegg’s face on promising a real choice, a real referendum. Mr Clegg and the late leader of the Liberal Democrats at the time said that it was an instruction from the people, not a bit of advice, perhaps something that we would think about, but an instruction from the people. It is one of the great ironies of this fiasco that we are going through right now that the Lib Dems have now come full circle. Having promised us that there would be a referendum and having campaigned for that, now their leader says that even if there were a second referendum to endorse the first—and, of course, a second referendum would endorse the result of the first referendum—they would not even then in those circumstances put forward Brexit and pursue that policy. They wear a coat of many colours, but it has got a little ragged at the hem and they are in real danger of falling flat on their faces.
We talk about the role of this House and of the House of Commons and the Queen, but there are four pillars of government in this country: the Queen, the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the people. We talk about parliamentary sovereignty, but in my book it is the people who are sovereign when they have been given such an explicit promise as they were given three years ago and they have consistently said that they want that promise honoured. That is why this amendment is one of the most honest amendments on the very long list this evening.
That brings us to the point that we have got ourselves into a dialogue of the totally deaf. We know that a deal has been suggested and that it has been turned down time and time again down there. There is no deal that is likely to get through that House as things stand at the moment.
The Prime Minister has said, “Let’s solve this by putting it back to the people. Let’s have an election”. My noble friend may not remember, but several months ago when we were debating these issues I said that the only constitutionally principled solution to a problem such as this when Parliament cannot make up its mind, when the parties cannot come together on anything, is to put it back to the people through a general election, which I believe is what the Labour Party has been campaigning for for two years. No ands, ifs and buts; no, we want an election, which is what the Prime Minister is now suggesting we have. Brenda in Bristol will have to put up with it.
The time has come when we need the people to put us right. We need their advice, we need their input, we need their instruction. We have been very bad at listening to their instructions for the past three years. It is time to go back to them for a further instruction in the form of a general election.