My Lords, I do not think the Labour Benches have spoken recently. It is a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, as it was to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who is indeed a friend as well.
I fear that the new Prime Minister, his advisers and his Ministers are clearly hell-bent on crashing this United Kingdom out of the European Union without a deal. There is a dogmatic, hard-right elite in No. 10. In passing this Bill, Parliament is standing up for the decent majority in this country and against that malevolent elite. This sinister, self-serving, ideologically obsessed, wilfully destructive approach has to be stopped in its tracks. We in your Lordships’ House have a chance to do that today in supporting the elected House of Commons.
A salutary measure of the reckless dogmatism of the Brexiteers is that surveys show that two-thirds of Conservative Party members and the same proportion of Leave supporters simply do not care if Brexit means a hard Irish border or Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. For them Brexit is everything, come what may. You might say that, for them, Brexit trumps everything.
With the clock ticking rapidly towards
We simply cannot believe what he says. As Aidan O’Neill QC said of the Prime Minister in submissions to the Court of Session in Edinburgh on behalf of the 77 parliamentarians in the challenge to the Government’s arbitrary Prorogation of Parliament:
“You look at the record, you try as best you can to determine the credibility and reliability of what is said against a background of an individual whose personal, professional and political life has been characterised by incontinent mendacity or, to make it plainer, an unwillingness or inability to acknowledge and speak the truth”.
I see that the Prime Minister’s EU negotiator was back in Brussels again yesterday, again with nothing to say, nothing to offer and nothing to propose—a briefcase full of blank sheets of paper, I suspect, and a waste of taxpayers’ money on his Eurostar fare, I would venture. Apparently, this negotiator is an able and experienced diplomat. Having worked with his predecessors, I have no doubt that he is, but his political masters will not let him use those talents and do his job. Instead, the Prime Minister travels to Paris and Berlin— Dublin next Monday, too—then exaggerates or fabricates what exactly happened.
“We’re making real progress”, claims the Prime Minister. I have checked directly with government contacts in the main capitals and with people in Brussels and that is simply not true. Look at the comments on the record from Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Dublin, and it is crystal clear that not one single proposal has been made. It is also clear that they are not budging. Why would you in any negotiation if the other side has not made any counterproposal at all?
The tragedy is that this is not incompetence. This is not a Government taking their time in the background to prepare a serious, considered new idea. It is deliberate inaction, running down that clock and being gratuitously insulting to our friends in the Irish Republic, hoping to make it to a no-deal exit designed to turn this country upside down and convert it into a free-for-all, deregulated and fundamentally unequal society blissfully disengaged from its neighbours and isolated from the outside world.
Today, we get a chance to make the Prime Minister stop that clock. I do not want Brexit at all and I think the people should have another say in a public vote to stop this madness, but if the choice ends up being between a deal and no deal, we have to stop no deal.