European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:37 pm on 5th September 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 1:37 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, somebody died this week who was a prominent northern circuit silk—a Queen’s Counsel—in my years in the law. He was known throughout the profession as the Alka-Seltzer because he settled everything. It was of great credit to him and brought him great repute. It is a pity that there are not more Alka-Seltzers in both Houses of Parliament today.

I speak as a remainer who has long been reconciled to having to leave. I strongly and consistently supported the May deal over recent months. One of its merits was that it satisfied no one. There would be no winners, and only when there are no winners are there no outright losers who will continue to bedevil relations in this country.

I am no supporter of the Prime Minister, nor of his team. I am against Prorogation. I am against crashing out without a deal. I am against the narrowing down of the basis of the Tory party and almost everything else. However, I cannot support this Bill. It is truly remarkable—an Opposition Bill; a curiosity which raises one’s suspicions from the outset. It is designed and calculated to have these twin consequences. First, it immediately tells the EU 27 that, if they do not now offer a more acceptable deal than the May deal, instead of the no-deal Brexit—the Prime Minister’s intended consequence which the EU 27 must, heaven knows, in logic be desperate to avoid—they can rest immediately secure in the knowledge that, without an acceptable deal, we will instead remain for at least three months, and who knows on what recurring basis into the future, on whatever terms they choose to impose.

The second twin consequence is that, in the event that there is no deal by 19 October, which is logically more likely because of the weakening of the negotiating position—the first consequence I mentioned—the Bill compels the Prime Minister of this country to go to Brussels, cap in hand, no doubt with Dominic Cummings to heel, in order not merely to seek but to obtain and secure a further extension of what has already been twice extended, on whatever terms the 27 choose to impose this time.

Ordinarily, of course, one normally simply accepts a majority decision of the House of Commons. This House has its very limited scrutiny and revision role. It plays ping-pong, a misnomer if ever there was one. In the game of ping-pong, you are allowed to return service, but that is it. If the server then comes back at you, you are, just occasionally, allowed one more shot. At that stage, your opponent—and he is an opponent—is entitled to win.

In my respectful submission, I seriously question why the usual convention should apply in the particular circumstances of this case, when those promoting this Bill are at one and the same time intent on compelling the deep abasement of our sitting Prime Minister and yet refusing the Government the opportunity by general election to reinforce its right to govern, which we generally take for granted. It seems pretty difficult to me to suggest that the promoters of this Bill are obviously faithfully fulfilling the clear will and mandate of the electorate. The country really wants an end to this. Bring on the Alka-Seltzers to achieve it—by adopting, with some sensible modification, if necessary, the May solution.