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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:04 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 2:04 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, I support the Bill, which is extremely necessary, timely and rather skilfully drafted. I shall not dwell long on the rather dispiriting debates we had yesterday. I note that when you are making sweet white wine, it is usual to leave the grapes on the vine until they have been attacked by something called noble rot. Well, there was quite a lot of noble rot around in this House last night.

I will look, rather, to the future, I want to address one of the central planks of the Government’s belief: that they need to be able to leave without a deal as a negotiating tool. It is something the Prime Minister has said again and again. Most recently he spoke about the Bill as cutting him off at the knees. The trouble with this thesis is that it is not supported by any evidence. There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Prime Minister or his predecessor made any progress at all by threatening to leave without a deal. After all, the previous Prime Minister coined that dreadful phrase “No deal is better than a bad deal” at Lancaster House more than two and a half years ago, and if the European Union 27 really are quaking in their shoes about such an event, we might have seen a bit of quaking by now. We have not seen such quaking, so I think this whole approach—using no deal as a lever—is completely unfounded and false. It does not work. Frankly, we should stop kidding ourselves, on the government side at least, that this is “open sesame” in Brussels. It is not.

The other point, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and one or two others, is that we still do not have a clear picture of the costs and implications of leaving without a deal. This House made a perfectly imaginative proposal to the other place in July, which was ignored and treated with contumely, but would have meant that by the end of September we would have had a joint parliamentary inquiry which could have taken evidence not from people who are parti pris, as many speakers in this House are—I admit I am one—but from organisations such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the budgetary responsibility people, the CBI, the TUC and others. Out of that we could have had, by the end of September, a really clear picture of what was entailed. Do we have a clear picture? No. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, asked on the radio this morning how much it would cost, did not know. This is why it is essential that this piece of legislation means that when decisions have to be taken, in late October, we actually have some control over it.

My third point has been alluded to by many other speakers and concerns our British union. I am the son of a Scottish father and was brought up for quite a bit of time in Scotland. I am a unionist through and through and if anyone tells me that crashing out without a deal is not going to damage the stability and continuity of that union, in Scotland, Wales and above all in Northern Ireland, frankly they lack all credibility. The Bill is necessary. It was made the more necessary by the decision to prorogue. I will not go on at great length about that. Of course the Government have the right to recommend Prorogation to Her Majesty, but the underhand way this was done and the perfectly obvious intention to deprive Parliament of quite a few sitting days in which it could have considered these matters has triggered and emphasised the need for this piece of legislation.