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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 5th September 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour 2:30 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, it has been a very long time since we have heard from this side. I reassure the noble Lords who have just given way that I did not intend to speak either and will be extremely brief.

As some noble Lords know, I worked for 15 years in the European Parliament with the noble Lords, Lord Callanan and Lord Balfe, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and other noble Lords. I am not making any political points—this is exactly how I feel—but the European Union represented by some in this House is not the European Union that I have experienced and that I know well. It is a European Union of representatives of their countries who come together in order to reach a compromise to serve the greater good and the greater number of people. Governments come together in the Council of Ministers to work and vote together, and, if there is a big issue, it is that when those Governments vote in the Council of Ministers they very rarely reveal to their national parliaments how they voted. It is about voluntarily pooling sovereignty to achieve far more than would be achieved by acting alone. That is the European Union that I know—working with colleagues as the rapporteur on the Schengen movement and ensuring that, within that, there is no discrimination at the border on pivotal grounds such as race, ethnicity, religion, belief, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation or values.

Unless we go back to the past, we will recreate it. I believe that the European Union was quite literally born out of the ashes of the Second World War. Others have heard me say this and I will revisit it again and again. Countries decided that they would no longer fight one another for land, power, coal or steel but would work together. From the ashes of the Second World War, of people’s hopes and dreams, and of crematoria dotted across Europe, there was a determination that we would never look away again while a group, a minority or a country was targeted and scapegoated—and that is deeply personal to me. If I, as a gay man, had been living in certain parts of Europe during the Second World War, I could literally have been taken to one of those camps and been worked to death. I must connect with the 6 million-plus Jews who were obliterated because of their religion and with others.

If there is discrimination and a rise of the right wing in Europe in the countries that have been cited, is that not all the more reason to work together to ensure that that is brought to an end? We should not turn away and say, “It is only the things that matter to Britain that I am concerned with”. What makes us human is our ability to stand in the shoes of the other and ask, “Would I want that to happen to me or my children?”.

I can see certain Members on the Front Bench getting perhaps a little impatient with me. What is his point? Do not mumble from a sedentary position. If the noble Lord has something to say, can he please stand and say it? I will always give way.

The reason I have decided to speak today, after a long silence since my original initiation in the early debates, is that no one has mentioned those individuals within the groups who face appalling uncertainty: the 3 million EU citizens who live in this country. If for no other reason, this insurance policy—this Bill before us today—gives them a degree of certainty and hope, and if for no other reason I would grab this Bill with both hands.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said: what about division? By going for a no deal Brexit, what happens to the 16 million-plus, such as me, who with our values would feel completely disconnected from our country? Do we heal the division there? No— we reinforce it. Therefore, for no other reason than the ability to stand in the shoes of others—yes, including those who voted leave and who want a resolution—we have to work together.

The noble Lord and others referred to having trust in the Prime Minister, but one of our concerns is that we do not believe what he says. Other noble Lords have referred to reports from other capitals. But if this Bill, which we have before us today, gives the Prime Minister in whom most of your Lordships seem to have faith and belief the time to reach a deal that brings parts of this country together that, at the moment, seem forever divided, we should give your Prime Minister this insurance policy of extra time.