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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:41 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 4:41 pm, 5th September 2019

My Lords, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak. I have not spoken for two years on European issues, and I certainly will not speak for 15 minutes. I accept my responsibility. I have been a pro-European all my life. I have been very active in the House of Lords in European Union committees and am very much in favour of staying in Europe. But I was responsible in part for us coming out of Europe, like many other people, because I did not make the case for Europe with the public in the way we should have done over the years, and certainly I did not play my part in the referendum campaign to the extent that in retrospect I believe I should have done. So I accept my responsibility.

I have been a remainer from the beginning, but I have watched the way changes have been taking place and the way that the country has become ever more divided—not many people have spoken about that today—and I recognise that, in accepting my responsibility, I have to shift my position as a very clear-cut remainer who wanted in principle to stick with remain all the way. I have now shifted my view; I am moving towards the deal that Mrs May reached.

I welcome the Bill, because it gives us time for a little more reflection and may start bringing together more people who are prepared to make little compromises to try to find a solution that will produce two results. First, it will take us out of Europe. I do not want that, but I am prepared to live with it because I suspect that the divisions happening with us, in Europe, in America and all around the world are part of a shift that is taking place and cannot be stopped. So I am prepared to go some way with it. Secondly, I want to have terms and conditions that are acceptable and will benefit the people of this country, and that will not be immediately harmful, even in the short term for a few years, but will broadly represent where people stand at the moment. If it is a soft settlement, it will go some way towards ending the divisions within families, communities and groupings by bringing us closer together. That will be on the basis of coming out, but with a soft landing.

This Bill provides us with that opportunity, if we have people of goodwill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, put his finger on the solution, which has been on offer since Mrs May came to the end of her negotiations and which is now in the political declaration. I do not remember precisely which clause it is, but in either Clause 17 or Clause 19 there is an offer from the Commission for further negotiations on the backstop. This has not been pursued by anybody, but it is there, it is on offer and it is time that people of goodwill came together and picked it up. They would then get a deal that could come back to the Commons and command its support. Then, at the end of the day, it should be put to the people to have their view on it.

So I have shifted, and I hope that, if we are really serious about trying to find a way forward, and having listened yesterday to the coarseness to which we almost descended in some of our exchanges, we will put that to one side and come together as we truly should to represent the best interests of the people.