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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:48 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:48 pm, 5th September 2019

I am glad to hear that. We have seen a worrying number of occasions when Ministers have blamed civil servants for decisions that they should have taken responsibility for. Poor Ministers blame officials in the way that poor workmen blame their tools. Michael Gove on experts, David Davis on officials, and others have lowered the quality of political debate in this country. We desperately need to rebuild it. It is not only the Government; the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, reminds us of the migration issue. I have read many of the Migration Watch UK reports over the years, with good evidence presented to suggest that the migration problem in Britain is largely a European one, rather than a global one. That helped the leave campaign very considerably, and I regret that misrepresentation of evidence. Operation Yellowhammer is the most recent example of good evidence being presented by civil servants, so far as we understand it, and suppressed by the Government because it did not fit what they wanted. Again, I may have misheard the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on Tuesday. I thought he said that the report was based on “reasonable assumptions” about the outcome of a no-deal Brexit, and that it was a “worst-case analysis”. The think tank I worked for dealt in scenario planning, and would have central analyses, and best-case and worst-case analyses. I understand that Operation Yellowhammer was a central-scenario analysis of the risks. The Government should therefore be prepared to share what they think are the potential risks of a no-deal Brexit.

It is three years since the referendum. The focus of negotiations has been within the Conservative Party and not between the UK Government and the European Union. Theresa May, as Prime Minister, was pulled to the right by the European Research Group and imposed tight red lines. There could have been a compromise. Had the Government said that we would have a soft Brexit and stay within the single market and customs union, everything would have been over and dealt with long before now. The red lines were tightened and tightened, in late 2016 and early 2017, which led us to where we are today. After three years, the Conservative Party is even more deeply divided and we now see it crumbling at the edges, with the Cummings purge and even more so with the resignation of Jo Johnson this morning, when he said he is,

“torn between family loyalty and the national interest”.

We need politicians to think about the national interest, although I see Twitter remarked that this is the first occasion that a Minister has resigned to spend less time with his family.

The time remaining is short. The clock is ticking and deadlines are approaching. After three years of drift, without a clear government policy on what sort of exit to take, the idea that a deal could be reached on 17 and 18 October and implemented by 31 October is as absurd as some of the other things we have heard. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, remarked, the legislative basis for an ordinary Brexit will simply not be there. We will be going out without the legal framework that we need; that is not an orderly Brexit. We need more time. We need more honesty about the choices, more respect for evidence, what is possible and what is not. We need a Government and an Opposition who put the national interest ahead of party factionalism. Since we do not sufficiently have these qualities in our national debate at present, we need this Bill.