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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:28 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 6:28 pm, 2nd October 2019

My Lords, what a delightful speech. There was a lot of wisdom in it.

Let me cast caution to the winds and start by making three predictions. First, Boris will not get his deal. This now seems an almost uncontroversial forecast, judging by all the comments from Brussels.

Secondly, any challenge to the Benn Act, which the Government seem to ignore, will fail for the reasons advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. So, without a deal at the end of the EU summit, Boris will be legally required to send a letter requesting an Article 50 extension of the Brexit debate.

Thirdly, and most controversially, Boris will not be Prime Minister at the end of October but will probably still be leader of his party. Why? He cannot send the letter that he will be legally obliged to send—he would sooner be dead in a ditch. He said that he will not disobey the law, but he also states that he will achieve his goal of Brexit by 31 October. The two aims are incompatible. The Supreme Court will almost certainly find means of making the law prevail. The only course left for him is to resign as PM or be deposed.

At this point, my crystal ball clouds over. It begins to look increasingly likely that, if Boris has not resigned, there will be a vote of no confidence and he will be replaced by a temporary Government of national unity. This will not be led by Corbyn. It is beginning to look likely that someone such as Margaret Beckett would be an acceptable Labour temporary PM.

The first act of such a Government must be to secure an extension of the date fixed for Article 50, and the second must be to call for a new referendum as the only way to resolve the present impasse. This must precede, and cannot be part of, a general election, because the referendum must offer a clear choice, this time based on actual knowledge of what Brexit means. By contrast, in a general election voters vote for different parties for a great variety of different reasons. It seems that Labour has sensibly come round to this view.

There are many problems surrounding the wording of the choice in a referendum, but the obvious clear referendum choice, without a withdrawal treaty, will be between a no-deal Brexit and remain. A general election is bound to follow. It will be very nasty, with the future of democracy at stake. As was eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich—and as Boris has made clear—it will be the people against their enemies: Europe, Parliament, the courts and lawyers, the Civil Service and anyone who still believes MPs should be representatives, not delegates.

One reason that it will be unlike any previous election is the change in the Conservative Party. I am now in my 10th decade. When I was first elected as an Opposition MP in 1962, I had great respect for eminent Conservative leaders such as Macmillan, Butler, Macleod and Carrington, as well as thinkers such as Ian Gilmour.

Boris’s Conservative Party has ceased to be the party of parliamentary democracy of Locke and Burke. It has instead become the party of populist authoritarianism, which has adopted hook, line and sinker the doctrine of Rousseau—that the will of the people, as interpreted by the Government, must prevail over all dissent, the rule of law and the rights of the individual and minorities. Rousseau’s was the doctrine preached by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety, much favoured ever since by every autocrat from Mussolini to Hitler to Erdoğan. Is this really the kind of campaign and party that once-moderate Tories are now ready to support? Locke and Burke must be turning in their graves.