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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:20 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Flight Lord Flight Conservative 4:20 pm, 16th October 2019

My Lords, I want to talk about the constitution of Brexit, but I first make the point that my noble friend Lord Lilley is one of the few Members of this House who has been involved with all the technical issues, going back to our early days of membership, and, I think, knows more than most people and is well worth listening to. I agree very much with everything that he had to say.

Forty-five years ago, the Wilson Government introduced an important change to the unwritten British constitution. The first major referendum helped to address politically the then divisions on Europe, at the time within the Labour Party. More importantly, it established the precedent of putting an issue of major national importance above party politics for the people to decide upon directly by a referendum. Since then, Scotland’s position vis-à-vis potential independence and changing the voting system to a PR basis have also been decided by referenda. It seems, therefore, unfortunate that the elitist remainer cabal has chosen to ignore the constitutional position of referenda and the role of the referendum of three years ago, in which the British people decided by a clear majority that they wished to leave the EU.

Membership of the EU has already undermined our historic, unwritten constitution, such that we will need to codify how we are governed to protect individual rights and liberties and to ensure that democracy can no longer be routinely subverted or disregarded by an arrogant, know-it-all elite. This will be a key component of a rebooted, post-Brexit, newly again independent UK. We should never again accept the dysfunctionality that has overshadowed the past three years, with many MPs trying to cancel the most important referendum decision in modern English history and the Speaker creating a rival, useless Executive. We do not want a US-style Supreme Court, its members being encouraged to turn themselves into yet another set of legislators. Our catastrophic membership of the EU, the leftward shift of the UK governing classes, the Blairite legal reforms—including the 1998 Human Rights Act—the emasculation of other forms of local government and the creation of a separate Supreme Court have all conspired to undermine our unwritten constitution. This also requires leaders of political parties to allow unwritten laws to guide their behaviour; a principle which remainers have trashed.

The first and most important reform should be the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011; and, secondly, the power to conduct international treaty negotiations needs to be left solely to the Executive. The Speaker needs to be bound by clear rules. An MP who wants to change party should be obliged to call a by-election. Too many decisions have been taken by the courts rather than resolved by democratically elected politicians; the courts should not be unelected legislators. We need to allow direct and indirect democracy to co-exist, with voters able to force referenda as in Switzerland and the US, and with outcomes being legally binding.

During this period, we have also had the description of David Cameron’s period as Prime Minister in his recently published book, which, ironically, sets out a powerful case for Brexit. Cameron started out as a Eurosceptic who thought that the irritations of the EU were a price worth paying for the free trade advantages. In power, he soon found out the EU horrors to which we had become exposed—the directives, the stitch-ups and the knives out for the City. He voted against a eurozone bailout package, which threatened to cost Britain dear, only to see the rules changed so that the UK veto would not count. This is in contrast to Germany’s unfailing ability to get what it wants. Britain’s ability, by contrast, has been non-existent. We have opposed only 70 pieces of EU legislation during our membership, none of which has been accepted. The process under which Juncker became the EC President shocked Cameron. He also appreciated that the EU process of powers being transferred to Brussels is a formula to trap democracy, using complex laws and regulation to suck in powers which are never given back.

In short, Cameron learned how the EU grasped and exercised its powers and became the strongest candidate for reform. He never explains how, after so many failures, he thought he could possibly achieve the necessary EU reforms. It is even more difficult to understand how Cameron thought he could win the fight for reform by backing remain. Nothing in his book explains why he thinks that EU membership is a good thing; nor is there a single example of anything emanating from Brussels that benefits Britain.

The best possible outcome of Brexit would, I believe, be a Canada-style free trade deal applying to the bulk of mutually traded goods, together with a clean exit, restoring full British sovereignty. As Cameron’s book exposes, the latter is perhaps the most important. Britain’s great democracy has been squeezed inside an unaccountable EU bureaucracy, where no one else in Europe has been willing to challenge this or give their voters the chance to escape. The risk is thus that, to achieve a deal, full British sovereignty is not restored. Here, I believe that it would be better to leave without a deal. While the remain cabal continues to plot and abuse the constitution to seek to frustrate Brexit, it is extraordinary that it does not seem to realise that an even bigger and growing majority of citizens who voted leave in the referendum would not accept remaining in the EU.