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My Lords, it is always a great honour and pleasure—I say that deliberately and with emphasis —to follow such an excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. She is one of our champions of the cause of Europe and we thank her for all the work she has been doing in the campaign for us to stay in the European Union, which she would prefer, as I would. We may have to face an alternative outcome but, none the less, what she said was, as usual, very wise; if only the Government could listen more wisely to that and her points, we would be in a better state. Unfortunately, the Government still seem to have not only a lack of democratic support in all their antics and activities, but also a closed mind about this matter of our membership of the European Union.
I agree with the meaning of what she was saying about the union flag. We are all proud of the national flag, but it is not the only thing we are proud of. We can be proud of going down to our village or our town, our county, our region, our country—one of four in the United Kingdom, England being the biggest and with, perhaps, sadly, more of a Brexit component in its voting propensities last time than in other parts in terms of percentages—and proud of the European Union, which has been one of the greatest achievements of all. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, was reflecting the majority of speakers in this debate. If you go through the list, you will see how strong, once again, the majority for remaining in the European Union is in the House of Lords.
“Never since the second world war has Europe been so essential. Yet never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as a symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its people’s need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. The trap lies not in being part of the European Union; the trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it. Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the”,
huge EU internal market?
“Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the border? Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.
We have to stand firm, proud and lucid, in the face of this manipulation and say first of all what Europe is. It is a”,
“historic success: the reconciliation of a devasted continent is an unprecedented project of peace, prosperity and freedom. Let’s never forget that”.
I would like to say that those are my words but, sadly, they are not. I have to confess that they were the wise words of the President of the Republic of France, Emmanuel Macron, in an opinion piece in one of our more sensible newspapers on
However, the dark clouds are there not only in the guise of the Prime Minister and the Government but in the British press, which we have to suffer. It has a very strange mixture of journals, as we know. Following the sinister and ruthless raid on the decent British press by Murdoch years ago and, subsequent to that, the activities of other non-UK personal-tax-paying owners—how convenient—many years ago as well as now, we have a cluster of increasingly neo-fascist comics masquerading as newspapers, with only a few credible papers left. The Daily Mirror has had to be a dramatic, colourful tabloid to keep up with the threat of competition from the Sun, but it has very sensible general, economic and political standing and opinions, and it is very keen on the European Union. Therefore, we have the Daily Mirror as a tabloid and at, I suppose, the other end of the spectrum the Guardian and the Financial Times, but we do not have any others.
It is one of the tragedies that the press’s effect has been so massive, understandably, on very disgruntled voters in this country. They voted as they did in the referendum mainly because they were disgruntled, fed up with their lot and wanted to give the Government a kick in the teeth. That is a natural habit of all voters in referendums, and it has been experienced in other countries across the world. That was the main thing. It was not really anything to do with the intrinsic nature of Europe, although that was part of it; it was mainly that they were just fed up with their lot, fed up with austerity and fed up with the then Conservative Government and their austerity programme. I could quote from other respectable papers.
We are now suffering from Boris Johnson and all his antics and activities, and it will get worse before it gets better. He appears to have become more reasonable in the last few days because he has had to surrender—what a terrible word—to the pressure and wisdom of the EU negotiators, who have pointed out to him the realities of the modern world. However, the Prime Minister,
“is not a consistent upholder of proper process at all. On the contrary, he is a shameless and serial abuser of it. This week, the damage being done to this country by this most untrustworthy of prime ministers is scattered as far as the eye can see”.
I agree with that and, again, I wish that those were my words but they appeared on
“Only two weeks ago, do not forget, Mr Johnson suffered probably the most humiliating constitutional reprimand ever inflicted on a British prime minister, when the supreme court unanimously dismissed his five-week prorogation of parliament as unlawful. The judges found that his move breached the principle that a government must be held to account by a sovereign parliament. The embarrassing implication was that Mr Johnson misled the Queen”.
I do not know how others in this House felt about the State Opening on Monday. I thought it was depressing and sad. I felt very great sympathy for Her Majesty. I must not bring her into any political context at all, but she looked very sad and unsmiling. I felt sympathy for her too with this problem that we have in this country, which must now be dealt with properly and with proper action. The main things that we need to focus on again are the advantages of our membership of the European Union and what it really means.
I once again say to the House: what is the Brexiteers’ ridiculous, old-fashioned, 100 year-old obsession with getting back so-called national sovereignty? It is totally meaningless in the modern world, the world of interaction and interchange, with multinational, multiracial countries —as we are too, and becoming more interesting because of it—rather than the old-fashioned island we were even after the Second World War.
What is the intrinsic meaning of such old-fashioned sovereignty—150 years old, even—which no longer exists for any country, even the United States? I suppose that China might possibly think that it has that kind of sovereignty because of its huge growth and development in recent years. In reality, every country has to work with the others. The European Union provides that apparatus, machine and structure for giving rational interaction between member countries for the good of everybody. Sovereignty in the EU goes up as people make collective decisions within the system of sovereign countries working within integrated institutions that agree mainly through treaties and other things such as majority voting, with COREPER making decisions as well—all those things down below at the various stages. That is not losing national sovereignty and control of events in this country.
European Union legislation is only a minority of our total picture: most of our legislation is still national. The European issue was not really at all high on the barometers of this country until Cameron made the fatal mistake of becoming obsessed with it because he was terrified of UKIP—the Brexit Party more recently. That was his mistake. When he first became an MP, we had a long conversation—we were both Conservative MPs. He told me emphatically that any Tory leader must make sure that they did not get overly obsessed by the European issue. Look at the mistakes made by Cameron, May and—now, on a gigantic scale—Boris Johnson. We see the whole tragedy unfolding once again before our eyes.
There is only one solution. It is not even to say, “Let’s maybe accept some kind of gradualist deal”, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said—I sympathise with some of his arguments—but to say, “No, we resist this”, and see what the public say. The national march on