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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:19 am on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 11:19 am, 19th October 2019

My Lords, wise words from the noble Earl. The House will be looking to him and his committee—my commiserations to him there—to make sense to this House of what is about to follow.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House made what was intended to be a great unifying speech, but, unfortunately, it came against the background of great division. She did not explain to the rest of us why it is now that this deal, as compared with Mrs May’s deal, is attracting the support of the right wing of the Conservative Party in a way in which the previous one did not. We have been conned into believing that this change is entirely to do with Northern Ireland. There are changes on Northern Ireland, and noble Lords may well be right that they are beneficial for Northern Irish industry, although those beneficial changes do not apply to the rest of British industry, but they do not in any way resolve the divisions there.

The real change is not on Northern Ireland; it is that we have diluted what references there were to regulatory environment alignment—in the legally binding part of the documentation they are weakened and in the political declaration the choice of trade arrangement has been narrowed such that, rather than the closely aligned two economies that were envisaged in the Chequers agreement and Mrs May’s agreement, the options are confined to what amounts to a Canada-minus-minus form of trade agreement. That is not progress. If anything, it is taking us back. I hope this House and another place recognise that they, the public and the media have to some extent been conned over the last few weeks.

The Prime Minister is a great entertainer. He is a great illusionist, but entertainment is not the same as statesmanship. Like charlatans through the ages, he first embraced and then betrayed Mrs Foster and the DUP. Like a two-bit conjurer, he has got us to concentrate on one hand while doing unmentionable things with the other. The reality is that this is taking us to a more deregulated economy which will reduce not only employment rights but food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection in a way in which elements in the party opposite, although by no means everybody in it, have always tried to see as the consequence of Brexit.

I appeal to those one-nation Tories who did not feel able to support Mrs May’s agreement and to those Labour MPs from Brexit-voting seats who likewise could not support Mrs May’s agreement that, from the perspective of logic, intellectual content and moral duty, they should not support this agreement either. It is taking us down a road for which there is no consensus in the population. There is antagonism to that road from large sections of British industry. The people of Britain will be the worse off for it, not only economically but in quality of life; if the Government persist in going down this road, and if somehow the deal gets through the House of Commons, it is very important that those people get a chance to have a say on it. Therefore—and I did not start from this position—I have come to the conclusion that, at some stage in the process over the coming months, the whole issue has to be put back to the people.