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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:23 am on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat 11:23 am, 19th October 2019

My Lords, the Prime Minister, we are told, has succeeded where all said he would fail. He has returned apparently triumphant, with a deal that the nay-sayers said could not be done. Or so his champions claim. Not all the nay-sayers doubted he could do it. I certainly did not, and I suspect that many others who have studied him over the years did not either. Experience suggested that he had just the qualities to succeed. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said, he is the quintessential showman, the man of smoke and mirrors who always prefers style over substance. It is not so hard, after all, to get a deal if you do not care much about what is in it or anything about the people you are prepared to betray to get it.

The Prime Minister is well practised in the art of abandoning people who are no longer of interest to him, as the DUP is now finding out. I cannot pretend to have huge sympathy for the DUP, because if you make government a purely transactional matter to get what suits you, you should not be surprised when the entity you are transacting with repays you in kind.

Nor do I have much sympathy for the DUP’s claims that the deal breaches the consent principle. It did not seem to care much about the consent of the nationalist community, or indeed the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, when it backed the disastrous policy of Brexit. We all failed Northern Ireland ahead of the referendum in not recognising the full extent of the difficulties that would be thrust upon its people, but no party failed it more than the DUP, which has done more to undermine the union than any allegedly unionist party in history. It is living proof of the adage that tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

So much then for how we have got here. What about where we have actually arrived? It is a dismal location. Someone described it to me as lipstick on Theresa May’s deal, but that implies something more attractive, and the changes that the PM has secured make it less attractive, if that is possible. It is nothing like the outcome promised in the referendum: it undermines the integrity of our union; it makes one part of our country subject to the courts of the European Union, which the Brexiters told us was unforgivable; it puts a border down the Irish Sea, which the PM told us would be unconscionable; it will make us all substantially poorer—estimates suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, has said, that the deal will leave people around £2,000 worse off on average; far from having millions to spend on the NHS, we will have billions less to spend on everything. So much for the promises of the leave campaign. These are not abstract consequences; they are real-life consequences that will impact people up and down the country.

Of course, it will not be the elites who will feel the chill. The Brexiters who occupy the Privy Council Front Bench will doubtless be fine, but people on marginal incomes will not: people who work in businesses that will have to close their doors or have already done so and people who work in industries that will depart or already have departed will not. For so many Brexiteers this has seemed a political game, an ideological obsession that must be indulged no matter the cost to our economy, people and union. Now they tell us that Brexit was never about money, although one might have been misled on that point by what they had to say on the side of their bus. However, they have had no choice but to concede it given what is coming down the road for our economy.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House tells us that the British people wish to see Brexit delivered in accordance with the referendum, but this deal is nothing remotely like what was promised in the referendum. If the Brexiteers wish to dispute this, let them put it to the people so that they can determine the outcome. But they will not. The people, they say, have spoken. They must never be allowed to speak again. The Prime Minister, the ERG and even the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, are allowed to change their minds, but the people are not; they are not to be allowed even to express a view.

The Leader of the House tells us that we must get Brexit done. This deal does not get it done. It is only the beginning of a tortuous process. The only thing that might be done for today is the future of our United Kingdom. I believe there was a rugby match played this morning. I am delighted that England won, but I hope that this afternoon in the House of Commons it will be the United Kingdom that is the victor in the vote, that this damaging deal is rejected and that the people are given the final say.