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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:08 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Harding of Winscombe Baroness Harding of Winscombe Conservative 12:08 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, it is somewhat daunting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—and the number of other eminent lawyers and parliamentarians who have spoken and are now departing—on this subject.

I shall speak from the perspective of a businesswoman. Many people have said to me, “Why has business been so silent on the topic of Brexit recently?” We listened to all the eminent and learned opinions this morning and some very entrenched views, and it is not that surprising that business people are keeping their heads down and trying to avoid this topic. But here goes: I will try.

I have learned two things in business that are relevant. The first is that it is important to actually make a decision. Sometimes, when you are leading large numbers of people, the worst thing that you can possibly do is not decide to do anything at all. I fear that that is exactly where we are, not just as a business but as a country. The second relevant thing that I learned in business is that the hardest thing to do in any negotiation is to know when it is time to stop and to know as a leader when it is time to pull the negotiating team away, call a halt to this phase of the negotiation and move on. Again, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said so eloquently earlier, I believe that is where we are.

We really need to move on. Unusually, at a time when we are told not to listen to experts but to listen to the public and popular opinion, both experts and popular opinion agree on this. The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee said on 9 October:

“Brexit uncertainty is weighing on business investment, the prices of UK assets and flows of capital into the UK”.

I declare my interest as deputy chair of the court of the Bank. The experts tell us unambiguously that it is the uncertainty that is crippling our country.

Go out on to the street of any village, town or city across this country and ask ordinary people going about their daily lives what they think about Brexit and politics. They want us to get on with it. So unusually, the experts agree with the popular view. Again, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, we have this confluence of business, economics and politics telling us that we need to move on.

We need to accept this deal, and that requires all of us to move. It requires those of us like me, who voted and campaigned to remain, to accept that the country voted to leave. It also requires those of us who voted to leave to accept that this might not be their ideal Brexit, but it is a very hard-fought, long-negotiated deal and Brexit it is. We are doing irreparable damage to this country by not making a decision—and I do not accept that I am describing Brexit fatigue. It is leadership to move on when it is time to make a decision and show the country the way forward.