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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

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

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 12:12 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness in urging all Members of your Lordships’ House that this is the time to move on. My noble and learned friend the Convener looked at the rational approach to these things. Looking at the documents in detail, we have had the rational approach from my noble friend Lord Kerr about the economic harm that will come about by our leaving the European Union. There are many rational reasons. The most vulnerable are likely to be most harmed by our leaving the European Union in the way proposed. But if we keep on waiting it may become even worse.

There is another side to this: the emotional concerns. Everyone around Churchill in 1940 was telling him that it was all over and that the rational position was to give up, but he managed to move the British people, to give them hope that sunlit uplands were approaching. In this debate, it is important to understand the emotions of people as well as the reasons. In your Lordships’ House, we always seek to be as reasonable and logical as possible, but there is a strong emotional aspect to this. One of the strengths of the Prime Minister is understanding very well the emotional impulses behind people’s actions.

As I travelled here today, I sat with a Labour MP who has a secure seat in a northern constituency that voted strongly to leave. I have known this redoubtable MP for many years, and I know that she would be strongly against leaving and can see all the benefits of continuing to be part of the European Union. For several years now, she has tried to reconcile that difficulty. My concern is, as my noble and learned friend said, that we might get a leader who can speak to the emotions of those who feel bitterly disappointed.

My father was a Member of your Lordships’ House for 65 years. He was the Father of the House. His advice to me was, “Do not raise people’s expectations and then disappoint them”. We have raised the expectations of many of our people and they believe strongly that we should leave the European Union. How can we know that we will resolve this issue? I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and his negotiators for seizing a deal out of what seemed a very unlikely scenario. How can we know that we will succeed in another a referendum? Is there not a risk that this will just drag on and on, drawing all our energies into this continuing debate? We have talked about this as a divorce, but it is becoming a long, acrimonious divorce in which the dependants are all but forgotten about. After years of underfunding of services, there is so much work to do to remedy those services, and yet we are distracted by this intractable problem.

I hope that we can move forward and that in the next 10 years, the argument will be made very positively that being a part of the European Union, we are a stronger and better nation. Looking at my own experience, what I see on the continent is a strong social contract; I am afraid that in this country, that has much diminished in recent years. I am afraid that our neighbour across the Atlantic has a very weak social contract. My concern as we move away from the European Union and look more to the United States is that we risk moving in that direction. There are good, positive arguments to seek to rejoin the European Union.

We also need to look at Parliament and how representative it is. When I last visited Germany, the far-right group Alternative für Deutschland had secured 90 seats in the Bundestag. At the same time in this country, UKIP had a similar proportion of votes but secured only two seats. It makes it much easier for people to undermine Parliament if so many people feel unrepresented. How can two or three principal parties represent the complexity of experience across the land? I hope that in the next few years, we can look at ourselves and how we need to change to be more representative.

I support this deal.