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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:24 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bowness Lord Bowness Conservative 12:24 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I dwell upon the processes of today and on what has brought us here. Everything about this Brexit has been a disaster, from the dreadful referendum campaign, to Article 50 being served before we knew where we wanted to go, and to the self-strangulation of our negotiating capacity by arbitrarily decided red lines. Today’s sitting has been described, at least in regard to the other place, as historic. It is historic in the sense that in what we thought was a sophisticated parliamentary democracy, we, and particularly the other place, are being asked to express a view, and in their case, decide, on one of the greatest questions which has faced our nation in our time. We are being asked to do so in circumstances where the official text was laid before Parliament only today and the unofficial documents were available only on Thursday afternoon. An email tells me that there are other documents that the Government have prepared. We do not have in the Printed Paper Office the position of the Government on the terminability of the protocol on Northern Ireland —I will not give noble Lords the whole title—or the explanation of the new Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol and political declaration. It seems to me that to express a view on an agreement which appears to be a limited rehash of Mrs May’s agreement, with no analysis of the changes and no assessment of the impact, is not the action of a sophisticated democracy and Parliament.

Other noble Lords have spoken on the detail and pointed out the shortcomings or otherwise to Mrs May’s deal—an agreement, let us not forget, that the Prime Minister voted against on more than one occasion, as a result of which we have lost valuable time, particularly in respect of the transitional or implementation period. I am sorry to say that the Prime Minister, the leader of my party, has been portrayed in his supporting press as a hero conquering the forces of Europe and now taking on Parliament on behalf of the people, with no explanation whatever of his vision of the future relationship with Europe and casting principles and allies to one side as he proceeds. In fact, we have been brought to a position where the Government present Parliament with a choice between agreeing or rejecting the agreement while, notwithstanding the Benn Act, maintaining we will leave on 31 October. I have never understood the statement that I have heard in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere: “We will observe the law; we will leave on 31 October”.

It is reported that the Government may withdraw the Motion in the other place if the Letwin amendment passes. Perhaps when my noble friend replies to this debate he can tell us something about the intention behind that and whether that is true. I am sorry to say that I feel that Parliament is being used and manipulated by the Executive to achieve the ends of the Prime Minister. We are being made to look foolish by a Prime Minister and his colleagues whose idea of taking back control we now see means taking back control to the Executive.

Any debate today has no time for detailed considerations of the contents and we are faced with the prospect of legislation required to implement the deal being pushed through both Houses by 31 October. I hope no one will seek to pretend that the Northern Ireland Bill or the Benn Act were precedents for doing that; they were single-issue, short Bills. We cannot proceed in that way just to satisfy the reckless ambition of the Prime Minister to leave on 31 October, do or die. Deal or no deal, we need more time to give responsible consideration. If we fail to give that consideration and do not deal with this matter in a proper way, the loss of support by the people for political institutions, as indicated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will be justified. I hope that the other place will support the Letwin amendment and insist on an extension come what may. Let no one suggest that this is a remainer plot to thwart the referendum. It is about how we leave and whether we do so while retaining as many of the benefits of membership of the European Union as possible, or whether we cast ourselves adrift on an uncertain sea.