Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
What can your Lordships’ House most usefully do today? Eschewing Gilbert and Sullivan, I suggest as context a sporting analogy that may appeal to the Speaker of the House of Commons. We are like a tournament match of tennis veterans and amateurs taking place at the same time as a Grand Slam final in the other place. The eyes and ears of the world will, quite properly, be on the other place.
First, I suggest that we reiterate our respect for the collective and individual integrity of MPs in extraordinarily testing circumstances. Earlier in the month, I argued that, in contrast to the intemperate attacks of the Prime Minister and other senior government Ministers, Parliament has been doing its job—and doing it well. On Monday this week, Robert Shrimsley of the Financial Times wrote, far more eloquently, in respect of MPs of all parties and persuasions, that,
“this has also been a magnificent parliament, shaped by MPs—backbenchers especially—of political stature and personal courage … many will look back and regard the actions of individual MPs in this parliament as little short of heroic”.
Whatever votes are called this afternoon and/or next week and whatever the results, I believe that Mr Shrimsley’s judgment will still apply. I ask the Minister again to ask the Prime Minister and his colleagues to refrain from any further denigration of Parliament and parliamentarians.
I hope that, whatever pressure is applied, Sir Oliver Letwin will not withdraw his amendment and that it will be passed. It will serve two important purposes, as long as the EU is willing to respond positively to a request for an extension. First, if the withdrawal Bill is introduced and passed at Second Reading, adequate time should be given for its scrutiny and for potential non-wrecking amendments by both Houses. Secondly, it should prevent a no-deal Brexit arising from a breakdown, whether accidental or intentional, in that legislative process. I, like my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, have come to believe that, under either of those scenarios, a confirmatory vote is now the best way of achieving resolution and closure.
What of the new deal itself? I strongly endorse the analysis of my noble friend Lord Reid and many other noble Lords of the economic, security and constitutional deficiencies of the deal. It is, though, a moving target, as the Prime Minister has been throwing bones to MPs across the House in his attempt to secure a majority, so it is difficult to know exactly where we stand. As my right honourable friend Pat McFadden MP asked the Prime Minister earlier today, “He tells Brexiteers that he backs deregulation. He tells Labour MPs that he backs stronger workers’ rights. Which is it?”. Perhaps the Minister can give us a clearer answer than the Prime Minister gave Mr McFadden. Whatever his answer, though, it is inescapable that this is a bad deal.
I turn finally to Northern Ireland. The uncompromising style of the DUP and its past lack of support for the Good Friday agreement do not naturally engender sympathy; its objections should cause widespread concern, with the peace process still fragile. The Prime Minister’s willingness to renege on past commitments, both generally and to the DUP, is of course a warning to all whose trust he is seeking. In today’s Times there is a letter from a former Conservative district councillor. He writes:
“The threat to the Good Friday Agreement is more apparent than real … The implicit threat of bloodshed can safely be ignored”.
There have been persistent hints of these horrifying and complacent views among some Brexiteers since before the 2016 referendum. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity today to make it absolutely clear that protecting the peace process in Ireland is paramount government policy.