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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:42 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 1:42 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, I am pleased to speak again on this topic. In September, contrary to my party’s viewpoint at the time, I said that I thought, when I revisited Mrs May’s deal, that it was worthy of support and that it offered an opportunity, given the Commission’s offer to take a look at the backstop. In the event, we now have a change and we have a further deal.

It is interesting to see the journey that we have made. The longer that we work at it, the worse the deals get. This deal is worse than the last. My fear is that if we keep at it and keep delaying, the next deal will be worse. The next deal, of course, could be to crash out without a deal. That is still a possibility and all the difficulty that we have talked about encountering —in the diminution of workers’ rights and all the rest of it—would be a damn sight worse if we crashed out. So it is vital that everything is done to ensure that we do not crash out.

If we crashed out, the Government’s estimate of the likely consequences are probably far wide of the mark of what would happen. We have no idea how a divided country would deal with supermarket shelves that were empty and not being filled, or if there were no access to fuel or the medicines that people need. Those are the kind of problems that we would encounter. We do not know what would happen if sterling crashed and the stock market crashed. So, when we come to look at any deal, we have to think not just about its demerits but about what might follow if we fail to reach a deal. Noble Lords can probably hear where I am coming from, even though I do not like the deal.

With any deal that we reach—and I return to unison with my colleagues here—the Prime Minister will have to go the extra mile and find a way of putting it to the people. Brexit came from the people. It is difficult to realise that only four years ago we would never have believed that we would be having these kinds of debates. Before David Cameron was elected, it just was not on the agenda, and here we are now with the great imponderables we have.

I am sorry to be preceding, not following, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has a Private Member’s Bill about balloting and referenda. I have not had a chance to read it, but I believe that we will not get the genie back in the bottle on referenda. The monopoly of power in Westminster is now being challenged in a way that we have never experienced before, and we are not responding well to it. We are failing and failing. We must not for one moment believe that this is the last referendum. People are already asking for another one on the deal. Referenda will come in Scotland and, in due course, in Northern Ireland. It is likely that we will end up with the UK falling apart come what may because we now have the technology that people will insist on using to have their say. They have their power and they will take much of it away from Westminster. They will look at the issues which are closer to them and are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, local and are not addressed in the way that they wish.

We must be alive to the changes taking place around us and try to respond to them better than we have done so far. Otherwise, we are in real trouble. That means we have to spend more time with people. We must have citizens’ juries, as suggested by my noble friend Lady Armstrong, and get back closer to the people. We have to remember that when we had the vote in 2016, many people voted who do not normally do so. They may have voted in a way we did not like, but we have to understand them better and we have to encourage them to continue voting and playing a part. With the technology that is coming, they will find ways to do that, and it is our risk we if we do not respond and try to take into account their views and develop policies accordingly. I am moving away from the deal and taking a broader view of where our democracy is going. We can turn it round, but we need an entirely different approach from that which we have adopted today, and to be prepared to share our power.