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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:18 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 5:18 pm, 30th October 2019

My Lords, I am truly delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on the very points that he underlined in his concluding remarks, which I will address shortly.

I make three brief points. First, my party, Plaid Cymru, does not believe that a general election is an appropriate mechanism for resolving the problems that the Government apparently see in delivering their Brexit policy. We do not quite understand why the Government abandoned the Brexit Bill, for which they secured a Second Reading only earlier this month and which could easily have been on the statute book by 31 January. If the Government at long last recognise what many of us have steadfastly argued, that the Brexit issue has to revert to the people before it is implemented, a confirmatory referendum is the appropriate device for that purpose, not a general election. As it is, all the other vital issues that should dominate a general election campaign—pensions, jobs, the health service, police and crime, education and taxation—will now be subservient to the blasted Brexit demands that will dominate the coming election and are throttling all the other matters that people have a right to expect all potential Governments to address comprehensively during the campaign.

Secondly, this leads me to ask whether the Government have some devious purpose in having an early general election. I believe that is the case. If we were to stick to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, we would have the next general election in June 2022, five years since the last one. I believe that it has dawned on the Government that the Brexit issue is, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, underlined, not going to go away. It is not going to disappear, and it is not going to be a quiet, tidy end, with the UK leaving the EU on the basis of the Government’s recent agreement with the European Union. All through 2020, the Brexit arguments will persist through the transition period. The Government will argue their case for a free trade agreement, but there is next to no chance of that being agreed by late 2020, so we will again in 12 months’ time be facing the danger of crashing out of the transition phase into a no-deal scenario. Even if transition is extended, the invidious search for a free trade area agreement could run into 2021 and even 2022—in other words, into the 2022 general election. That is what the Government recognise as the timebomb awaiting them just down the road and it is why they are cutting their losses and going for an election now. This is not fantasy scaremongering. The experience of Canada, whose free trade negotiations with the EU went on for year after year, is a warning to us all. That scenario for the next general election in 2022 is one that it is clear the Government just cannot countenance.

However, for whatever devious reason, we are having an election. My party, Plaid Cymru, will campaign unequivocally on a revoke mandate and will co-operate with other parties and candidates in Wales who are also committed to a revoke referendum to maximise the anti-Brexit presence in the next Parliament.

I remind this House that I was first elected for Plaid Cymru in the Caernarfon constituency in our last mid-winter election, in February 1974. Yes, it was dark; yes, it was wet; and, yes, it was very cold, but when the good people of Caernarfon saw dozens of young people committed to a cause, knocking three or even four times on their doors, they realised how much it meant to them and they swung to our cause. Let no one believe that today’s young generation is not equally committed. They will walk through rain, snow and darkness to turn every stone to achieve a Parliament which will, with the people’s consent, retrieve for Wales and for Britain a rightful place as part of Europe. That faith in the good sense of the younger generation to kick out this disastrous Government and seek a new relationship in these islands is what allows me to accept the challenge of an election on 12 December and to turn every stone to secure an outstanding outcome for Plaid Cymru, for Wales and for Britain.