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Early Parliamentary General Election Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:25 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench 5:25 pm, 30th October 2019

My Lords, like many noble Lords, I have sat through, or read the report of, many lengthy debates in your Lordships’ House about whether we remain in or leave the European Union. Hitherto, I have not made a direct intervention in the Chamber but, like many Members of this House and the British public at large, I have been utterly depressed by the inability of Members of the other place to provide the leadership, clarity of thought and good governance required to guide this country of ours through the turbulent times created by the outcome of the referendum in 2016. Worse than that, I have been further embarrassed by friends and colleagues in Europe and elsewhere who completely fail to see why a mature democracy such as ours has totally failed to meet the challenges that we set ourselves in June 2016. Therefore, if it is to be an early general election on 12 December that presents the opportunity to end this period of drift and embarrassment, I am totally in support of this Motion and hope that it passes through your Lordships’ House speedily and without further amendment.

As a Cross-Bench Member of this House, I quite properly express no public view on who should win the election, who should be Prime Minister after the election, nor indeed which party or parties should form the next Government, but I can properly state that my overriding priority for the next Government is that everything possible is done to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Fifty years ago, I joined the British Army and swore an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, as the crowned head of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Much of my active service was spent combating those who sought to take Northern Ireland away from the United Kingdom by force. On Remembrance Sunday, which is coming up shortly, I will once again reflect on friends and comrades who gave their lives for that cause. When you have carried the remains of your company commander in a plastic bag away from a field in south Armagh, you do not change your opinion lightly. More recently in 2015, I campaigned publicly to keep Scotland within the union, attracting most welcome criticism on the Radio 4 “Today” programme from Alex Salmond himself. As for Wales, I am a quarter Welsh, so that speaks for itself.

We need this election and, in the popular vernacular, we need it now. We need it to resolve the Brexit issue and to restore good governance to this country but, above all, we need a Government totally committed to preserving the integrity of this United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Brexit may be important, but the territorial and constitutional integrity of this country is vital. In the language of military campaign planning, the maintenance of the integrity of this country is the centre of gravity. If we lose sight of that, we lose our identity, our purpose and our strength, and we risk diminishing ourselves at home and abroad.