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

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:58 pm on 13th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 4:58 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, we have had the opportunity of two outstanding maiden speeches. They differed in style, presentation and substance, but they were undoubtedly the kind of speech which makes it very clear that we shall always look forward to further contributions from these two new Members of your Lordships’ House.

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. Often it is more of a challenge perhaps than it is today, but I may disappoint him, I think. There is an old Scottish proverb dating from the 1800s that confession is good for the soul, but I am going to make a confession which I doubt will do my soul much good, and it is this: I still believe that, although it is now inevitable that we shall leave the European Union, it is wholly against our economic, political and security interests. Inevitable though it may be, I beg leave to say that the terms upon which we shall finally leave are still wholly unpredictable.

I pause only to observe that the withdrawal agreement obtained by the Prime Minister is based on a concession over Northern Ireland that he would not allow Mrs May to make. However, it has had one helpful consequence, which is to create a new unity of purpose between Sinn Féin and the DUP in Northern Ireland.

In all my political life, I have believed that Scotland’s place was in the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom’s place was in the European Union, each reinforcing the other. Although I have accepted as inevitable that we shall leave the European Union, I have to offer that it is possible that Scotland will leave the United Kingdom. My judgment is that, if those decisions are taken, they will be the products of nationalism—a nationalism that has been characterised by the assertion that all ills can be cured only by separation. When did you last hear Nicola Sturgeon, or Boris Johnson for that matter, acknowledge any benefits of membership of the United Kingdom or the European Union? All ills are to be blamed on London or Brussels. In Scotland, what about the Barnett formula, which allows Scotland to spend more per head on public services than anywhere else in the United Kingdom? In the United Kingdom, what about the single market—the single market of Margaret Thatcher—which has brought about so much economic advantage and inward investment to the United Kingdom?

We have often been asked what sort of country this act of separation would bring about. In Scotland, the Edinburgh Government have already shown political interference in the governance of Scottish universities. In that regard, I should declare my interest as the chancellor of St Andrews University. The Scottish National Party now sends out to journalists lists of the questions that they should ask when interviewing individuals opposed to independence. Here in England, the Government issue veiled threats to the BBC and the independence of judges, and they conduct a petulant boycott of the morning programmes of the BBC. In so doing, they depart from the responsibility they have to explain and demonstrate their policies and proposals. That is what nationalism does: it subordinates all else to the aggressive self-righteousness of its own cause. Look, if you will, at the Governments of Poland and Hungary and at the judges in Poland having to take to the streets in order to assert their independence.

The Bill before us is a sad, sorry affair, and I await with enthusiasm the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on the issue of child refugees. However, I want to make a point about Erasmus—a programme that has widened horizons and broadened experiences. What is it about that programme that the Government should, for some reason, vote down an amendment in favour of the United Kingdom’s continuing membership by way of statute, followed—in a sinister fashion, one might say—by a spokesman who said that the Government are committed to the programme if it is “in our interests”? What about the interests of the people who want to take part in that programme but might be denied the opportunity if the Government decree that it is not in the Government’s interests that it should continue?

It has already been said that the Prime Minister now owns our departure from the European Union. He has made a lot of promises. He likes throwing about Latin tags, so here is one for him: pacta sunt servanda—all those promises must be kept. We shall hold him to that.