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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 6:30 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, I have enjoyed and even agreed with many of the speeches today. I am taking away phrases such as “Henry VIII on steroids”, which I particularly enjoyed. There have also been some terrible speeches that have been provocative and perhaps even gloating, which is entirely unnecessary.

Overall, I am sad but also furious about the content and context of this Bill. Although the last couple of years have been a terrible political mess, at times—in spite of the super-polarised atmosphere that has been here—we compromised and worked together, which is a beneficial part of the working here in this House. Now, of course, the first-past-the-post electoral system has done its magic and given Boris Johnson a large majority, despite fewer than half the people—not even 44%—actually voting Conservative. But it was a good result and we have to live with it.

Sadly, Boris’s empty slogan, “Get Brexit Done”, has united the majority in the other place so that, no matter how your Lordships’ House improves this Bill, it will be undone when it ping-pongs back to the Commons. So we might as well now just sit down, put our feet up and not do anything, because it would give the same result. Your Lordships’ House is almost made obsolete by the power grab by the Government that is happening.

Despite this futility, obviously we will fight on. We fight on to expose the Government’s backtracking on environmental protection and workers’ rights. We fight on to protect the rights of Europeans living in this country and British people who live elsewhere in Europe. We fight on to protect our role as parliamentarians to scrutinise this legislation, and all the future decisions on the long road ahead.

At the heart of “Get Brexit Done” is a sleight of hand whereby the very complex, difficult next stage of negotiations with the EU has disappeared like a rabbit down a burrow. This burrow of course will be an arduous process. It could easily end up with us coming out very much worse off, and without any way back to the status quo.

This new Government have gone beyond recklessness by legislating against any extension of the implementation period. Of course, we have seen many times how our Prime Minister can switch from “do or die” to doing the sensible thing, and it would take only a one-line Bill to allow for a very sensible extension. But we really should not have to wait for that, with all the anxiety and uncertainty that the no-deal threat creates. We need to change this Bill to protect the environment, protect people’s rights, limit this government power grab and remove the cliff-edge amendment.