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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative 9:00 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, arguing that there are defects in a Bill to which the Government should pay attention is not the same as voting for an amendment and sending that amendment to the House of Commons. I hope that we will remember that.

I voted remain for two reasons. Our long membership, as one of the leading members of Europe as it expanded, seemed to me to warrant very careful consideration if we were to decide to leave, and there had been no preparations for us to leave, either by the European Union or ourselves. The Prime Minister at the time went to Europe, got nothing, had some dinners and was not really taken very seriously. Since we had always been an uncomfortable member of the Union, it was quite remiss of us and the Union not to have made any preparations.

But I was not a fan of the European Union. I had in my mind all the time an alleged quote from Valéry Giscard d’Estaing:

“If we had told them what we were doing, we would never have got as far as we have.”

Also, the mantra of ever-closer union worried me. My response was, “Yes, yes, but where to, and why?” No satisfactory answers were given, which took me back to the quote. These doubts redoubled during the long and abortive negotiations, because of the negative approach of the Union—a sort of, “What we have, we hold on to—in spades.”

It was not easy to believe any of the things that the Commission was saying in its political rhetoric about the future and where we were going. Yet the original purpose, which was to make sure that Europe did not start another great war, had in effect been achieved, so what was being put in its place, now that the centre of power in the world had shifted away from Europe to the Pacific? Was it a vague and grand project to build a unified bloc to rival the United States? If it was, that is not and never has been a good idea, and it is impractical. With 27 countries, each with a different history and culture, it is unbelievable that you could ever create an effective United States-type federal state. To me, individual states among the 193 are more important to the future of the world and are to be preferred over attempts to build yet another power bloc.

So my mind was made up for me, and I support this Bill. But in essentials it is an enabling Bill. This House can and will make its points and criticisms about what is and what is not in it, but we should let the House of Commons have its way.