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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:19 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Dobbs Lord Dobbs Conservative 9:19 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, some years ago, I sponsored a Private Member’s Bill for a referendum on our membership of the European Union. Little did I know.

This has been an excellent debate. We have had many excellent contributions including two superb maiden speeches. I suspect that, when we get to dealing with some of the other issues, we will find more excellent speeches on the Dubs amendment.

It seems that I am almost the last man standing between so many barons and their beds. I understand that that is a dangerous position to be in so I shall try to be brief. I shall first talk about the settlement of EU citizens here. There have been genuine concerns, as everybody knows. Anybody who has gone into the Peers’ Dining Room over the last three years for a cup of tea will know how many of our friends and colleagues have had genuine concerns. I believe that the Theresa May Government got it wrong. We could, right from the start, have given a guarantee to those EU citizens and dealt with their concerns. We could have taken the moral high ground but we decided on an alternative way. I believe that we are now putting right a wrong and doing so most successfully. It is estimated that there are some 3 million EU citizens in this country. There have already been 2.5 million applications for settled status; 2.3 million people have already been given that settled status and only five have been rejected. This is an example of the Government getting it right.

Secondly, I will deal with the timetable for our trade deal. There are, of course, those who claim that it will be impossible in the available time. They rather remind me of those people who get up in the morning, throw open the curtains and complain about the birdsong. The Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said at the weekend that the timetable is ambitious. Yes, it is ambitious. We are ambitious—for our country, for Brexit and for the future. I make no apology for that. We are ambitious with good reason, because these details of a trade deal will not be simply grabbed out of thin air. There are templates; the EU has already done trade deals with Japan and with Canada. There will of course be differences, but the EU has form in this area as it does in many areas. It is a past master at reaching agreements up against deadlines, right up against the clock—at times even when the clock has stopped ticking. The way the EU negotiates is not always a pretty sight but, with good will, it can be done by that deadline.

Our clock has not stopped ticking, so I must finish. Some pretend that Brexit is a disease. It is not—it is a healing process. Some pretend that Brexit is a preordained disaster. They have been predicting disaster ever since the day of the referendum, yet we are here. This is a time not of disaster but of optimism and opportunity, and a time for democracy rather than just elites. Some people do not like to hear it. This unelected House of Lords may try to stuff its ears but the people will be heard. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, talked in his wonderful speech about the innate British sense of decency. Brexit will allow that to come to the fore once again. This is the people’s will; that is what makes Brexit a moral issue, a moral cause, as well as a political one. This Government have a duty to deliver it. It is going to happen and it is time for us to move on.