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Amendment to the Motion

Part of European Union: Negotiations (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Agree – in the House of Lords at 6:33 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 6:33 pm, 16th March 2020

My Lords, I nearly did not put my name down to speak in this debate: I was under considerable domestic pressure not to come, and I understand why, although I just say to my noble friend who is going to reply—and even more importantly to my noble friend who is going to make a Statement shortly after—that while, in common with many of my age, I am happy to be advised and encouraged, I do not want to be dictated to. I draw the attention of noble Lords to an absolutely splendid article in today’s Daily Mail by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.

We are talking about our relations with Europe and I take as my text, as it were, the quotation the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, gave from John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” Here, to a degree I join company with the noble Lord who has just spoken. The facts have changed in a way that no one could have foreseen on 12 December or even on 31 January. The world is changing around us. Those of us who know and love France are sad to realise that at the end of this year it is highly likely—indeed, almost certain—that a large number of those family-run restaurants that we have all enjoyed from time to time will have gone. The same will happen in Italy and Spain. In a changed world and a fundamentally changing Europe, we cannot stick to the text that we had on 13 December after the Government won a very handsome victory, in which, like my noble friend Lord Barwell, I was very glad to rejoice.

Before the election, the Prime Minister made it plain time and again that he wanted to have as close and constructive a relationship as possible with our European friends and neighbours once we had left the European Union. Of course, it cannot be the same but we have left, and I was one of those who from the very beginning accepted, with sadness, the result of the referendum. That is why I gave strong support to the deal that Prime Minister Theresa May drew up with the assistance of my noble friend Lord Barwell—I thought that it offered a way forward. However, all that is history.

We are out, but it is absolutely essential that we have a friendly and constructive relationship with nations with which we have shared a great deal of our history over the last 500 and more years. It is extremely sad that, where co-operation has worked, as in the European Medicines Agency, Europol and Euratom, it should just be discarded. I appeal to my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord True, who was on the opposite side of the argument before Brexit, to recognise that we are now in a wholly different national and international situation.

We, and the Government in particular, owe the British people a great debt, and we have to satisfy that debt. The Prime Minister referred to the votes that he had been given on trust in what used to be known as the red wall. We owe a debt to those people who looked to our Government, having felt, for reasons that I completely understand—I always lamented the decline of a powerful Opposition—that they could not trust a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. Our debt is manifest and manifold, and it is to ensure that they do not suffer any more than is absolutely necessary with this dreadful pestilence raging around us. Therefore, I say to my noble friend Lord True: please, there is nothing sacrosanct about the date 31 December. There is nothing sacrosanct about bringing negotiations to a head in the summer, because we and all our European friends and neighbours will doubtless still be grappling with this pestilence right through this year. What was perhaps difficult but entirely practical on 31 January is now probably insuperably difficult and not very practical. Of course, if the Government can negotiate a deal that is fair on both sides, we would all rejoice, but I beg them to realise that it is no more realistic to stick to the 31 December deadline than it would have been to have stuck to any absolute deadline in 1939.

I was born just shortly before the Second World War. My memories of it are those of an infant, but this country has not faced any crisis as potentially difficult and dire as this one since that war. It is crucial that we recognise this and, above all, it is crucial that the Government who have responsibility for this country and the Prime Minister who leads this country recognise that fully and properly. If they do not, they will be letting down those who created that majority on 12 December. The Government have a tremendous challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity to provide national leadership. I very much hope that after 3 April, we will have a coherent, strong and able Opposition to challenge the Government wherever necessary and to co-operate with them if they provide the leadership that we so desperately need. The greatest achievement—apart from dealing with the pestilence—would be a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with the nations of the European Union, of which we are certainly now not one. I beg my noble friend to reflect on those things when he comes to reply.