Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 13th May 2021.

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Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Non-affiliated 5:30 pm, 13th May 2021

The first thing to point out is that we have had a remarkable series of speeches circling around the fact that there is a jigsaw puzzle here and all its parts are connected. Brexit appears in all of them, the four nations appear in all of them, but above all there is the problem that it is very hard to put the jigsaw together.

I was very impressed that a number of people, unusually, mentioned a former parliamentarian who is not currently in either Chamber: Gordon Brown. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, mentioned him, as did a number of others. I say that because we need to find people with creative ideas who could be acceptable to all sides in pulling some things together, particularly north of the border.

We all know that one of the common factors in the problem is that there is a very considerable dislike for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom north of the border, and in other places as well, even though he wins in England on an English nationalist ticket. This is going nowhere, and it is not good for the future of the union or Britain’s prosperity more generally. So, we have to find a way to get a group of people together with credibility on all sides to, for example, make the point in Scotland that it is all very well to have rhetoric from the SNP, but it is 50:50 there.

Nothing is being said about the British Army, which has always had very well-respected Scottish regiments. Nothing is being said about the euro; if Scotland joined the EU, that could mean joining the euro. Nothing is being said about Faslane—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, will say something about how that could work. Therefore, we have to be able to get people who can draw things together. It is not necessarily a parliamentary process, although clearly Parliament will be very involved. It has to be a task force which can talk to people in all parts of the United Kingdom. I think this is now going to work.

On the European dimension—this point has not been made—it is not all or nothing. It will take two or three years, but some version of the European Economic Area, as with Norway, is now a very obvious thing to investigate further. There would of course have to be negotiations and discussions about EFTA, the EFTA Court and the European Court of Justice, but on one or two major things such as the internal market—we were within seven votes of Parliament voting in favour of it—we similarly saw that people do not want an all-or-nothing approach to borders, migration and many other factors.

This crisis is impossible, of course, if we say that it is impossible to put the jigsaw together. But if people work together bit by bit to see how they can help with the total jigsaw puzzle, I think there is little doubt that we can make some progress.

The Prime Minister, for as long as he is there, will have to give way—and if he wants to retain the United Kingdom, he will have to do a U-turn on his rhetoric about English nationalism. It might go down well for the moment, with Covid and so on, but, when we get out of the trough of Covid and look at the state of the economy, it will not be a pretty picture. We have to get some people together who can get an agenda that will work, including talking to people who at the moment they are not talking to.