European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Excerpts
Thursday 5th September 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Exiting the European Union
Lord Empey Portrait Lord Empey
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If that is the case, why would we leave the European Union? If the noble Lord is arguing that the referendum results in us staying in the customs union and the single market, I do not see what the point of leaving is because the whole rationale is different. It is all right saying that here, but we must not forget that the coalition Government brought this legislation into Parliament in the first place. We must remember that everybody has had their hands on this issue, and not always with distinction. Let us focus on solutions that can work.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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My Lords, I have not spoken on a European issue for two years—

Lord Empey Portrait Lord Empey
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I am sorry. I thought the noble Lord was intervening and was giving way. Perhaps the noble Lord is giving me a hint. I have not quite broken the record of some distinguished noble colleagues in making the 20-minute mark, but I urge colleagues that we need to be prepared to open our minds. We do not want a disorderly departure or to have the can continuously kicked down the road or to retain the uncertainties that not having a solution brings. I think that, despite what people say about their negotiating tactics, with what has been said by Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, the time has come for Her Majesty’s Government to put some solid things on the table, and then we can get to grips and have a proper negotiation. Once things are on the table, people will have to say why they reject them and if they cavalierly dismiss them, they will be weakening their case in public opinion.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
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My Lords, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak. I have not spoken for two years on European issues, and I certainly will not speak for 15 minutes. I accept my responsibility. I have been a pro-European all my life. I have been very active in the House of Lords in European Union committees and am very much in favour of staying in Europe. But I was responsible in part for us coming out of Europe, like many other people, because I did not make the case for Europe with the public in the way we should have done over the years, and certainly I did not play my part in the referendum campaign to the extent that in retrospect I believe I should have done. So I accept my responsibility.

I have been a remainer from the beginning, but I have watched the way changes have been taking place and the way that the country has become ever more divided—not many people have spoken about that today—and I recognise that, in accepting my responsibility, I have to shift my position as a very clear-cut remainer who wanted in principle to stick with remain all the way. I have now shifted my view; I am moving towards the deal that Mrs May reached.

I welcome the Bill, because it gives us time for a little more reflection and may start bringing together more people who are prepared to make little compromises to try to find a solution that will produce two results. First, it will take us out of Europe. I do not want that, but I am prepared to live with it because I suspect that the divisions happening with us, in Europe, in America and all around the world are part of a shift that is taking place and cannot be stopped. So I am prepared to go some way with it. Secondly, I want to have terms and conditions that are acceptable and will benefit the people of this country, and that will not be immediately harmful, even in the short term for a few years, but will broadly represent where people stand at the moment. If it is a soft settlement, it will go some way towards ending the divisions within families, communities and groupings by bringing us closer together. That will be on the basis of coming out, but with a soft landing.

This Bill provides us with that opportunity, if we have people of goodwill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, put his finger on the solution, which has been on offer since Mrs May came to the end of her negotiations and which is now in the political declaration. I do not remember precisely which clause it is, but in either Clause 17 or Clause 19 there is an offer from the Commission for further negotiations on the backstop. This has not been pursued by anybody, but it is there, it is on offer and it is time that people of goodwill came together and picked it up. They would then get a deal that could come back to the Commons and command its support. Then, at the end of the day, it should be put to the people to have their view on it.

So I have shifted, and I hope that, if we are really serious about trying to find a way forward, and having listened yesterday to the coarseness to which we almost descended in some of our exchanges, we will put that to one side and come together as we truly should to represent the best interests of the people.

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB)
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My Lords, I speak as a remain voter, but one who is convinced that the referendum result must be respected. I want to focus today on the central issue of trust. There have been some really good points made on trust between this place and the Government—particularly those made by the noble Lords, Lord Hayward, Lord O’Donnell and Lord Kerr. I entirely concur with those points, but there is another angle to trust: the trust between Parliament and the people. That is the point I want to focus on today.

It was Confucius, I believe, who said that,

“three things are needed for government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler can’t hold on to all three, he should give up the weapons first and the food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: ‘without trust we cannot stand’”.

I think that is absolutely right. During the referendum campaign, the people were repeatedly told by the Government that if we voted for leave, that is exactly what would happen. If, for whatever reason, we do not leave, or even continue for many years with the current paralysis—following what was, we must remember, the biggest democratic exercise in British history—it would be fatal for trust in politics, which has already been much damaged by the events of the past three years. Many already feel the gulf between the so-called Westminster elites and the people, which will only be widened by that continuing. The extremist politics we have seen on the rise in the UK in recent years could pale into insignificance against what could be unleashed if the vote is not respected.

So what has that to do with this Bill? It is a Bill that rules out the United Kingdom leaving the EU without a deal. I understand the reasons of those noble Lords who do not wish to leave without a deal. Many excellent points have been raised today about the difficulties of no deal. There would be much hardship, at least in the short term. But I work in business, as do many noble Lords, and, to pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, I believe that it is essential to hold no deal on the table—to keep it as an option—to ensure that we can get and maintain that leverage with the EU in our negotiations that will result in a better deal for the UK.

In the end, this issue will be resolved via an election, but I believe that no deal must be maintained as an option to get the best deal for the UK and ensure that we do indeed leave and get the democratic will of the people seen through that vote.

Break in Debate

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I am saying that it seems blindingly obvious to me that the EU has no possible incentive to negotiate anything because the two options that would then remain on the table would be either revoking or the existing withdrawal agreement, both of which the EU is perfectly happy with. Why would it negotiate anything else once we have removed the option of no deal from the equation?

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
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Does the Minister agree that Europe offers further negotiations on the backstop in the political agreement? If so, why are we not picking that up?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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Lots of negotiations are predicated in the political agreement. There are also arrangements within the existing withdrawal agreements for exploration of alternative arrangements, but the problem is that, in the meantime, we would have to legislate for the backstop, which then gives us no option unilaterally to withdraw from it.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
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The noble Lord said that there is no incentive for Europe. All the incentives are there for Europe to negotiate a deal with us and it has made an offer to which we have not responded, unless the Minister tells us that we have.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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I am struggling to see the point that the noble Lord is making. Europe’s offer is effectively the withdrawal agreement, which personally I thought was an acceptable compromise, but it is a fact that the House of Commons rejected it. His party and the Liberal Democrats voted against it. Presumably there is something wrong with the withdrawal agreement, then.