Thank you very much for your email, and please apologise for the formal response, but I am no longer able to respond to these personally due to the volume! This of course tells me how much people care about the future world and for their personal circumstances or those of their friends or colleagues.
Late on Tuesday night we finished two days of debate, when over 180 peers had spoken with great conviction and passion.
As a Lib Dem I campaigned hard for the “remain vote”, I spent my weekends on street stalls or knocking on doors in my area. I was personally very, very disappointed by the result. However the Lib Dem view is that many people were convinced by the leave rhetoric, which we now know is hollow, and feel that we all need to see what deal is negotiated by the Prime Minister and her team and vote to approve or reject it.
In the meantime we will be campaigning for the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK, and reciprocal rights for UK nationals living in the EU; we will campaign to stay in the single market to protect our jobs and economy, and for parliament to have a say on the final deal.
I have copied below, from Hansard, three speeches, that of our Leader in the Lords, Lord Newby who led for us, Baroness Ludford who summed up speeches at the end, and my speech which gave my personal take as the party’s defence spokesperson.
You can read the whole two days of debate online at online Hansard:
20 Feb:3.32 pm
Well, my Lords, finally we have the Article 50 Bill. If the Government had brought it forward last July, six months of delay could have been avoided. Since then, three things in particular have happened that require us to take stock and to fashion a response.
First, there was the deliberate decision of the Prime Minister to prioritise control of EU migration and the severing of links with the European Court of Justice over membership of the single market and the customs union. As George Osborne put it, they have,
“chosen … not to make the economy the priority in this negotiation”.-[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/17; col. 1034.]
Although some seek to portray that as an inevitable consequence of the 23 June vote, it was not. Many prominent Brexit supporters, including Nigel Farage, Dan Hannan and the Brexit Secretary himself suggested that we might remain in the single market-for example, by adopting the Norwegian precedent. So the decision to rip us out of the single market was a deliberate choice by the Prime Minister, and one that deserves to be challenged.
Secondly, as a consequence of the form of hard Brexit chosen by the Government, they have been forced to pivot our trade and indeed our political priorities towards the USA, and they have done so with unalloyed enthusiasm. In any era this would be a risky strategy, but the election of Donald Trump makes an America-first policy by this country not only risky but demeaning. The bold assertion by the Foreign Secretary that the US “shares our values” is unsustainable under a Trump presidency. On a wide variety of fronts-not just his ban on asylum seekers but on free trade, climate change and relations with Russia and Iran-Trump’s policies are opposed to British values and interests. I am sure the Prime Minister is acutely aware of this, yet her headlong rush to the US, offering them the trinket of a state visit, only serves to underline her weakness and the weakening position of the UK.
Lord Dobbs (Con)
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?
No, my Lords. There are 190 other speakers; the noble Lord will have his chance.
Thirdly, we have now had the White Paper setting out the Government’s negotiating stance. With the stark exception of its rejection of the single market and the European Court, the White Paper is a rather horrifying mixture of pious aspiration and complacent illusion. The Prime Minister’s preface sets the tone. British exceptionalism abounds. We have, “the finest intelligence services, the bravest armed forces, the most effective hard and soft power”.
What is more, according to the White Paper, “the country is coming together”, with, “65 million people willing us to make it happen”.
The whole tone portrays the UK as a sort of a fettered giant, a national equivalent of Clark Kent which, having entered the Brexit telephone booth, can emerge as a Superman ready to take on the world and win. Either the Prime Minister believes this, which is deeply worrying; or she hopes that by whistling a happy tune, all will work out well, which is scarcely more reassuring.
In view of these developments, how should this House approach the Bill before us? Can we and should we seek simply to send it on its way, or can we and should we seek to amend it? On the first question, the answer is crystal clear. We have the power to ask the Commons to think again on any piece of legislation, large or small. I hope the Government will accept that. When we had the Statement in response to the Supreme Court ruling on 24 January, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said that, “we in this House, as an unelected Chamber, need to tread with considerable care on this issue as we proceed”.
The clear implication was that we should not be pressing amendments. In response, however, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, replied:
“It would be very useful if, when we debate this Bill and there are opposing views and we ask the other place to think again, we do not have Ministers, or anybody else, talking about constitutional crises. This place cannot have the last word. A Government defeat in your Lordships’ House is simply a request to the Commons to look at the issue again-that is all it is”.-[Official Report, 12/1/17; cols. 561 and 567.]
That sums up the position perfectly.
I therefore hope that Ministers in this House will not mimic the attitude of some of their colleagues in another place by dismissing concerns or queries raised by Members of your Lordships’ House as merely opposing the will of the people or by saying that we are trying to obstruct the process. No significant body of opinion in this House is seeking to prevent the passage of the Bill, but there is a world of difference between blocking the Bill and seeking to amend it.
So, if we clearly have the power to amend the Bill, should we positively seek to do so? I believe that we should. Brexit is the most important single issue which has faced the country for decades. For many of us, the approach being adopted by the Government is little short of disastrous. For those of us-and there are many in your Lordships’ House-for whom Europe has been a central theme of our entire political lives, to sit on our hands in the circumstances is both unthinkable and unconscionable.
Many of us throughout the House have always been proud internationalists. We have a profound and deep-rooted commitment to partnership with our European neighbours, a partnership which has resulted in a peaceful Europe where we work in co-operation with one another to overcome common adversaries-climate change, disease, organised crime, terrorism-and to share in the benefits of close relations with our neighbours. How could we possibly justify supine acceptance of what the Government are proposing to ourselves, let alone to others who are watching?
How then should be seek to amend the Bill? There are several sorts of amendments that were debated in the Commons. These amendments related to parliamentary scrutiny, to the role of the devolved Administrations, to impact assessments and to negotiating priorities, from the relationship to the single market to the rights of EU citizens in the UK. All of these are extremely important areas. We on these Benches will want to work across the House with others who seek to pursue them, but for us the key question as we begin the negotiations is: what happens at the end of the process? The Government were not given a blank cheque by the electorate. Voting for departure is not the same as voting for a destination.
If and when the Prime Minister reaches a Brexit deal, who will ratify it on behalf of the nation? Only three bodies could do so: the Government, Parliament, or the people as a whole. The Government have already said that they will give Parliament a vote on the deal, although at present they seem to be willing to offer a vote on only one option-to accept the deal or crash out of the EU. We will of course seek in your Lordships’ House to give Parliament a more meaningful role at the end of the process, but even if we succeed, Parliament, having decided to ask the people to express a view on whether they wished to leave the EU, should not have the final say. If only parliamentarians had had a vote in the referendum, our future EU membership would be secure. Both MPs and Peers overwhelmingly thought that our better interests were served by staying in the EU, including, of course, many members of the current Administration-not least those in your Lordships’ House.
At the end of the process initiated by the people, only the people should have the final say. I realise that many in your Lordships’ House are strongly opposed to referenda and shrink from the prospect of having any more, but we now have a country more deeply divided on Brexit than ever. The anger of those who wanted to leave is now matched by the growing anger of those who wish to remain-particularly our young people. If at the end of this process we are to come together as a country, we need to dissipate this anger, and we believe that giving the people the final say will help to do so.
I must also challenge those many Members of your Lordships’ House who have approached me and my colleagues in recent weeks to say that they believe Brexit is a catastrophe for the country and fervently wish to avert it. How, other than a referendum, do noble Lords think this could be seen to be done legitimately? Having remitted power over our membership of the EU to the people, who but the people could ultimately exercise the power to think again? Of course, the idea of such a referendum should not be alien to the Government. David Davis has argued over a number of years for what he calls a “decision” referendum at the end of the negotiating process. He has not said much about that in recent months but he did let his guard slip in concluding his Second Reading speech on the Article 50 Bill in the Commons when he quoted Gladstone, who said: “Trust the people”. Trust the people. My Lords, we agree.”
21 Feb:10.27 pm
Baroness Ludford (LD)
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House, and perhaps the Daily Mail, to the fact that my receipt of an MEP pension is in the register.
We have had a long and intense debate, with many excellent speeches. I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in thanking Gina Miller for the fact that we have had this debate. It has been a marathon rather than a sprint, just as the Brexit process itself will prove to be over possibly a decade of blood, sweat and tears. Those who swallowed the myth perpetrated by some Brexiteers that it would mean “With one bound, we are free” are going to be cruelly disappointed. This is just one of the many disillusionments to come. Another is the unravelling of the notion that leaving the EU will solve all our problems. There are in fact many sources of valid dissatisfaction, grievance and frustration among the people of the United Kingdom today. To most of these problems, Brexit will bring no relief but there is no spare capacity in this Government to focus on anything but Brexit. As Tony Blair so rightly said in his recent speech:
“This is a Government for Brexit, of Brexit and dominated by Brexit. It is a mono-purpose political entity”.
The Government’s Statement introducing the White Paper three weeks ago made an extraordinary assertion about the Bill. They said that the Bill is not,
“about whether or not we leave the EU, or even how we do so “.-[Official Report, 2/2/17; col. 1310.]
From these Benches, and as we have heard from others, there is profound disagreement with that assertion so Liberal Democrats are not prepared to throw in the towel. We hope that majorities will form for key amendments and I welcome indications from across the House of such support.
Against the citation by the noble Lord, Lord Hague, and others that 37% of the electorate voted to leave, I set the riposte of my noble friend Lady Walmsley: that means that 63% did not vote leave. Thus, it is perfectly legitimate to try to persuade the other place to think again. Indeed, waving this Bill through with no change, while harbouring serious reservations, would be an abrogation of our responsibility-as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and my noble friend Lord Taverne emphasised. We are being asked to rubber-stamp Brexit at any cost, the most extreme of all the options open to the Government.
Extreme Brexit shamefully forgets the interests of the young, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, noted. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, we will be asked, “What did you do to stop this?”. To the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, who espoused the “doctrine of unripe time”, I say: if not now, when? When do we try to stop the fall off the cliff edge? As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, no deal is the worst deal of all. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Russell, coined the best phrase of the debate for the Brexiteers-“sore losers”-and I believe that the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth, bore out that description. Responses came from my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who said, more or less, “Do not bully or threaten me to give up my belief in a close relationship with Europe”, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, who said that speaking out is our right, our responsibility and our duty.
There have been objections to the Liberal Democrat call for people to have the final say on any Brexit deal. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said it was not very British to have a further referendum, but Mr David Davis, who is surely very British, thought it was a good idea. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, you cannot start with democracy and end with a stitch-up, and I am grateful that other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Triesman, agreed with that proposition. As my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Kramer stressed, this would be a first referendum on the result of negotiations, the first chance for the British people to pass judgment on the Brexit deal that the Government come back with. It is not a second referendum in the sense of a rerun of last June. Some noble Lords need to grasp this essential difference, which was well understood by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston.
My noble friend Lord Newby, in his long-ago introduction, referred to Gladstone’s call to trust the people. This was in fact requoted by Randolph Churchill, but Gladstone originated it, and it is worth recalling the whole quote:
“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear”.
It is that fear which is so driving the Brexiteer intolerance of disagreement or dissent from the true faith-fear that people might realise that the extreme Brexit emperor has no clothes, and that will mean exposure to cruel, cold winds.
Last June’s vote cannot possibly be interpreted as a decision to leave the single market, as the noble Lord, Lord Darling, emphasised. Not only was Mrs Thatcher -as she then was-the original sponsor of the European single market, but the Conservatives obtained an overall majority at the 2015 general election-the last one we had-with an explicit manifesto commitment to safeguard the UK’s position in it, as my noble friend Lord Shipley reminded us. The noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, urged respect for that manifesto. Perhaps he might ask his noble friends on the Front Bench and in the Government to respect that manifesto commitment to the single market.
The price we will pay for the alleged privilege of global Britain freedom is not only a restriction of opportunities for all our citizens but also the far greater weight and expense of red tape for exporting to the EU from outside the single market and the customs union. My noble friend Lady Walmsley said that the single market gives us the freedom to sell and the confidence to buy.
The refusal to seek continued membership of the single market is due to two self-imposed red lines-against enforcement of EU law through ECJ jurisdiction and against free movement of people. Yet it is blindly obvious-even the White Paper says so-that, in any transitional period or longer term under a free trade agreement or security arrangements, we will be obliged to follow EU standards and the ruling of the court either directly or indirectly. My noble friend Lord Lester pointed this out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and my noble friend Lord Marks labelled the Government’s position as absurd. The Government are clearly hoping to get away with a smoke and mirrors concealment of this link to the ECJ.
The Government turn their back on free movement without either acknowledging that it is a two-way street, enabling many British people to explore the delights of study, residence or retirement in another EU country or options for flexibility and change. This was urged by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Hain.
Some speakers seemed to think we could have the single market without the single market. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, expects free trade as at present. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, wants mutual market access for insurance. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, rightly refuted any such notion as delusional.
The noble Lords, Lord O’Donnell, Lord O’Neill and Lord Giddens, explained how global trade agreements could not offset the disadvantages of exit from the single market. Other noble Lords explained how Brexit would harm co-operation in different sectors, such as financial services. My noble friend Lord Paddick talked about security and my noble friend Lady Jolly mentioned defence.
The potential effect of very hard Brexit on these islands is alarming. Much concern was rightly expressed about the effects within the island of Ireland of pulling out of the single market and the customs union. The White Paper gives no clue about how it will actually avoid a hard border, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, pointed out. My noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed rightly feared for the social unity of this kingdom and for the future of the Union. My noble friends Lady Humphreys and Lord Thomas deplored the effect on Wales and Welsh economic development of pulling out of the single market.
The Government seem blind to economic, social and personal distress being caused by their refusal to guarantee the continued residence and other rights to EEA nationals already legally here. Liberal Democrats are totally committed to securing the continued rights of Britons across the EEA, as well as those of EEA citizens here. We believe-I cite the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in evidence to the EU Select Committee-that it is “inconceivable” that a first move will not be reciprocated. So I hope there will be wide support across this House for an amendment.
In conclusion, it is Parliament’s job to seek to put the “how” into Brexit in a way that at least puts a reasonable proposition to the people and allows them to make a sensible choice between that and continued EU membership. Let us have a return to the pragmatic, common sense on which Tories traditionally pride themselves, even if this is not as exhilarating as the revolutionary ideology gripping this very un-Tory Government now. Britain is set to pay a high price, unless the Conservative Government can be deflected from their inflexible pursuit of the hardest of hard Brexits.
Finally my own speech on the situation, as defence spokesperson for the party.
21 Feb:4.06 pm
Baroness Jolly (LD)
Yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, spoke of the vision of what was known as the Common Market. My first vote was in 1975, in the referendum to remain in that Common Market. Although I was born in the 1950s, the war still cast a shadow. I was a young woman, newly married to a junior officer in a very, very much larger Royal Navy-one which could certainly cope east of Suez-and the idea of binding states in trade to avoid conflict appealed to me then, as it still does.
Britain’s withdrawal from the EU comes at a time of great global instability. Russia, resurgent and hostile, flies nuclear sorties through UK airspace, harasses NATO’s eastern flank and claims to be seeking a “post-West world order”. The American President expressed ambivalence towards NATO as recently as last Wednesday. Europe has been wracked by a wave of extremist attacks, and the chaos swirling in the Middle East shows no sign of abating. Against this bleak backdrop, the passage of this Bill will set in motion the greatest upheaval of UK foreign, economic and domestic policy in recent history. I submit that the triggering of Article 50 will also have-and, indeed, has had-a profoundly negative effect on the UK’s defence and security.
As I noted last July in this House, Brexit means losing our place in defence institutions such as Europe’s common security and defence framework. Last July, it was clear to us that the loss of access to these important networks might hold unknown risks to our ability to defend ourselves, but last July Donald Trump was not President and NATO did not seem any more at risk than at any time since the end of the Cold War. In difficult times, we must preserve our global alliances and friendships, and yet this Government have failed to provide assurances that they will work to preserve our key security links with the continent after triggering Article 50.
I would be grateful if the Minister could reassure the House that, in this hard-Brexit world, our defence alliances with mainland Europe have not been overlooked. Defence and security should not be bargaining chips to be pushed back and forth across the negotiating table; they are essential commitments which protect our citizens and those of our allies. We cannot allow our withdrawal from the EU to jeopardise or sour our security alliances, and yet the Government’s approach risks doing just that.
It is not just our European alliances that are at risk. Since the 23 June referendum, the pound has fallen by more than 20% against the dollar. At the end of last year, RUSI predicted that if the decline were sustained, the cost of Britain’s defence imports could increase by around £700 million a year. This means, in effect, a 2% cut in the purchasing power of Britain’s defence budget. Last month, a National Audit Office report on the MoD’s equipment plan found that the MoD had already eaten through the £10.7 billion of headroom built into last year’s budget to provide flexibility. That report found that,
“The affordability of the Plan is now at greater risk than at any time since reporting was introduced”- an effect of the declining exchange rate.
There is, in short, a significant rising threat to the affordability of the defence of the UK. Despite the commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence, the continuing capability of the British military to meet strategic objectives is far from guaranteed. Just last week, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that, in 2016, Britain failed to meet that spending commitment despite the Government’s 2015 pledge to commit at least 2% of GDP for defence for each and every year of this decade. These rising costs might necessitate a revisiting of the 2015 SDSR or else there will be a reduction in expected UK defence capabilities at a time when the world is becoming markedly less secure.
The Government will need to accept that the effects of Brexit on defence will require either a substantial rise in taxes or cuts to vital domestic services. If the UK Government cannot accept these options, they must admit to British citizens that their borders will be less secure and their security more uncertain; they must acknowledge that they have broken their NATO spending commitments at a time when NATO’s future is already uncertain. It is clear that, in just a few months, Brexit and this Government’s Brexit strategy have made the UK less secure and less well defended.
It is not clear, however, that on 23 June last year voters assumed these risks. Leave campaign leaders promised that Britain would reclaim its place on the global stage, yet Brexit has left UK forces less able to defend key interests and has seen the UK diminished within its network of alliances. Brexiteers promised more secure borders, yet our borders are set to become less secure against those who wish to do us harm. They promised us more money for services such as the NHS, but the Government might now have to slash those services if they are to defend our borders and interests in an increasingly unstable climate.
In short, while 52% of voters cast ballots last June for a departure from the EU, they did not vote for that destination. On matters of defence, that destination seems increasingly bleak. My noble friend Lord Paddick and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, have said that the voters should have a final say.
Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Defence
House of Lords,
020 7219 1286