My fellow peers should honour the referendum result and pass the Article 50 Bill unamended
The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU was one of the greatest exercises in democracy that this country has ever seen: the result was clear, the question was simple and unambiguous, and yet Brexit is under attack on several fronts.
Some say ‘maybe in the future the British people will change their minds’. By that they mean, they would like to change their minds for them. Some say ‘well, maybe the British people will change their minds and we could have a second referendum’. But it didn’t say on the ballot paper ‘state your preference now, we will see what we can negotiate, and then we’ll come back to see whether you approve of it’.
And how are we to know whether the British people have changed their mind? Is it going to be on the basis of an opinion poll? Will we have a second referendum? Will we have a third referendum if they change their mind again? Or possibly a fourth referendum?
There is no doubt, there is only one right thing to do, which is to honour the result of the referendum which was completely unambiguous.
All these tortuous arguments sound a little bit like Mr Juncker used to sound. You will remember Mr Juncker once famously said before a referendum in one of the countries on one of the many treaties: “if it is a yes, we will say ‘on we go’. If it’s a no, we will come back.” Or as Mr Barroso put it: “they must vote until they get it right”. We’re not having that in this country.
There are some in the House of Lords who have been arguing that the rights and the views of the 48% who voted Remain must be respected. I entirely agree: that’s how we govern in Britain, we do not have an elective dictatorship. We do not have a dictatorship of the majority, we always take into account the views, the reservations, of a minority.
The truth is, there is no middle way between Leave or Remain: you are either in or you are out.
The Bill before the Lords is a very limited one, its only purpose is to start the negotiations. People say the function of the House of Lords is to scrutinise legislation, which is of course true, but adding conditions to the Bill is not the same as scrutiny. Amendments should not be used as a cover by those who are seeking to oppose the result of the referendum.
Of course it is absolutely right that at the end of the negotiations, whether there is a deal or there isn’t a deal, there ought to be a parliamentary vote. The Prime Minister has already promised that there should be a parliamentary vote. But it can only be a vote on whether to accept the deal, or if we don’t accept the deal, to leave. Parliament cannot vote to stay in the European Union, and thus ignore the result of the referendum.
I hope that my colleagues in the House of Lords will see sense, and I look forward to Article 50 being triggered as soon as possible and the negotiations beginning.
And I remain confident that with or without a deal, Britain has a great outlook outside the EU.
I would personally prefer a deal, I think a deal is in the interests both of ourselves and the EU, and I believe that there will be a deal if the EU is rational. But I have no fear of Britain outside the EU, even without a deal.
We hear an awful lot about all the uncertainty that is going to be caused; I understand that businessmen hate uncertainty, but there is always uncertainty. I always think that in every boardroom, there ought to be a banner hanging from the ceiling saying ‘there is no such thing as certainty’, and that applies not just to the issue of leaving the EU, it applies to the issue of remaining in the European Union too.
No one can tell what the European Union will look like in three years’ time. Leaving aside the well-known problems of the Eurozone, the whole development of the EU is up in the air.
Some of you may have read a report in the FT earlier this week where Mr Juncker put forward five different options for the future of the EU: Option 1 – Carrying on; Option 2 – Nothing but the Single Market; Option 3 – Those who want to do more, should do more; Option 4 – Doing less, more efficiently; Option 5 – Doing much more together.
What could be more uncertain about that? Yet this is a vision being put forward by the Commission which is normally the arch-federalising, arch-evangelising agency for the EU’s development and integration.
In the same article, the Financial Times quoted MacroGeo, a consultancy which is headed by Carlo De Benedetti – an elder statesman of Italian industry and of the Italian business community – and this report said “by 2021, the EU may be entering the last five years of its existence”.
It used words like ‘disintegrate’ and ‘decompose’. I’m not saying for one minute that is what I believe will happen, but what is clear is that the unthinkable is being thought about.
For that reason, Britain has to continue to think about its relationship with Europe – which will remain important to us – but we also have a necessity, because of this uncertainty, to think globally as well.
This is an edited extract of the speech delivered by Lord Lamont to Leave Means Leave on Monday 6th March 2017 .
March 7th, 2017: Brexit Central