In this contribution to the debate on amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill Lord Bilimoria notes the permanent nature of the decision to leave the EU and argues that parliament should have a full say on the nature of the UK’s exit from the EU in order to protect the future. Also included here are questions from Lord Tebbit and Lord Finkelstein to Lord Bilimoria and these answers are also included.

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

07 March 2017
Moved by Lord Pannick:

Discussing amendments, in this case amendment 3

Lord Bilimoria: First Contribution

My Lords, one of the main reasons why we are where we are now is that the Prime Minister and the Government wanted to go ahead and use the prerogative, and it is only because of the ruling in the Supreme Court that we are debating this here.

In this amendment, we are asking to have something put in statute to protect against uncertainty in the future. We have heard so far in the discussion that questioning why voters voted—remain or leave—would be an insult to them. However, this was not a general election. In a general election, you have the party’s manifesto—or an “Ed’s stone” and its commandments. If the people do not like the Government and say that they have not lived up to their manifesto, or have not delivered, in five years’ time they can throw them out. The difference here is that this decision is permanent. The last referendum was in 1975—over four decades ago. Then, there was a majority of 67%. A supermajority was achieved. The decision was decisive. There was certainty. This time, we were told that it was a binary decision—remain or leave—but the outcomes are anything but binary. One of the outcomes is a hard Brexit.

The main issue here is that people are allowed to change their minds. Whether it is the Prime Minister, her Ministers, Members of the other place or Members of this House who want to change their minds, it their right to do so. In fact, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, said that changing your mind was a sign of intelligence. As Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind”. As the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said, many facts and many outcomes of this negotiation are completely uncertain. The Dutch elections, the French elections and the German elections are coming up. The eurozone might collapse. Europe might even reform its immigration rules, which we would like. Therefore, it is only right that Parliament has a full say on the road ahead. This amendment would protect us from the potential outcomes.

I concluded my Second Reading speech by quoting Professor Deepak Malhotra of the Harvard Business School, a world expert in negotiation. He told me to make sure that I read a book called The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman about the beginning of the First World War. He said that reading that book was like watching a train crash in slow motion. That is what we are seeing right now with Brexit. I conclude that we need to support this amendment more than anything in order to protect the future.

Lord Tebbit:

I wonder whether in 1975 the noble Lord knew about the Maastricht treaty?

Lord Bilimoria:

My Lords, in 1975 I was barely a teenager.

I conclude by saying that the main reason why we need to support this amendment is for the sake of future generations and to protect them. I am sure that noble Lords have received several tweets, emails and letters from individuals. Just this morning I received an email that said, “Please support parliamentary democracy and our young people’s future”. One of our doorkeepers reminded me of an ancient Gaelic saying: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.

Lord Finkelstein:

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, seemed to suggest that we should support this amendment because Article 50 was not unilaterally irrevocable and that we would have to leave the EU. The argument used by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, just now was that we should support the amendment because it is unilaterally irrevocable. Which is it?

Lord Bilimoria: 

 Whether it is irrevocable has not been tested legally. The expert on this is the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who wrote Article 50 and who claims that it is revocable. However, this amendment would cover all potential outcomes, and that we should have.

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