In this contribution during the second reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill Lord Bilimoria notes the effect of the EU referendum on the UK as a whole . He further notes the leaked government analysis of Brexit that says that Britain will be worse off in every scenario. He states that he is a Eurosceptic and highlights aspects of the EU he disagrees with but stresses the benefits the UK has received from EU membership such as trade with it and trade agreements through it. With regard to the Bill, he notes the issue of Ireland and Scotland and argues for the need to give the British people a chance to have their say and that Parliament must have the final word before any deal is passed on to the EU. He concludes by recalling a past conversation which describes Brexit as a train crash in slow motion and states it is not too late “to stop that train crash”.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

30 January 2018

Lord Bilimoria:

My Lords, Professor Sir David Eastwood, the vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, where I am proud to be chancellor, wrote an article yesterday, entitled “Trump and Brexit have triggered two deep constitutional crises”. “Two years ago”, he says,

“a Trump presidency and a vote for Brexit were considered all but unthinkable. Now, two of the world’s oldest democracies are struggling to live with them, and their struggles are even more profound than they seem”.

He goes on to say that basically, since the Reformation, Parliament has always been sovereign and until the Brexit vote the broad parameters of the constitution, according to Walter Bagehot in the 1860s, have prevailed. When we have had referenda in the past, on the whole they have reflected the will of Parliament. However, David Cameron decided on this referendum and, for the first time, we had a Prime Minister and a country in turmoil, with Parliament—the vast majority of MPs and Members of this place—wanting to remain before the referendum and then a narrow result. Now, politics is on hold until Brexit is determined. Both parties are beholden to their more extreme wings, according to Professor David Eastwood, and the machinery of government is overheating and struggling to shape the Brexit deal.

Is this going to continue? The Government have put down the red lines of leaving the single market and the customs union. The EU has made the situation very clear. Yesterday, it said, “If you want a transition period, you can have it but you have to adhere to the free movement of people, you have to keep paying money in, and you have to keep having EU regulations and EU law”. So what deal will the Government be able to negotiate on that basis? Today, BuzzFeed News is reporting on the leaked government analysis of Brexit that says that Britain will be worse off in every scenario. That analysis looked at three scenarios: deal, no deal and a soft Brexit. In each case, Britain will be far worse off in every area. It says that the biggest negative is the UK’s decision to leave both the customs union and the single market.

We have had 3 million people from the European Union working here. In phase 1 of the negotiations it was said that they would be protected, but what about the future? They make up less than 5% of this country’s population. They are not a burden on this country. Without them, we would have an acute labour shortage, so we should be grateful to them.

I openly admit that I am a Eurosceptic in many ways. I dislike the European Parliament, I do not know who my MEPs are—I do not think that many of your Lordships do—and there is no accountability or responsibility. I think that the euro was a huge mistake—thank God we did not join it. I made a mistake with Schengen: I thought that we should have been a member, but now thankfully, from a security point of view, we are not. So we will never have a “United States of Europe”.

I have never been one for further European integration. We signed out of that. The EU is nowhere near perfect. It has huge faults but, looking at it on the whole, on balance we have done well out of it. We have had the highest cumulative GDP growth rate of any nation, including Germany—62%—since being a member of the EU. However, the sad thing is that even the OBR in the Budget has just said that, looking ahead, we will have a growth rate of less than 2% a year for five years—the lowest ever level.

We are the highest recipient of inward investment in Europe but, now, the Government and the Brexiteers are talking about going global. What is this “going global” nonsense? Fifty per cent of our trade is with the European Union. Another 20% on top of that is through the free trade agreements we have through the European Union, including, now, with Japan. That leaves 30%. As a businessman, am I going to give up 70% for 30%—and a 30% that I may never get? India and the Commonwealth account for less than 10% of our trade. Canada has a free trade deal with the EU but the EU accounts for only 10% of Canada’s trade. Its biggest trading partner is the United States—next door to it. India has nine free trade deals with countries around the world but not one is a western country. And what about the £8 billion that we have paid into the EU? I would pay that for the peace that we have had over the last few decades, including through NATO. As for sovereignty and taking back control, what a lot of nonsense. The laws that affect us in our day-to-day life are not the 20,000 regulations that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, spoke about but the ones that we make here in this House every day.

I turn to this European Union (Withdrawal) Bill—or great repeal Bill, or whatever it is called. In the debate that we had last week on devolution, I challenged the Minister to explain how we are going to deal with the Northern Ireland situation. He did not have an answer. Phase 1 has just kicked the can down the road. Scotland will say, “We want to be treated on the same terms”. Can the Minister tell me how we are going to deal with Clause 11, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred?

By the way, at the time of the referendum UKIP got 12.5% of the vote. Today, the figure is 1.8%, and let us not talk about its leader. What really upsets me is that Brexit has damaged our standing in the world and I see this all the time. I was with the Prime Minister of India earlier this month and I have seen India’s reaction to Brexit. We were flying before the referendum; now, look at Davos, where we were overshadowed by Macron and Trump. The whole world, except for Trump, thinks that we should remain in the EU.

In conclusion, virtually every speech today has made references to “when we leave the European Union” and “after Brexit”. Steve Jobs founded the most successful company the world has ever known—Apple. He said that changing your mind is a sign of intelligence. Keynes said:

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Even David Davis said:

“If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”.

We have Juncker and Barnier—everyone—saying, “Stay on. We would welcome you staying on”. Even Farage has now spoken about a second referendum. Boris Johnson has said that there is now a danger that Brexit will not take place.

My message is this: we have to go through the motions of this Bill. We have to go through whatever we have to go through, but in a normal democracy you get a chance every five years to change your mind. We are not getting that chance, and in the two years that have already passed since the referendum was called, a lot has changed. We face many challenges: the NHS, our security, our police forces, our Armed Forces, our Army, which would not fill Wembley Stadium, our Navy and our entrepreneurship—fewer companies started last year than the year before. That is what we have to deal with, not this wretched referendum. We need to give the British people the chance to have their say, with all the facts—we can call it a second referendum; we can call it referendum part two—and Parliament must have the final say before any deal is passed on to the European Union. Will the Minister confirm that Parliament will have the final say?

Finally, at the Harvard Business School— of which I am proud to be an alumnus—I talked to Dr Deepak Malhotra, a world expert in negotiations. He has written an excellent paper on Brexit. He told me to read a book about the build-up of the First World War. He said, “Reading that book is like watching a train crash in slow motion. Karan, that is what Brexit is: a train crash in slow motion”. It is not too late to stop that train crash.

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