LORD CALLANAN (Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union): “It is a well-established feature of our constitution that the Executive represent the country in international diplomacy, and this constitutional arrangement exists for very good practical reasons. In any negotiation, there are judgements to be made as to what can reasonably be achieved. Those judgements can be made only by those engaged on the detail. It would be impossible for negotiators to demonstrate the flexibility necessary for an effective negotiation if they are stripped of their authority to make decisions. That will do nothing but guarantee a bad deal for the UK, which is something I hope we all wish to avoid. If the UK is to be a trusted and effective negotiator, with the EU or anybody else, the Executive branch must be competent to negotiate, just as they are competent to act on their own judgement in other areas of international relations.
“Does this [wrecking amendment] give the Government the strongest possible hand in negotiating a good deal? I am afraid that it does not—in fact, the opposite: it would create a perverse negotiating incentive for the EU to string out the negotiations for as long as possible. It is not in the UK’s interest to hand the EU negotiators a ticking clock and the hope that the more they delay, the more they can undermine the position of the UK Government and create damaging uncertainty and confusion.
“If Parliament rejects the [Withdrawal] agreement, there is nothing for us to legislate further on. It has been rejected. The Article 50 process that Parliament voted for will then kick in: we will leave on 31 March 2019. [Actually on 29 March 2019.]”
LORD GROCOTT: “We are saying that we, the unelected House of Lords, should pass an amendment which effectively tells the House of Commons how to hold the Government to account. Essentially, it is instructing the House of Commons. A lot of noble Lords have been in the House of Commons. That House holds Governments to account day in, day out. It does that by a multitude of different mechanisms: by debate, adjournment debates, emergency resolutions, questions to Ministers, and Bills.
“The overwhelming majority of Members in both Houses voted for remain in the referendum and, through all sorts of different mechanisms, they want to either delay or stop the whole Brexit process.
“Quite simply, if anyone in this House, or the other one come to that, is deeply concerned about parliamentary sovereignty—and indeed if they love parliamentary sovereignty, as I do—the best thing they can do is to make sure that the European Communities Act, 1972, is repealed as rapidly as possible. That is a far greater restriction on the authority of Parliament, and on the House of Commons in particular, than anything the amendment to hand attempts to remedy.”
LORD HOWARD: “It makes me all the more astonished that they should put forward a clause which could, and very probably would, lead to not one but several constitutional crises.
“… so determined are its movers to thwart the will of the British people to leave the European Union that they wish to provoke a constitutional crisis, but that is the perilous outcome to which this new clause opens the door.
“It proposes that the negotiations should be taken out of the hands of the elected Government of our country and be decided on a resolution of the other place and the consideration of a Motion in your Lordships’ House. I had the great privilege of serving in the other place for twenty-seven years—not quite as long as my noble friend, but almost—and I have the greatest respect for it, but it is not a negotiating body. I do not believe it has ever taken that role upon itself, I do not believe it wants it and nor should it have it. I need hardly add that if this new clause were to become law, the situation would arise that it would immeasurably weaken the Government’s negotiating position with the EU and would make our Government and our country a laughing-stock.”
LORD DOBBS: “We all know what the intention of the amendment is: not to improve Brexit but to impale it.
“So the amendment is utterly irrelevant. It is also deeply—and, I believe, deliberately—damaging. It is designed to undermine our negotiating position—to confuse, to cause chaos and to give encouragement to EU negotiators to contrive the worst possible outcome, in the hope that some new vote, parliamentary decision or referendum will force Britain into retreat or even to hold up its hands in surrender.”
LORD KING: “I speak as somebody who has already spoken in this House as a remainer. I campaigned to remain. …. We have had the referendum, the decision was taken and we are now embarked on the negotiations. My view on the amendment before the House is that one of the beneficiaries could be Monsieur Barnier.”
LORD FAIRFAX: “As your Lordships have heard from my noble friends Lords Lamont and Howard this is a wrecking amendment, designed to delay, frustrate and ultimately block Brexit. For all the protestations of my noble friend Lord Hailsham and others, it is a wrecking amendment in substance. Those proposing and supporting it are playing the role of a fifth column for Monsieur Barnier and the EU negotiators. I am sure he is very grateful. They are doing his job for him, as my noble friend Lord King pointed out.”
LORD BLACKWELL: “You cannot have a negotiation where a Parliament seeks to be the negotiating partner: that is an impossible situation.”
LORD HOWARTH: “My Lords, this amendment is reckless. It is peculiarly reckless proposed in an unelected House. It would be reckless if it were to be entertained by the elected House. The 2016 referendum generated bitter divisions in our country. To rub salt in those wounds and fan the flames of that anger by offering this option, raising hopes of a further referendum, seems to be most unwise. My noble friend Lord Adonis, in his Hitchcockian script, truly made my flesh creep.
“The 2016 referendum exposed depths of mistrust and resentment against the political Establishment and against what has broadly been the policy orthodoxy of recent decades. The appropriate response to that, surely—even if you deeply disagree with the view that was taken by the majority then, even if you consider that people were voting against their own best interests—is not to say, ‘You are stupid, bigoted and ignorant. You are wrong. You should think again and get it right’. That is how it will be perceived.
“Noble Lords may recollect this document. The Government sent it to every household in the country. It was sent to 27 million households and cost £9.3 million of taxpayers’ money. In it the Government said: ‘The referendum on Thursday, 23 June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union … This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide’.
“We have to live with the results of our democratic choices. If Parliament and the Government were to renege on the commitment made by the Government in that document, I believe there would be a very serious crisis in our country.”
If Theresa May wishes to create a pro-Brexit majority in the unelected second chamber that will respect the democratically expressed will of the people, instead of trying to frustrate it, then I and many another true-born Englishman stand ready to serve our country and collect a mere £300 per day, plus moat cleaning expenses, for doing so.