“This year, the Government has to conduct one of the most difficult negotiations in our history. It is not up to the job”.
This was written the other day by Juliet Samuel in the Daily Telegraph, a paper not always completely opposed to the current governing party.
What was true a few weeks ago remains true now, nothing has weakened the strength of that criticism. In the House of Lords we have started to scrutinise the EU Withdrawal Bill, a deeply flawed Bill presented by a dysfunctional and leaderless Government. Any attempt at leadership by the Prime Minister, and there is a tug on the choke chain by the hard-line Brexiteers in her Cabinet and her party to drag her back from anything that does not fit with their ideological obsessions.
This week we have had the threat of a new leadership team, born of toys thrown from prams. The ‘dream’ team of Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg threatening a nightmare future for Britain that would surely see our country going back to the 18th Century if not the stone age.
The Cabinet plots, jostles and manoeuvres for position like players in a TV soap opera. It would be farcical if it were not the future of our country at stake while the Conservative Party plays out its own tragicomic version of Game of Thrones.
Such a situation puts a heavy responsibility on the House of Lords to scrutinise the legislation given to it all the more thoroughly. We must address its flaws and propose remedies, as the mantra of “Brexit means Brexit” becomes ever more trite and meaningless.
It is one of the deepest ironies that a Brexit campaign that promised a return of sovereignty to this Parliament ends in the biggest switch of power from the Legislature to the Executive that we have seen in modern times. I am in no doubt that the House of Lords has not only the right but the duty to resist such a power grab. To do otherwise would have long-term consequences for the powers and authority of this Parliament that go far beyond the immediate issue of Brexit.
Both Parliament and the people must be consulted on this endgame. Without a vote on the reality of Brexit, we will be left with a raw and open wound
On the economic consequences, I have never seen Brexit in Captain Oates terms: Britain leaving the European tent to inevitably perish as we try to go it alone. We will be poorer than we would otherwise be—even the Government’s own assessments tell us that—but we will get by.
We will be able to earn a crust. However, I see no evidence at all that “global Britain” will find better deals free from the supposed encumbrances of our membership of a 500 million-plus single market.
The clock is ticking while every sector of the economy cries out for clarity and certainty. The Prime Minister and her Cabinet have to make clear the terms of our departure that they are seeking. When we know where we are going and how we intend to get there, it defies logic that a decision taken nearly two years ago without the facts should be the last word on a decision that will set the course for our country for decades to come.
Both Parliament and the people must be consulted on this endgame. Without a vote on the reality of Brexit, we will be left with a raw and open wound, not least among the millions of young people who did not vote for Brexit yet will have to live with the consequences. To tell them that their ship has sailed is a cynical betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of a generation.
I have three children, all in their 20s and all proud citizens of Europe. I want to be able to look them in the eye and say, “I did everything that I could to avoid this disaster”. The second is that I want to put on record my pride in a European project that has set an example to the world of how old enmities can be buried and a new era of peace and prosperity can be delivered and underpinned by civil liberties, human rights and the rule of law.
This government are putting this on the line, leaving our future bleak and uncertain as they squabble amongst themselves. One thing is clear, we are throwing away a great deal. Until that deal is finalised, I will fight it.
Lord McNally is a Lib Dem peer, and a former minister and deputy leader of the House of Lords