Lib Dem Lords vs Brexit: Sarah Ludford outlines consequences of no deal

Eventually, after nearly eight hours of procedural wrangling by Tory peers, the Lords got down to the debate on the general principles of the Cooper Letwin Bill to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.

The only Lib Dem peer to speak in the debate was Sarah Ludford who outlined the economic and health consequences of no deal and saw off some arguments from Tory Brexiteers.

My Lords, I support the Bill and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for taking up the mantle of introducing it in this House. I ​also thank Members of the other place, the right honourable Yvette Cooper and the right honourable Sir Oliver Letwin. I was distressed to hear the attacks being made by Members on the Benches opposite on Sir Oliver Letwin because, as far as I am concerned, these colleagues of ours in the other place are doing a great public service.

We need this Bill as an insurance policy against a no-deal Brexit. Even though the Prime Minister has said that she intends to seek a longer extension, it is essential to give the House of Commons a role in that process; namely, mandating the Government and ensuring the accountability of the Government to the House of Commons so that it can take proper control of the process, which is what has been wanted by all sides over the past three years. We should not be in a situation where this country slips off the cliff edge of no deal either through intent or by accident. I am afraid that the Prime Minister has blown hot and cold on no deal, so there is an issue as regards the confidence and indeed the trust that we can have that the policy will not flip-flop. We also need to ensure that the Prime Minister goes on pursuing a straight course.

The impact of no deal would be very severe. We have heard that from the CBI, the TUC and from the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill. We have heard about a 10% increase in food prices, a possible recession, customs delays and bankruptcies among businesses.

Lord Robathan (Con)

My Lords, are these not the same people who warned us, when we voted three years ago, that pandemonium would break out? Further, are not some of them, like the CBI, the same people who said that we must join the euro—and continue to say that as well?

Baroness Ludford

I think that the noble Lord is somewhat out of date. There has been a serious impact on the economy. As a result of the Brexit vote, we have lost around 2.5% of GDP, even though we are still in the EU. We are down by around £600 million a week.

As I was saying, there are already shortages of medicines, and that will get worse. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, who is not with us now, suggested in a debate we had a couple of weeks ago that I was wrong to draw attention to the problem of people not getting essential medicines. These stories continue to appear, and they are very real. The NHS has not stockpiled everything because some medicines such as short-life isotopes cannot be stockpiled. It is therefore irresponsible to contemplate no deal. There would also be effects on our security and on Northern Ireland—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has talked about the issues as regards the Northern Ireland border and possible direct rule.

Last night, Mr Mark Francois MP said in the other place that the Bill is a “constitutional outrage”, a phrase which was echoed by some speakers to the amendments to the Business Motion this afternoon. What in my opinion would be a constitutional, political, economic and social outrage would be for a Government, any Government, knowingly to inflict avoidable damage on their own citizens through a catastrophic and damaging crash-out from the European Union; hence the need to make sure we avoid a no-deal situation. This Bill assists in that process.

Lord Flight (Con)

My Lords, is it not a question of weighing the short-term inconveniences against the long-term picture? The whole point about the long term, given the appalling economic record of the EU, is that our economy is likely to grow much less while we are part of the EU or closely related to it than if it is free.

Baroness Ludford

That is not the consensus of reputable economists, who all say that we will do worse outside the EU. Some of those who say that we will be fine under no deal are not the vulnerable people who will suffer in a crash-out situation. They do not have millions stashed away.

Clause 2 would enable exit day to be changed by the Government subject only to the negative procedure. We agree with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that it would be better if the clause was removed from the Bill. We dealt expeditiously with the change from 29 March to 12 April in the statutory instrument, and there is no reason to think that we would not be able to do so again if required. It is a domestic law issue; if we get an extension, it is not a question of whether we are in the EU but a question of necessary housekeeping, and it can be done.

I do not want to go on about a people’s vote, but the noble Lord, Lord Howard, referred to the will of the people. It is time to update our knowledge of the will of the people. Three years on, it is not reasonable or reliable to rely on what a different electorate said in 2016. We hope and expect that the Prime Minister will seek an extension, but she should use that extension to get an update of the verdict of the people.

Lord Wigley (PC)

Will the noble Baroness comment on whether she is satisfied that the drafting of the Bill is watertight and will guarantee that, if it is passed in this way, there will be no way for the Government to escape the implications of their responsibilities under the Bill?

Baroness Ludford

It would take a braver woman than I to say that it is watertight. I do not know whether there is anything behind the noble Lord’s question and that he knows something that I do not, so I will rely on the better legal minds which will follow to answer that question. However, I have no reason to think that the drafting has not been carefully looked at.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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20 Comments

  • Barry Lofty 6th Apr '19 - 12:17pm

    It maybe a bit simplistic to say “Well said Baroness Ludford” but I will say it anyhow!!

  • Richard Underhill 6th Apr '19 - 1:16pm

    Are the two houses in “Ping-pong”? If so what are the changes made on the red benches?

  • Except that the ‘deal’ the Lords did with the Tories to postpone passing the Bill until Monday gave the PM enough time to ask for her own extension, making Cooper/Letwin redundant and cutting MPs out of the decision as to how long an extension we will get.

    Once again our party in Parliament is proved to be amateurs unable to think more than one move ahead.

    Now we just have to hope that the EU forces May to accept a longer extension.

  • David Becket 6th Apr '19 - 1:44pm

    @ Ian
    Yes. If we go out with no deal our party will be as much to blame as the two main parties.

  • Now we just have to hope that the EU forces May to accept a longer extension.
    From the spin Brexiteers were putting on the suggestion from an EU source yesterday that Tusk would propose a 12-month flexible extension, this laughable comment may not be too far from the truth.

  • David,
    You are simply wrong, the only ones who deserve the blame are the Brexiteers and Lexi. They voted for the “Pig in the poke” Brexit, no amount of running around will change this Pigs ear into a silk purse. It is like having kids with Brexiteers ( and especially the Lexi ones) you can try your best to prevent them being stupid and doing stupid things, but eventually you have to realise reality’s the best teacher. So if Brexit can’t be stopped, let it roll on, let them twist and turn, too argue tis someone’s else fault, it always us with people like them ( they have spent their lives looking for excuses and people to blame), but at the end don’t say “There, there anyone could have done it” be truthful and say “It takes a special kind of idiot to feck things up this badly, and that idiot stares back at you in the mirror”.

  • Peter Watson 6th Apr '19 - 4:32pm

    @frankie “the only ones who deserve the blame are the Brexiteers and Lexi”
    Sadly, if (and admittedly, it is still a big if!) we leave with no deal (or even with a deal for a very hard Brexit) then the uncompromising “all or nothing” gamble by Remainers in general and Lib Dems in particular will also deserve a significant share of the blame.

  • @Peter Watson – how significant?

    More than Theresa May with her red lines and refusal for nearly 3 years to compromise or work across party lines?

    More than the ERG who actually want a hard Brexit and keep voting against their own Government?

  • Barry Lofty 6th Apr '19 - 5:21pm

    Don,t blame the Lib Dems for this mess, the Tories have completely ignored the Remain side of the country for nearly three years aided and abetted by Jeremy Corbyn, it is a bit rich to start shifting the blame now.

  • No Peter they don’t. If a coach driver drove off a cliff, would you blame the passengers for failing to grab hold of bushes on the way down. Would you say “If only they had broken the fall by grabbing hold of the bushes on the cliff wall, some of them may have lived”, their fate is their own fault, not the idiot driver who thought he was taking a shortcut.
    That is the fate, we face, some idiot has driven off the cliff, you are now shouting grab a brush, we might survive and if we don’t tis our fault, but no Peter tis the idiots fault and they won’t compromise because they can’t, that would mean they where wrong.

  • Brexis and Lexis are now reduced to trying to share the blame. Beware they start by sharing it and if your daft enough to accept their kind offer before long it will be all your fault. Why is this you ask well they are the Scorpion in the tale of the Fox and the Scorpion.

    A fox and a scorpion both need to cross a river.
    The scorpion asks the fox for a ride on its back as it cannot swim.
    The fox refuses saying “no you’ll sting me”.
    The scorpion replies that it wouldn’t, as it would damage the both of them.
    The fox agrees and allows the scorpion to ride on it’s back.
    Half way across the river the scorpion stings the fox.
    As the poison takes effect on the fox and it starts to sink it asks the scorpion, “Why?”
    “Why did you sting me, now we are both going to die?”
    The scorpion replies, “I couldn’t help myself, it’s in my nature”.

    And that is the nature of the cheerleaders for Brexit, desperately looking for someone to blame. Don’t be daft enough to give them reason to blame you. “Twould have been a marvellous Brexit/Lexit” they will simper but it was ruined by the Remoaners enforcing their Brexit.

  • Peter Watson 7th Apr '19 - 11:08am

    @Nick Baird “how significant?”
    Excellent question!
    Theresa May’s governments deserve the lion’s share of the blame for the mess after the referendum, but many others have helped bring us to this point, even the Lib Dems.
    Perhaps the Lib Dems most significant contribution was fuelling the general mistrust in politicians and the “establishment” after 2010. More specifically, the toxicity of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem brand undermined causes associated with the party, including electoral reform and the EU, and then left the party with too few MPs to make a difference. Even in the last few years, mixed messages from Lib Dems about EU referendums and respecting/disrespecting the result have not helped, and for a while the priority seemed to be seizing the opportunity for a membership drive, but I don’t know if the party has been important enough for this to be a major factor in the wider debate.
    I think the Remain side’s biggest mistake has consistently been a refusal to acknowledge that the country is deeply divided over membership of the EU and to respond appropriately. This was compounded by a refusal to adapt or improve its approach to campaigning before the referendum or even afterwards when the magnitude of that division was apparent. Polling suggests that even now, Remain is probably the most popular single option but it might not be a majority. This division is reflected within the Labour and Conservative parties, so both Corbyn and May have had a very difficult balancing act without the freedom of the Lib Dems to alienate half of the electorate, and obviously this is worse for May since she leads the Government not the Opposition.
    Ultimately, both sides have to share blame for a failure to compromise. It might yet transpire that the intransigence of the Remain side will prevent Brexit, but the stakes of this gamble are high, risking a hard or no deal Brexit when a soft one might have been possible.

  • Peter Watson 7th Apr '19 - 11:37am

    @frankie “Brexis and Lexis are now reduced to trying to share the blame.”
    I voted to Remain in the EU and would still prefer to remain rather than leave, but if we must leave I want that to be as softly as possible.
    However, the dismal Remain campaign before and since the referendum has contributed to a situation where the outcome is balancing on a knife-edge. It has become an all-or-nothing gamble, and both sides share blame for polarising the debate like that. And unfortunately the attitude of many Remainers – yourself included – is part of the problem, not the solution. Remaining in the EU required – and still requires – Brexiters to change their minds. That means listening to and addressing their concerns instead of dismissing and ridiculing them.
    In your coach analogy, having lost the argument about whether or not to get on board, because they won’t accept any destination, too many Remainers have sulked on the back row hurling beer cans at the driver and other passengers instead of helping to avoid the cliff.
    I’m not sure about the moral of your other fable, but perhaps it is a warning of the dangers of a Remain scorpion choosing drowning instead of any site on the other bank. Still, ’tis a blessing that no unicorns were hurt in the making of the story.

  • Peter,
    The nature of the Brexiteer cheerleaders is to want a hard Brexit. You may roll over and gift them a soft Brexit, but they will be back for a slightly harder one, you’ll give them that and then they’ll be back for a slightly harder one, eventually they will have what they want and you will have nothing. You can’t compromise with fanatics, tis not possible without losing everything. I’ll use another example
    “And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
    That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.”

    Delete Dane, insert Brexiteer and I think you may see my point.

  • marcstevens 7th Apr '19 - 7:35pm

    Many of the insults now are coming from the Leave side, their politicians and people who voted leave call into radio shows and often insult remainers as ‘traitors’. Until this kind of offensive language is challenged and there is more mutual respect for differing views, it’s very difficult for people not to stick to entrenched positions.

  • Peter Martin 7th Apr '19 - 10:02pm

    @marcstevens,

    “Many of the insults now are coming from the Leave side”

    I agree that the issue of Brexit has created far too much divisiveness. I’ve lost a few friends who’ve called me a fascist for supporting the Leave side. It’s also fairly normal to be accused of a lack of intelligence, lack of education. Being a thicko in other words!
    Fortunately, the insults doesn’t worry me because I’m conceited enough to know its not true!

    Take a look at any pro Remain facebook page to see what I mean.

  • Peter Martin 7th Apr '19 - 10:28pm

    @Barry Lofty,

    “Don’t blame the Lib Dems for this mess” ??

    Lib Dems have flirted with the idea of an EU referendum too over the years. Remember the Nick Clegg leaflet? All Lib Dem MPs, except the same Nick Clegg, voted for implementation of the ’16 referendum.

    Of course this would have all gone swimmingly if you’d actually won! So I suppose you could say it’s the electorate’s fault for not voting the right way. I’m sure there would have been plenty of people giving the very good advice that you should never hold a referendum unless you are totally sure of the outcome. Brexit was never going to be like that.

    It’s really only the SNP who can claim total innocence with any degree of credibility. Everyone who supported holding the ’16 referendum, at the same time had no intention of going along with a Leave outcome, simply gambled and lost.

  • marcstevens 8th Apr '19 - 1:24pm

    I avoid social media where possible, there is even more hatred and abuse of free speech than elsewhere. I’ve come across so many xenophobic comments which I find offensive but there is a lack of interest in dealing with them or the controls/reporting mechanisms aren’t robust enough.

    People who should know better, eg politicians, should not be using language like traitors and remoaners all the time. Presenters do not challenge it whereas when it’s the other way round they do, to me that isn’t very objective or impartial radio.

    The EU Referendum itself wasn’t very democratic as EU nationals were not allowed to vote (whereas Commonwealth citizens were) neither were 16/17 year olds. By contrast, the referendum for Scottish Independence was far more inclusive and there was a much clearer outcome.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Apr '19 - 2:40pm

    Peter Watson

    I think the Remain side’s biggest mistake has consistently been a refusal to acknowledge that the country is deeply divided over membership of the EU and to respond appropriately.

    To what extent is this really so?

    The thing that hits me most is the way that most ordinary people who say why they voted Leave give an explanation in terms of a general dissatisfaction of the way our country has gone in recent years, but not in terms of what membership of the EU actually means. We’ve had three years since the referendum now, and still very little in terms of precise examples of things the EU is forcing us to do because they have control and what we would do if they didn’t.

    I’m actually quite sympathetic with a lot of what people say when they say why they voted Leave. Much of it seems to come down to unhappiness and the way our economy has gone as it has been pushed further and further down the extreme free market path, as started by Margaret Thatcher. So, to me, that is what has actually led to loss of control, as privatisation and the growing power of big international companies has moved power away from democratic government and into the hands of an international super-rich clique.

    Somehow, many people got the impression that leaving the EU would reverse this, or that at least voting for Leave would bring to attention their unhappiness about it.

    However, the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg when discussing this between themselves have made clear that they actually want Leave to push things even further in the way of extreme free market and control of the way our country works by billionaires. They oppose the EU precisely because they don’t like the way international co-operation is needed to stop the billionaires from taking control by playing one country off against another.

    So, to me, most people who voted Leave did so for the precise opposite of what it will actually lead to when the Boris and Rees-Mogg types use it to get what they want. The Remain side’s biggest mistake was not to make this clear. Why? Because the Remain campaign was dominated by elite types, Nick Clegg being the classic example, whose lack of knowledge of how ordinary people feel meant their arguments were it in a way that were mostly concerned with winning over fellow elite types who might vote Leave because they really did want what Johnson and Rees-Mogg want from it.

  • Peter Watson 10th Apr '19 - 10:31am

    @Matthew Huntbach “…the country is deeply divided over membership of the EU…To what extent is this really so?”
    A very important question, and I don’t think anybody really knows the answer!
    I agree with you that people voted to leave the EU (or to remain) for a host of different reasons, and some might not have had much to do with the specific merits or otherwise EU membership.
    I feel that a lot of the Remain campaign’s strategy was based upon a complacent assumption that general aversion to change would dictate the result, but this underestimated the number of voters who were dissatisfied with the status quo and would indeed vote for something that would change it, hopefully for the better. Perhaps a more positive message about EU membership could have countered that, particularly one that did not emphasise the benefits for the “haves” instead of the “have nots”, though it would still have been a challenge.

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