Lib Dem Lords vs the Article 50 Bill: Sue Miller Narrow minded nationalism could replace outgoing internationalism

The Lib Dem Lords have made some cracking contributions to the debate on the Article 50 Bill. Ahead of its next Lords stages, we’re bringing you all the Lib Dem contributions over the course of this weekend. That’s no mean feat. There were 32 of them and cover more than 30,000 words. You are not expected to read every single one of them as they appear. Nobody’s going to be testing you or anything. However, they will be there to refer to in the future. 

Our Lords excelled themselves. Their contributions were thoughtful, individual, well-researched and wide-ranging and it’s right that we present them in full on this site to help the historian of the future. 

Sue Miller talked about her worries about peace and security and that Brexit would hasten the rise of nationalism and populism in Europe. She also highlighted concern for EU nationals and the distraction that Brexit causes from other issues which need to be dealt with.

 

My Lords, one effect of growing up as a post-war child was hearing the amount of discussion and determination among the political classes that we would never have another war in Europe. At the top of my list of worries about Brexit is that we shall see an insular, narrow-minded nationalism taking hold and turning us from an outgoing, internationalist nation into an inward-looking nation.

We have heard much in the past day and a half about interdependence, which has to be one of the keys when we think about what we should do next. Brexit is not all about trade, although to listen to the Government you might think that it was. I firmly believe that, first and foremost, it should be about peace and security. I agreed strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, when he said yesterday that endangering peace and security in Europe would be grounds to reject the deal. Incidentally, although I agreed with some of the speech made by Tony Blair, I thought it ironic he should tell everyone to rise up. When more millions than were ever seen all rose up and marched when he was Prime Minister, he took not a blind bit of notice.

Many of your Lordships will know that I spend a lot of time in France when I am not here. My experience of reaction to the UK decision to seek Brexit is that it has been one of extreme concern that it will accelerate the rise of extremist nationalist parties. That is happening all over Europe now. Europe and its member states therefore have many concerns and worries other than negotiating a Brexit deal with the UK. Those whose job it is will of course concentrate on it but, politically, any deal will have to be negotiated against a fast-changing political picture in Europe. It is not as though our negotiating partners will stay unchanged. By the end of two years the Europe with which we are negotiating will be very different. It may be a much longer timescale than the Government are thinking.

In the meantime, I worry what we are going to do about the day-to-day legislation we should be looking at. My noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie put it so eloquently yesterday when he said that day-to-day life will be sacrificed. We will be spending time on the great repeal Bill and not on all the other incredibly important issues. There are so many pressing issues in the area which I concentrate on in this House—the environment, agriculture and food—yet the immense changes that are going to happen as a result of Brexit will be a threat to our food quality, animal welfare standards, family farms and landscape. If at the end of this we have a hard deal where WTO rules apply, we will see our food production driven down to the lowest common denominator. It would be a disaster in so many ways. It would not be accompanied by lower food bills: another day-to-day effect will be people seeing those go up.

Over the course of this debate it has bothered me that in the Government’s mind there appears to be a direct trade-off between UK citizens living in the EU and European citizens living here. In fact, UK citizens living in the EU face 27 different sorts of issue and their position is not necessarily equivalent to that of EU citizens here. The Government should, therefore, settle the situation of EU citizens here—thereby creating some good will—but at the same time do far more to help British citizens abroad, who have been left with no information, not even a helpline. The Government could decide now to give much more information about the future to those people who have to plan to relocate and find new jobs, schools for their children and care for their elderly. This would be about not the result of the negotiations but what their rights are now. That has been put on the sidelines because of this so-called trade-off.

There has been much talk of patriotic duty: I believe mine is to try and do what is in the best long-term interests of this country. As my noble friend Lord Newby said at the beginning of this debate, it is unconscionable to sit on our hands. If there is no deal, or the final deal is appalling, or it threatens peace and security, there is an absolute duty on us as parliamentarians to call a halt. I hope we will amend the Bill in order that we can offer that safety net to the Government and the country.

 

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