Lib Dems vs Brexit – Ed Davey on what Paddy would have thought

Sir Ed Davey, in his speech against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, looked at it through Paddy’s eyes.

He also spoke about his experience of European co-operation when he was Climate Change Secretary when Putin was overstepping the mark in the Ukraine.

My friend, Lord Ashdown—Paddy—is being buried today in Somerset, so I hope that the House will allow me to speak about this deal as I think Paddy would have done. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) might not have known about the burial service, but my friend Paddy would have been able to apply his critical faculties to the deal and judge it on the basis of what was good for this country. That is what he would have done. I worked for him for nearly 30 years, beginning as his economics adviser, and when he talked about Europe, he talked about the way in which countries needed to co-operate and work together. Internationalism was in his liberalism. He talked about how, working with other countries, this country could regain sovereignty and regain control over global capitalism, and the multinationals that sought to undermine the interests of individual countries, people and corporations. His view was that we were stronger and had more control. That was his approach to the European Union.

However, things went much deeper than that. Paddy was a soldier and a diplomat, and he brought that experience and those beliefs to the European question. It was his commitment to peace and to patriotism—he loved his country—that made him such a strong pro-European. We see that in his books and his speeches when he talks about the dangers of rising nationalism and protectionism around the world. He worried about Trump, Bolsonaro and Brexit, and he thought that Britain being in the EU was one of the best ways of combatting those rises in nationalism and protectionism. In his work in Bosnia, he talked about how the EU’s institutions were bringing peace not just within that country, but within the Balkans. Indeed, if we look at what is happening, the EU is one of the magnets that is ending the hostility between those countries, and it can play a key role. It is an engine for peace, as it has been across Europe.

Of course, as man who was born in Northern Ireland, Paddy would look at the threat to the Good Friday agreement with serious concern. Nearly 3,600 of our countrymen and women died in the troubles, but few have died since the Good Friday peace agreement. People inside and outside this House should think carefully about anything that puts that at risk. Paddy certainly did, believing that the EU was a way of gluing people together and moving away from past hostilities.

I was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change when Putin invaded Crimea and the Bolsheviks went into eastern Ukraine. There were crisis summits. The European Energy Council got together to work out how to deal with the matter, and one way of undermining Putin was to reduce Russia’s oil, coal and gas exports by ​ensuring that the EU became more secure by going green and by trading within itself, making it less dependent on Russia. That meant less money into Putin’s pockets and therefore fewer soldiers and rockets. That was how the UK could exercise soft power through the EU. Europe’s energy security strategy was written in my office in Whitehall, because we were able to use soft power to try to promote security and peace. That is what the EU is about, and that is why Paddy supported it.

If Paddy applied those same thoughts to this deal, he would say that it is hopeless. This deal would lock Britain into bad diplomacy—diplomacy based on transactions and deals, not relationships. In the modern world, a country should have deep relationships with its neighbouring states. When I was in the coalition Government, I talked about having joint Cabinet meetings in Berlin and in London with the German Government. That did not go down too well on the Tory Benches, but I was trying to ensure that relationships were built on understanding between Ministers, not on press releases. I am afraid that this deal locks us into transactions between now and whenever we find out what Brexit actually means, which will be when the political declaration is eventually negotiated. Beyond that, however, whenever we get to the end of those negotiations—the Secretary of State is dreaming if he thinks that that will happen at the end of the implementation period—we will still be in a much more transactional relationship with the EU, which will damage this country and its interests. Paddy would think that this deal is not in this great country’s interests.

I hope that the deal will go down next Tuesday—I will vote against it—but it is unclear what will replace it. There is a clear majority against no deal. Is there a majority for some other deal? I do not know. Perhaps Norway-plus will attract some people. I find it deeply unattractive, because we would have all the costs and rules of the EU, but no voice and no vote. That is why—I am happy to admit this—putting the decision back to the people is a good idea. I hope that they will change their minds. If the people vote on this deal based on what they have seen over the past two and a half years, they will have a lot more information than they had in 2016. Some say, “The people knew what they were voting for,” but I really do not think that that is the case. Over the past two and a half years, there has been the most immense opening of people’s minds to what actually happened. In addition, more than 1 million young people did not get a vote in 2016, and they would like a say in their future. I believe that the case for another vote is made.

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