Lib Dems vs Brexit: Menzies Campbell: Deal does not deliver promised utopia

Ming Campbell’s take on the Brexit deal was that it didn’t deliver what was promised and put the UK in a much more precarious international position.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, not least because he drew attention to the absence to any reference either to Wales or Scotland in the documents with which we are concerned.

I have wondered to what purpose I would be here, and I suspect my purpose now is served by the opportunity to support the amendment put down by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Nothing of substance has changed since the earlier debate. Although I have had the opportunity to look very quickly at the document produced in relation to Northern Ireland just before this debate began, I can see why the Government perhaps chose not to put it out before, because it really does not bear any serious interpretation, not least of course because the matter of the protocol is still covered by the advice issued by the Attorney-General on 13 November last year. Paragraph 16 states that—I am reading short—

“in international law, the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place, in whole or in part”.

That remains the legal position. The document of today can have no effect of any kind on that.

As we consider these matters, the authority of the Prime Minister diminishes almost before our eyes. There was a government defeat last night and another one this afternoon. One thing which has certainly changed as a result of Brexit—and I hope your Lordships do not find the advice too alarming—is that you can throw away your copy of Dicey and, if you are lucky enough to have a copy of John Mackintosh’s seminal work, The British Cabinet, you need not have much regard to that, because the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility has now been abolished by this Cabinet. It reminds me of the old Latin tag, “Quot homines, tot sententiae”—although, in these more enlightened days, one should perhaps say, “Quot personae, tot sententiae”. The Cabinet is now apparently at liberty to contradict the Prime Minister and to take issue with Cabinet colleagues, and for all that to be played out in public. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister’s capacity for negotiation has been adversely affected. If she loses next week’s vote on the document with which we are concerned, it may not be a constitutional crisis, but it will most certainly be constitutional chaos.

I am passionate about remaining in the European Union. I venture to observe that I am just as passionate about remaining as those who are passionate about leaving. I respect their passion and, in turn, I expect them to respect mine. I listened carefully to the speeches ​of the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Forsyth. I suppose that, in a sense—I hope that I do not do them any injustice—they see these as matters of conscience. Well, I too see this as a matter of conscience because, in my view, the case for remaining has only been confirmed by the conduct of the negotiations, studded as it was by the resignations of Cabinet Ministers. Now we have a deal that is neither in nor out and gives some of the obligations but not all the advantages of membership.

Promises were made. On a previous occasion when I introduced a debate in relation to the people’s vote, I referred to them, but they are well worth describing again. On 9 April 2016, Mr Michael Gove said:

“The day after we leave we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want”.

On 10 October 2016, Mr David Davis said:

“There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside”.

On 20 July 2017, Dr Liam Fox said:

“The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history”.

Where in the Prime Minister’s deal is any delivery of those promises of utopia or Arcadia? If Mrs May’s deal had been on the ballot paper on the occasion of the referendum, how many people do we think would have voted for it?

I pause only to observe that one advantage of the Government’s behaviour—although I do not see it as such myself—is that they have managed to keep the issue of Scottish independence on the agenda, which is rather an uncomfortable prize from a party which is pledged to the union of the United Kingdom.

I want briefly to address the international consequences of leaving the EU. Our closest ally, the United States, is now led by a President whose serial iconoclasm is matched only by his unpredictability. Russia is led by Mr Putin, whose aspiration is to establish a sphere of influence in Europe. In China, President Xi leads a country determined to erase the humiliations of the past by the strength of its economy and its military capability. All those three have the same characteristic: they have disdain and disregard for the rules-based system of world order. In due course—be in no doubt—the United Kingdom will be challenged on some of these issues. Our natural allies are in the European Union, but outside the European Union we will be outside the room where the discussions are held and the decisions are made. Talk about co-operation if you will, but co-operation has never the same value as participation, deliberation and formation of policy. In my judgment, the geopolitical case for our continuing membership of the European Union is overwhelming.

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2 Comments

  • Yes we have an . uncertain future with the big boys flexing their muscles With a United European army we can remain in Nato and pull our own weight.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jan '19 - 6:13pm

    n hunter 15th Jan ’19 – 3:09pm: “With a United European army we can remain in Nato”.
    This is somewhat unlikely. In the early days of the EEC the idea was defeated.
    Suppose now that it was carried; should France invade Russia?
    Should Germany and/or Austria?

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