With the House of Lords currently debating the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, Chipping Barnet for Europe sent emails to over 350 of the Members of the House of Lords. The text of that email is here:
Dear Lord << >> ,
I am writing to you to express my profound concerns about the current proposals for leaving the European Union and to ask you to do all in your power during the passage of the EU (Withdrawal Bill) to avert the looming crisis that threatens our country.
We are regularly told that the 2016 referendum result provided a clear mandate for Brexit. I do not believe this to be true. While the vote ended in a narrow majority for Leave, it said nothing about the kind of Brexit people were voting for. The flaws in the referendum process itself are well known; I will not rehearse them here.
Before the referendum, we were breezily assured that:
- We will not need a transition period;
- We will be able to negotiate leaving the EU and new trade deals in parallel;
- Striking new trade deals will be easy and they will be in place by March 2019;
- Any attempt at agreeing a financial settlement will provoke “the fight of the summer”;
- No one is threatening our place in the Single Market;
- Leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market will not result in a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic;
- There will be more money for the NHS, for transport and for schools;
- The Brexit deal will provide “the exact same benefits” as EU membership.
These promises have now been revealed to be either false or irreconcilable.
Since the referendum, despite talk of “ambitious and credible plans” for achieving Brexit, the government’s ‘red lines’ have precluded the development of any detailed Brexit proposals. Instead, we are repeatedly fobbed off with speeches trumpeting aspirations that are unanchored in the reality of the negotiations. What we are now being offered is a very long way from the Leavers’ vision of a country freed from the constraints imposed by EU politicians, laws and regulations:
- A financial settlement of £40bn has been conceded;
- There will be an extensive transition period during which we will accept new EU rules, ECJ jurisdiction and free movement;
- We will continue to pay for access to essential EU programmes and institutions;
- Frictionless trade will not be possible outside the Single Market;
- There will be no passporting rights for financial services;
- There is no agreed solution to the Irish border problem;
- There will be no “Brexit dividend” capable of providing £350m a week for the NHS.
Incredibly, the government is proposing that massive resources be devoted to replicating a poorer version of the arrangements they insist on rejecting – “a” customs partnership; “access” to the Single Market; etc.
Against a background of bellicose protectionism from the Trump administration, it is simply not credible to expect a flood of new trade agreements and a bespoke deal with the EU that leaves us better off than we are now (particularly when cherry-picking has been explicitly ruled out). What the government proposes is a recipe for a collapse in the UK’s prosperity and its status in the world. It does nothing to resolve the very real domestic problems that led people to vote Leave. We are now faced with the prospect of a very bad deal or a disastrous “no deal” – either of which would amount to a catastrophic act of self-harm. As Sir John Major has recently said, “not only is it grand folly. It is also bad politics … I know of no precedent for any government enacting a policy that will make both our country and our people poorer”.
Both the government and the opposition front bench continue to insist that we “respect the referendum result”. But the referendum gave the government a rationale to negotiate Brexit; it did not provide a mandate to negotiate any Brexit at any cost. The true remit provided by the people was a requirement to honour the promises made during the referendum campaign. That is clearly impossible.
National self-interest now demands that we have the honesty and maturity to recognise that Brexit is not working and that we need to change course. “Respecting the referendum result” is no longer good enough. No one voted for higher prices and poorer public services, or to hurt most those who have least.
As the EU Withdrawal Bill proceeds through Your Lordships’ House, I would therefore ask you to do all in your power to ensure that we are able to pull back from the brink. There will be key votes on amendments designed to keep us in the Customs Union and the Single Market, to allow for the leaving date to be changed if Parliament so decides, and most importantly to ensure that Parliament has a decisive role in determining our future.
Parliamentary sovereignty, if it is to mean anything at all, requires that Parliament must have the final say on the outcome of negotiations. The Bill already provides for a “meaningful vote”, but such a vote will only be meaningful if it is a free vote, allowing the options to accept, reject or renegotiate the deal, or to remain in the EU. If necessary, it should be possible for Parliament to provide for a public vote on the deal. If Brexit is whipped through Parliament, the voters will know who to blame if they end up poorer and weaker. The backlash will cause dreadful damage to our democracy.
So let Parliament decide, or put the issue back to the electorate when the details are known. Please give us the chance to take back control of our future.
Co-Chair Chipping Barnet for Europe