IN HIS SPEECH to the House of Lords during the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth, now Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, gave voice to what many of us have been thinking or saying these last few weeks. Global Britain is pleased to be able to provide the text of that speech on our website…
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean:
My Lords, the supporters of Brexit have been called many things: ignorant, gullible, naive, uneducated, bigoted—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark has added a new one, which is quixotic—and much worse by people who refuse to accept the result of the referendum. I am told that social media are flooded with unending streams of abuse and four-letter words.
I believe that the four-letter word which should concern your Lordships today is duty. It is the duty of this House to consider legislation carefully, to ensure that it meets its objectives and that the drafting is appropriate and, above all—as the Leader pointed out in her excellent opening speech—to respect the primacy of the House of Commons. The Bill before us has been passed unamended and overwhelmingly by the elected House of Commons. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out, the judgment of the Supreme Court required the Government to obtain parliamentary authority for the notification of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU under Article 50. That is all this Bill is about—nothing more, nothing less. It will achieve that policy objective and nothing more. It is closely drawn and narrow in scope. It is our duty to pass it quickly and without amendment. The leader of the Opposition—by which I mean the leader in the other place— argued for moving Article 50 immediately on the day after the referendum result, and David Cameron had to be restrained from doing the same thing. Yet now we are having this great stramash about doing what the two leaders of the strongest parties in our country wanted to do on the day after the referendum.
Parliament voted overwhelmingly to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union. The Government spent £9.3 million of our money on sending a leaflet to every household in the country during the campaign. It said,
“The referendum on Thursday, 23rd June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union … This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide”.
What part of that do those on the Liberal Benches not understand? It is our duty to ensure that that promise is kept and that the democratic decisions of the people and the House of Commons are upheld.
This brings me to the Liberal Democrats. They are opposed to the composition of this House, arguing that it lacks democratic legitimacy. Despite being reduced to a rump of nine Members in the House of Commons, more than 100 of them have landed here like beached whales noisily swimming against the democratic tide. Their hapless leader, Tim Farron, was almost alone, it seems, in welcoming Tony Blair’s ill-judged and embarrassing rallying cry on Friday for people to revolt against the decision taken by the largest number of voters in our history. How galling for Keir Starmer, who carefully and responsibly led Labour in the Commons, and how much more so for the 346 Members of the House of Commons who opposed leaving the EU but who voted for the Bill because they are democrats. They put the supremacy of the democratic mandate ahead of their personal views.
“Education, education, education”—remember that? It was once Tony Blair’s winning soundbite. Cloned from Shakespeare’s “Othello”, the original seems more appropriate today:
“Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself”.
The Liberals care not if this House loses its reputation. They have the brass neck to boast in the press that they will use this place as a platform to reverse the decisions of the elected Chamber and challenge the people’s verdict in the referendum by calling for a rerun. If Brussels thought the terms of Brexit must be approved in a second referendum, then of course they have every incentive to do their worst for our country. Of course, the country the Liberals—I refuse to call them Liberal Democrats—are fighting for is the European Union and if they damage the standing of this House in the process, so much the better. [Interruption.] The Liberals ask why I refuse to call them Liberal Democrats. It is because they do not support the democratic decision taken by the British people and by the other place, but seek to subvert it.
If the Liberal Democrats’ antics are extraordinary, they have pretty strong competition from the Scottish Nationalists. They won 57 out of 59 seats in Scotland on a platform that decisions that affect Scotland should be made in Scotland. Within a year they have disgraced their supporters by singing the European national anthem in the Chamber of the House of Commons. They have refused to seize the opportunity to bring control of fishing and farming policy back to the Scottish Parliament from Brussels. Can you believe it? Not a single piece of legislation has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament since the election nearly a year ago. The only draft Bill, we are told, is one to hold another independence referendum. Like the Liberals, it seems that the parties which are most enthusiastic about holding referendums are the ones which refuse to accept the results. The party with the largest percentage of supporters voting for Brexit in Scotland was the SNP. More than a million Scots voted to leave the European Union, despite all their political leaders campaigning for remain and encouraging their elected Members who supported Brexit to keep silent. Some MSPs, like Ross Thomson, bravely campaigned for Brexit while others, like Alex Neil, the SNP Member, voted secretly to leave. For the First Minister, 1.6 million matter but a million are an inconvenient truth.
This House has an important part to play in helping our nation to make a success of Brexit, through its many Select Committees, as my noble friend Lord Boswell pointed out, and through the debates that lie ahead. There is expertise here and our reputation for cross-party co-operation and an evidence-based approach to policy is undiminished. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, told us, we should pass the Bill and get on with that task. According to the polls, almost two-thirds of voters want Parliament to do just that. We must not let them down.
Amen to that.
For the full Hansard verbatim report of the House of Lord debate of 20th February please go here.