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Speech in response to Prime Minister’s statement on the Brexit deal


Angela Smith speech in the House of Lords, Thursday 15th November 2018

My Lords, I’m grateful to the Noble Lady, the Leader of the House, for repeating the statement though I didn’t detect any great enthusiasm.

Last night the Usual Channels agreed the normal arrangements for a statement with backbench contributions of 20 minutes today, and more substantive debate for 3 or 4 hours on Tuesday, when NL would have had an opportunity to read and consider the detail of the deal and documents. However, with such significant developments this morning. 4 resignations so far, including the Brexit Secretary. It is clear that there is a crisis at the very heart of government.

I am very disappointed that the Government would not accede to our request for extra backbench time. I think that was wrong. We welcome a longer four hour debate next week, when we can consider the deal in greater detail.  Given the importance of the issue, and that it is instead of time today, can the NL Leader confirm that she will lead the response next week.

My Lords, as the Government descends further into chaos, one thing has remained consistent: the Prime Minister’s approach of living for the moment, getting through today, and worrying about tomorrow later. This has not served her or the country well.

But let us not forget that this situation is not entirely of the Prime Minister’s making. The entire Brexit process has been about the internal politics of the Conservative Party. It cost David Cameron and George Osborne their jobs – although the latter has done fairly well for himself since – and it could be about to cost the Prime Minister hers, too.

Last night outside Downing Street, she claimed that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration had been agreed by “Collective decision of the Cabinet”. Yet, this morning two Cabinet Members have resigned, so far – I don’t know if there’s an update? She has failed to unite her Cabinet – again. She has failed to unite her party, with MPs reportedly rushing to submit letters to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

Watching statement in other Place - she is failing to unite Parliament, where there is seemingly no majority for any course of action, other than opposing ‘no deal’. So it’s clear, that most importantly, the Prime Minister is failing the people of our country.

Families, communities, business and workers will not be able to understand why the Conservative Party is behaving in this way, putting the economic wellbeing of the country behind petty infighting and personal ambition.

As Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, said this morning, we need Parliament and the country to come together and find a real alternative to this agreement – a deal that the Prime Minister’s former advisor Nick Timothy has labelled as a “capitulation”.

And those that have welcomed the deal – have either said it’s the ‘best we can get’ – faint praise indeed – or as the CBI made clear they support the very measures that the Brexiteers have opposed – namely a long-term transition and frictionless trade.

The draft agreement and political declaration published last night are exactly what we expected: vague promises of a future trade deal but no clear roadmap as to how – or when – this will be achieved.

What has our sovereign parliament been offered? The documents contain:

  • No commitment to a permanent customs union, despite the support of business and the unions;
  • No detail on our future relationship with the single market, despite the EU being our biggest trade partner; and
  • No clarity regarding the terms on which the UK will continue to participate in EU agencies and internal security systems, including the EAW

Your Lordships’ House worked hard to secure a meaningful vote for the other place, but the Government is telling parliamentarians that they must decide between this bad deal or no deal at all. A Hobson’s choice.

As many predicted, last night’s Cabinet marathon meeting has become a disappointing sequel to July’s Chequers summit. An agreement that has been toiled over for many months has yet again unravelled overnight.

On Social Media I’m @LadyBasildon – after a character in an Oscar Wilde play.  An as I watched the news of resignations unfold a Wildean phrase: ‘To lose one Brexit Secretary may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.’

We now understand why the Prime Minister wasn’t prepared to allow a vote in Cabinet – she couldn’t, because she didn’t have the support of her colleagues. And she must have known how fragile the position was when she made her statement last night.

I have little time for David Davis and Boris Johnson – who failed in Cabinet to convince their colleagues of their so-called vision for Brexit or to come up with any viable alternative – and now attack the prime minister from the side-lines. Dominic Raab, has criticised the Deal – but yet again offers no viable alternative.

And while many in Cabinet, apparently including the NL Leader of the House, voiced their concerns about the draft agreement last night, no alternative was offered so it  remain unclear exactly what the Brexiteers want, other than to lead this great country off a cliff-edge in a few short months’ time.

The situation will undoubtedly evolve in the coming hours and days, and Noble Lords will our use expertise to track developments.

We will have our debate on Tuesday. But today, it wold be helpful for Your Lordships’ House to be left in no doubt as to the position of the Noble Lady. So, does the Leader of the House give the Prime Minister and this draft withdrawal agreement her full support?


Baroness Angela Smith is Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon

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