Outcome of the European Union Referendum: 5 July 2016
“My Lords, 23 June was not independence day for Britain; it was the day the UK shot itself in its foot. Our economy has been doing so well. While European economies have been doing badly we have had cumulative growth of 62% since the single market started in 1993. We did not lose our sovereignty. We have had the best of both worlds. We have been in the EU but not in the euro. We have been in the EU but not in Schengen. We pour our beer in pints. We measure our roads in miles. Yet Vote Leave makes claims about red tape and regulations. I have seen in the 10 years that I have been in this House that the regulations that we make—the laws that we make that affect our daily lives—are made by us right here, right now in this House in this Parliament.
We take for granted 1.2 million of our citizens living in the European Union and we have 3 million European Union citizens living here. How dare people even think of sending these people back? These are people who left their families a thousand miles away, who came here not knowing the language to a strange culture and made friends, worked hard, paid taxes, put in five times more than they took out and contributed to our economy. How ungrateful can we be? We should be grateful for the efforts that they have put in. They are welcome to stay here.
We have for many years been saying: “Take control of our borders”. I believe we have lost control of our borders. I have been saying for many years: “Illegal immigration is the issue. Let’s bring back exit checks. Let’s scan every passport, EU and non-EU. Let’s make that first step, rather than making immigration the excuse that we have”.
Our universities will suffer. Already we have lost our AAA rating. Eight of our universities have already lost their credit ratings. Our universities receive £1 billion from the EU. I am president of UKCISA.
My Lords, I am sorry, but I do not have much time. We have 500,000 international students in this country; 170,000 of them are from the EU.
In the finance sector, big banks have already begun to make plans to move staff out. The Royal Bank of Scotland has lost value of £8 billion. That is more than we put into the EU every year and it is taxpayers’ money.
The biggest lie of them all was the £350 million that we give to the EU emblazoned on the Brexit bus with: “Let’s give that money to the NHS instead”. There was the Vote Leave advertising film showing the NHS inside the EU and the NHS outside the EU. What is going on here? It was completely misleading. These are lies. It is a net contribution of £8 billion a year, 1% of our annual government expenditure per year. That is not going to shift the needle, let alone save the NHS.
What was the Electoral Commission doing? That is what I ask the Minister. In India, which has one of the largest elections in the world, the election commissioner is the most powerful person in the country at the time. Here we have an Electoral Commission asleep on the job. Surely we need to look at the role of the Electoral Commission. Then the result would have been completely different, because I have met people who have said: “I voted to leave to save the NHS”.
We rely hugely on inward investment. The referendum saw the pound plummet to levels not seen since the 1980s, when I was here as a student, when the UK was the sick man of Europe—the 1980s when this country had a glass ceiling for foreigners. Today in this country, anyone can get anywhere, regardless of race, religion and background, yet we hear of these awful hate crimes, attacks against migrants and discrimination, which I have experienced myself. Do we want to wind the clock back?
In this referendum, 72% of voters under 25 wanted to remain in the European Union but, sadly, just over one-third of them turned out to vote, whereas 83% of those over 65 turned out to vote and they overwhelmingly voted to leave. I hope that the youth of this country have learned their lesson for ever: they have to exercise their precious right to vote and come out, regardless of whether it is in or out of term time; they must come out to vote for their futures.
What is more, I forecast that if we left the EU, it would threaten the EU itself. Already, many countries in Europe are demanding a referendum, which could lead to the break-up of the EU, which could lead to the break-up of the euro, which could lead to the biggest financial crisis the globe has ever seen. Already Scotland, a region that unanimously voted to remain, is asking for another referendum. Northern Ireland, which voted to remain, talks of merging with Ireland. We are going to be a withered, shrunken England and Wales. Is it not gut-wrenching to see Nigel Farage, who was so responsible for creating the mess that we are in, resigning as leader of UKIP and this weekend wearing Union Jack shoes when he could be responsible for breaking up our union?
Look at the treacherous behaviour of the people leading the leave campaign. Boris Johnson stabs the Prime Minister in the back and leads Vote Leave. Andrea Leadsom stabs Boris. What a hypocrite she is. She said that leaving the European Union would be a disaster:
“I don’t think the UK should leave the EU. I think it would be a disaster for our economy and would lead to a decade of economic and political uncertainty”.
Wow, how prescient. Michael Gove stabs Boris Johnson in the back. These are the people who led us to leave the European Union. What were people thinking? Project Fear? Project Reality.
The referendum was advisory, and pro-remain MPs outnumber leave backers in the House of Commons, the other place, by 3:1 and in this House by far more. There is now a strong legal case, as we have heard, that Article 50 cannot be triggered until Parliament votes on it. Here is a conundrum: with the lies, the deceit, the treachery and the turmoil that has been caused, will a responsible Parliament affirm the 52:48 referendum result built on such shaky ground? With hindsight—this point has not been brought up by anybody—a decision as important as this should have had a two-thirds hurdle. Changing the fixed-term Parliament in the other place needs a two-thirds majority. To change the Indian constitution, you need a two-thirds majority. There would then have been a definitive result.
As for the Opposition, please forgive me, but Jeremy Corbyn has been absolutely useless as a leader, and his role in the referendum was pathetic. That could have changed the whole picture—and now look at the turmoil the Labour Party is in. On top of all this, we have 4 million people signing a petition asking for a second referendum. There is no legal obstacle to holding a second referendum, and a general election could even be treated as a proxy second referendum on the issue. Would the Minister agree? A MORI poll says that 48% of voters agree that there should be a general election before Britain begins formal Brexit negotiations. A BBC “Newsnight” poll says that a third of voters do not believe the UK will leave the EU, despite the referendum result.
According to Saturday’s Financial Times, the UK is now heading towards,
“lower growth, more uncertainty, a weaker currency and looser monetary policy”.
That is just what I said on 15 June, in my last speech in the debate here. Our airport expansion has already been delayed. Brexit will hugely damage our economy, our businesses, our citizens, our stability and our standing in the world. The Governor of the Bank of England is already talking of economic post-traumatic stress disorder. The Economist Intelligence Unit projects a 6% contraction in the economy by 2020.
Brexit is now the central focus of politics and government and will be for years to come. Just think of the opportunity cost of all that time, which our leaders and civil servants could be spending improving this country and the lives of our citizens. Switzerland voted two years ago by 50.3% to modify the free movement of people—two years later, it has got nowhere in its negotiations with the European Union.
I conclude by saying that this 52:48 vote to leave will not actually achieve the slogan of Vote Leave: “Take back control”. We have actually lost control and will lose more. The irony of it all is that the chief Brexiteer publication, the Sun—wot won it—published a poll just this weekend showing that 67% believed the priority of the new Prime Minister should be steadying the economy. Only 28% of them want tackling immigration to be a priority for the Prime Minister. The irony of that is unbelievable. This wretched referendum was a dreadful decision. This country had the wool pulled over its eyes and was misled by a buffoon and a court jester—the Pied Pipers of Hamelin leading our people over the white cliffs of Dover.
Now is the time for us as a country, in the words of the leave campaign, to take back control. We need strong leadership and we need to negotiate with the European Union before getting anywhere near Article 50. Then, whether the decision is for staying in the European Economic Area with restricted movement of people or staying in the EU with restricted movement of people, we can go to the nation through a general election, properly supervised by an effective Electoral Commission, so that people can make an informed decision about our children’s and our grandchildren’s future, with the youth turning out in full force.”