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European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Monday 13th March 2017

The Archbishop of York spoke in the House of Lords during the debates on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill on 1st, 7th and 13th March 2017.

The texts, as recorded on Hansard Online, follow in full:

13 March 2017

My Lords, I have been listening to what people have said and do not want to repeat anything. However, some of us objected to the amendments not because we lacked sympathy, understanding or compassion. We did it simply because we thought there was a confusion of process with substance. The second reason some of us objected, in particular myself, is point 6.2 of the government paper, which says:

“While we are a member of the EU, the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU remain unchanged. As provided for in both the EU Free Movement Directive (Article 16 of 2004/38/EC) and in UK law, those who have lived continuously and lawfully in a country for at least five years automatically have a permanent right to reside”.

If Brexit happens, and I am sure that it will, EU law will be incorporated into British law. It would be quite tough for the Government to then argue that those who have lived here for more than five years do not have a right to reside, and your Lordships’ House and the other place would have to argue the case again.

I approach this issue with deep compassion. I came here while running away from Amin’s torture. For almost 15 years, I was living and travelling on a UK travel document. As a student, I was prevented from working. I know the difficulties. But when I sit in your Lordships’ House and hear Members say that the other side is not the only one that thinks it is right, I think that we should all find a language that talks about people as people. They are being used as a bargaining chip, which is very hurtful to me and others. That cannot be right because it casts aspersions on those who argue the other way.

The time has come for us to decide. If we want a quick resolution for the EU citizens who live in this country, I will find it difficult to continue further delaying the triggering of the article. It should be done as quickly as possible.

The Archbishop spoke later in the debate:

I shall not detain noble Lords long, but in response to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who always speaks with such clarity and grace, I must say that the problem with the amendment is with subsection (4). If the Prime Minister does not get an agreement, whatever she does she has to have the rule of Parliament. She will bring it to Parliament, but the problem is this, if I understand it right—that triggering Article 50 is an irreversible act. Two years after triggering Article 50, the UK will leave the EU; it will do so with or without a deal but, either way, it will leave, because paragraph 3 of Article 50 makes it clear that the:

“Treaties shall cease to apply … two years after the notification”.

Of course, it is possible that the EU 27 might unanimously agree to extend the negotiation period beyond two years, but that cannot be taken for granted, nor should it be assumed that they will offer anything but a brief extension.

The amendment shows no awareness of the realities represented by the Article 50 timescale. It overlooks the fact that the Bill is about to trigger Article 50 and the formal divorce agreement. Neither this Bill nor Article 50 are about negotiating a new agreement with the EU. So as far as I am concerned, once we trigger it, it is irreversible; leave we will, with an agreement or without. So why put in subsection (4) of the amendment? For that reason, I hope that we follow what the House of Commons has just done.

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7 March 2017

My Lords, I hope you will permit me to think aloud; these are not yet crystallised thoughts. I heard the exchanges between the noble Lords, Lord Pannick, Lord Hannay and Lord Forsyth, and I still want to work out some of the complications. For me, Amendment 3 provides for the intrusion of Parliament into the negotiation processes—which I do not think should happen—in such a way that it could prevent any deal ever being reached, because we would be involving ourselves in the processes.

There is a question that has not been fully answered. The amendment mentions the approval of Parliament three times. It says,

“without the approval of both Houses of Parliament”,

once, and:

“The prior approval of both Houses of Parliament shall also be required”,

twice. The question that has to be answered is: what happens when this House does not agree with the other House? The amendment says that both must agree, but if we did not agree with the other place, that would give the unelected House almost a veto on the procedure for reaching an agreement with the EU, which in turn would thwart the decision made by the electorate in the 2016 referendum. So that question has to be answered.

I think that the commitment made by the Prime Minister in January 2017 as to the role of Parliament goes above and beyond what is in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I invite your Lordships to look at that Act, because I think she said more than it allows. I suggest that it is not in Parliament’s gift to make this a condition, as the European Union might well refuse to negotiate, or it might agree not to extend the negotiations. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said yesterday that,

“we should not commit to any process that would incentivise the EU to offer us a bad deal”,

and that any deal that could be rejected by MPs would,

“give strength to other parties in the negotiation. We believe it should be a simple bill in relation to triggering article 50 and nothing else.”

For me, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was trying to say the same thing, triggering Article 50 is an irreversible act. Two years after triggering Article 50 the UK will leave the EU. It will do so with or without a deal, but either way it will leave. Article 50, paragraph (3) makes it clear that the treaties will cease to apply two years after notification has been made. It is possible that the 27 EU members might unanimously agree to extend the negotiating period beyond the two years, but this cannot be taken for granted, nor should it be assumed that anything but a brief extension would be offered. This amendment shows no awareness as to the realities presented by the Article 50 timeframe. It may sound like rubbish, but an answer has to be given to the questions raised by paragraph (3). The amendment also overlooks the fact that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is about the triggering of Article 50 and the formal divorce settlement. Neither the Bill nor Article 50 is about negotiating a new agreement with the EU.

Faith seeking understanding: fides quaerens intellectum. Could somebody explain? If I cannot get a clear answer to the questions I have posed, I may find myself voting no. But if I am helped to understand then I may vote yes.

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1 March 2017

My Lords, Uganda was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. It was regrettable that Idi Amin kicked out two types of Asians—British citizens and Ugandan citizens. My opposition to him was over the Ugandan citizens, who were the largest number. He kicked them out and my coming here in 1974 was as a result of my opposition to such behaviour. So I know how minorities can feel in a place. I know that we need to reassure our European friends who are resident here and want to remain here.

However, I have one great difficulty. Your Lordships’ House can scrutinise and revise legislation, but this simple Bill is simply to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that there is an intention to withdraw. It is giving her the power which I believe only Parliament—not the royal prerogative —can give her. At the meeting of the Lords Spiritual before all this came about, I questioned her right to simply use prerogative power because of what had gone on way back in 1215 in Magna Carta. Clause 39 says:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land”—

and by “man” of course we now mean “woman” as well. Clause 40 says:

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice”.

I think that is still enshrined in the rule of law in this country.

As far as I am concerned, until we have done the negotiation two years down the road, European citizens who are living here now will have every right to be here, like anyone else. People want to give assurance, but I think the assurance will be when the big Bill comes and we begin the debate. Remember, the European Union has free movement of people, free movement of goods and free movement of services. All that this little Bill is doing is starting a race: on your marks, get set, bang—and then they take off.

It will take two years to run this race. During the running of the race, we want to be sure that the concerns that are raised in this debate will come back. If, as I do, we want to see the Government take this decision on behalf of all of us—that EU citizens should be given a guarantee to remain—the best way to do it is to call the bluff of Angela Merkel by saying that we have now triggered Article 50, we will talk about it and unilaterally give the guarantee. It will be much quicker than the three months proposed in this amendment. I want it to be quicker than three months.

The other thing is that if the Government are about to start negotiation, we do not want to legislate piecemeal. Those rights can only be guaranteed not by the Government but by Parliament. We will have to go through another Bill in the middle of other matters. So as far as I am concerned, we need to scrutinise and revise the legislation. I do not want this little enabling Bill, which gives the Prime Minister power to say that we intend to get out, to grow into a very big Christmas tree with many baubles put on it. This House is aware of the concerns of EU citizens. I want to say, “Trigger it”, and then for the Prime Minister to return to the EU and say, “We want to guarantee as of today”, without waiting three months for more legislation, more proposals and more ideas. I do not want to do that.

I voted remain. I wrote in the Telegraph:

“It is sad that one issue has not emerged in the referendum debate: the keeping of promises. The campaign’s two sides seem to agree that the world began yesterday and we are faced with a clean slate and may position ourselves to greatest advantage. But the world, our European neighbours and we ourselves all have a recent history”.

I argued about the need to keep promises about the things we have entered into. Well, that fell on deaf ears and 52% decided to vote to leave, in spite of all the promises we had made and the things we had entered into.

I want to suggest that we leave the Bill as it is. Pass it as quickly as possible and, after all the speeches about guaranteeing European citizens their right to remain, let us do it as quickly as possible—but do not attach it to this Bill. As far as I am concerned, that is not revising or scrutinising the Bill. It is simply adding material which I do not think is very helpful.

Further contribution by the Archbishop of York during the debate:

I never want to see any human person used as a bargaining chip. They are made in God’s likeness and as far as I am concerned, they are people and must be treated according to the rule of law in this country. The Prime Minister tried to give a guarantee. Angela Merkel did not want it before Article 50 was triggered. My suggestion is to trigger it and go back to what you promised.

I may be a Primate, but thank God I am not in captivity. The other Primate is definitely in captivity, because he is unwell and his legs have just had an operation—but I am not. I suggest that the sooner this becomes law, the greater the challenge we can give the Prime Minister on what she attempted to do but was prevented from doing because Article 50 had not been triggered. As soon as it is triggered and the power is given, we shall shout as loudly as we can and campaign as much as we can for her to go back to what she originally suggested.

People such as me were shocked, after being here and having to travel round on a travel document and pay huge sums for visas to visit the rest of Europe, to suddenly discover that when naturalised—that is the word that is used—as a British citizen we could suddenly visit the whole of Europe without a visa. That was great stuff, and I applaud it—but, please, this is a very limited Bill and we should pass it as it is.

I have one more suggestion for our Minister: to set up a truth and listening commission in every one of our four nations, so that the divisions which we are seeing at the moment can be healed and to listen to the truth and to what the people of Britain and Northern Ireland are looking for, rather than simply locking it in the Government. For those reasons I will vote against any of the amendments, as I do not think they are revising or improving the legislation. They are simply adding on and adding on.

It would be quite invidious to suggest that those of us who are sticking to the rules in relation to Bills do not understand pain or suffering. As far as I am concerned, the Bill deals solely with the formal process of notifying the intention to withdraw. It does not relate to the substance of what withdrawal might look like. For the noble Lord to impute that I do not understand pain or suffering is not on. I said at the beginning that I feel the pain and anxiety, but as a legislator, my role is to look at what the Bill is about, not what the Bill ought to be about.

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