Wednesday 18th May 2022

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, and his extraordinary combination of passion and knowledge.

I have so far not raised the subject of the European Union in this place. You know how it is: we get typecast, do we not, and pigeonholed? You make 12 speeches on something else and then the one time you mention the B word, everyone says, “Oh, he’s on his hobby-horse; he only ever talks about one thing.” This is my 81st spoken contribution and I have not yet mentioned the B word. I say “the B word”—I think that I have spoken about broadcasting, Botox and the BBC, but I am, for the first time this evening, going to mention Brexit, in the context of how the debate was introduced by my noble friend Lord Grimstone and then picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, and others; that context being the necessity of unity in the face of international aggression.

I agree very much that we need a united West at the moment, but perhaps not in the way that several dozen other noble Lords who have raised this point intend. It is certainly the case that we need a united front. The West has shown itself to be very geographically limited. The Governments who have imposed any kind of sanctions on Putin’s regime represent perhaps 20%, if that, of the world’s population. A lot of countries that you would have thought would have self-identified as democracies and taken that seriously—India, Israel, Indonesia—have tended rather to sit this out.

However, I have to say that, when we come to the issue that is supposedly dividing the West—the response to unilateral action over the Northern Ireland protocol—I detect a real asymmetry and imbalance in how British Ministers speak and how their counterparts in the European Union address the issue. Wherever you stand on the protocol—and I accept that there are lots of noble Lords on all sides who think pacta sunt servanda, we have given our word and all the rest of it—one thing on which I hope we can all agree is that the proposed reforms are not animated by bellicosity. They are not intended to be harmful. Even the European Union and all the parties in Northern Ireland acknowledge that there are genuine grievances that need remedying. I do not think that anyone is denying that. Therefore, whether it is the proposal for the green channel or the proposal for local democratic control over taxation, it is plainly intended to remedy an identified harm rather than to do harm to a neighbour.

The same is not true of the rhetoric that we get in the other direction. European Union officials speak quite openly about punitive measures and retaliation. It is not just their words; if we look at other aspects of the UK-EU relationship that have been held up because they have been tied to this issue, we see time and again that the European Union is prepared to act in a way that is costly to all sides and that inflicts damage on itself, because the essential spirit is vindictive.

We discussed at great length the other day the UK’s exclusion from the Horizon programme; I am not particularly fussed one way or another about the Horizon programme, but nobody could argue that this is just the EU advancing its own interests. It was deliberately intended, and sold internally, as being about hurting Britain. It was the same with the energy trading schemes in the North Sea, which were supposed to have been ratified last month. Their non-ratification retards the development of renewables and increases our dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. It was the same for equivalence in financial services and so on. These are all examples of where all sides are being damaged to make a point.

I put it to noble Lords that the real threat to western unity is not a proportionate attempt to remedy these grievances in Northern Ireland in a way that is expressly designed not to do any harm to our neighbour and would ensure no more leakage than now. Even if we take seriously the idea that a pork pie crossing into County Donegal would wreck the single market, there is nothing in the Government’s proposals that would make that a more likely scenario than it is today. The real threat is rather this lamentable tendency in Brussels still to think of the United Kingdom as a renegade province that needs to be brought to heel rather than as a strategic ally.

I am very proud of this country’s contribution to the defence of Ukraine. We started earlier and have been at it longer than others. We did so, let us remember, not because we were directly threatened—there was no scenario in which Russian troops were about to cross into Kent—but because, as in 1914 and 1939, we wanted to come to the aid of a friendly country because we believe in European freedom and security. We are good Europeans. I wonder whether the same is true of the European Commission.