Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Jenny Jones condemns inflammatory 'vile rhetoric' of referendum campaigns

I thought it worth publishing in full the speech made by Green Party peer, Jenny Jones, on the EU Withdrawal Bill, in the House of Lords:

My Lords, one of the deep delights for me in your Lordships’ House is the fact that we have such deep divides in opinion and yet we can still stay polite. That was the position that I found myself in during the referendum campaign, when I was campaigning to leave the EU. I found myself in some unsavoury company at times, with some people with whom I share not a single view, apart from the fact that the UK would be better off outside the EU.

I believe passionately that we have made the right decision, but at the same time we have to be absolutely sure that we go about it in the right way. The Bill that the Government have presented to us is simply inadequate. Had there been a decent White Paper with some detail about the things that many of us care about, I would have felt calmer about voting for the Bill as it exists. However, the Prime Minister is approaching these negotiations with a blank sheet of paper. Where are the underlying principles? There are underlying principles in the EU, but where are the underlying principles that we will maintain during negotiations, or are there to be no principles at all?

The Green Party is particularly concerned that the Cabinet will attempt to dump protections for everything from wildlife and the countryside to the social protections that we see as normal in society nowadays. The Government could use a combination of exit negotiations and secondary legislation to do all sorts of things that the majority of people who voted leave would not want to happen. It is wrong to use the referendum result as cover for bypassing proper parliamentary procedure and scrutiny. The Lords has the job of ensuring that a democratic process is followed throughout the different stages of the negotiations.

As somebody who has advocated leaving the EU ever since we joined as a result of the 1975 European Communities membership referendum, I resent people suggesting that I am out to wreck the Bill by seeking to amend it—someone even said that it would be “traitorous”. That is an unpleasant thing to say about people who are trying to improve things. As for threats from the other place to replace the House of Lords with a different sort of Chamber or abolish it altogether, for me, that would be a welcome bonus. I believe that it is time for us to be abolished and replaced by a democratically elected Chamber. For me, therefore, that is no threat at all. However, it is bullying. 

What do we do with bullies? We stand up to them.

I will try to amend this Bill. I have put down five amendments that I feel would definitely improve the Bill and I will support amendments from other Members of your Lordships’ House. It is our job to advise and to reform and improve the sometimes very poor legislation that comes from the other place. My five amendments cover the following areas: transitional arrangements; legal enforcement; environmental regulators; access to justice; and employment and equality protections. These are self-evident. They will ask for detailed plans, lots of preparation and proper funding, which I know this Government have a huge problem with.

I am going to keep my remarks brief because some of what I would like to say is probably best left unsaid. However, before finishing, I would like to add that I also commend the amendment from a recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which will protect the residence rights of EU citizens legally resident in the UK on the day of the referendum— 23 June 2016. It is a precautionary but self-evident amendment and it would be cruel not to include it. I cannot see why the Government would have any objections to it being in the Bill.

Finally, although the outcome of last year’s vote was what I wanted, I have not taken a moment’s pleasure from it in the intervening time, partly because of the way in which the campaigns on both sides were conducted and partly because of the conduct since. There has been so much hatred and vile rhetoric, which has inflamed people. I am sure that many of us here have had abuse. That is a normal part of any progressive politician’s inbox but it has now reached levels that are just incredible.

We should take pleasure in issues such as immigration, because it is good for our country: it is good for the economy and it is good for our culture. I also believe that if you accept free trade, then why not accept the free movement of people? When we look at the Bill and vote on it next week, I hope that the Government will understand that we must not lower our standards. Whether it is on food, social protection or protecting our countryside, we must not go down the route of making things worse. In a sense, society is already worse because of the referendum and the Government must do everything in their power to heal as much as possible.

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