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David Puttnam

Lord Puttnam makes intervention in Brexit Debate

Lord Puttnam makes intervention in Brexit Debate

19 October, 2019

Source: Hansard

My Lords, for the sake of brevity, I will restrict myself to just two of the recurring fantasies that we are currently forced to listen to. The first is that the country will somehow find itself united under a Government led by Boris Johnson. As even his friends concede, Mr Johnson is an almost uniquely divisive and untrusted figure. While I would argue that remainers tend to be less viscerally unforgiving than their opponents, the idea that the division that has riven this country for over three years is going to be magically healed is surely the one nonsense we can all agree upon—and certainly will when the full impact of unrestrained market forces begins to devastate the lives of those least able to withstand it. Should the Prime Minister succeed this evening, the only winners will be not the people of this country, but Mr Putin, Mr Trump, Mr Bolsonaro and others whose route to success is based on the flagrant exploitation of ignorance and fear. I was taught by my parents that we can be most easily judged by the friends we make.

The second deliberate falsehood that has been peddled is that a confirmatory referendum will inevitably lead to a likely third, fourth or even fifth one. Clearly, this is put about by people who struggle with the English language. Check out the word “confirmatory” in the dictionary, and you will find that it means,

“serving to make an arrangement or agreement definite or valid”.

It is bolstered by words such as “verifying”, “substantiating”, “validating” and “closure”.

I live in the Republic of Ireland, a country that has recovered from a painful birth. Noble Lords will remember that the Irish rejected the Lisbon treaty in 2009 but, having secured an enhanced role for small states, then voted to agree the ratification by an overwhelming majority of 67%. Were they right the first time or the second time? The most recent poll, in May 2018, indicated that over 90% of Irish citizens now wish to remain in the EU, and when it comes to people too ​young to have voted in those earlier referenda, the figure is closer to 99%. That is what I would describe as closure. I have never heard it suggested that having a second and better-informed view can be a bad thing. In fact, it could reasonably be said to be the primary function of your Lordships’ House.

Find me one adult in this country who on 23 June 2016 knew what they were voting for, knew they were voting for the deal being laid before Parliament today. It is quite possible that it will be embraced as the very least worst option. If so, why are those proposing it so afraid of referring it to the people? Are they concerned that misdirected lightning will fail to strike twice? You are damned right they are.

I would simply make one additional point. Should the Prime Minister impose his deal on the country, the momentum could easily encourage him towards a further victory at a general election. In my view, a Boris Johnson Government would be a disaster not just for this country but for every single Member of this House. In that respect, I am perfectly happy to be judged by history. That being the case, I ask any waverers in my own party who later today might be thinking of voting with the Government, and against a confirmatory referendum, to recall a speech made by my noble friend Lord Kinnock in Bridgend on 7 June 1983. It was a speech which led me and many other disillusioned Labour supporters to rejoin the party. To paraphrase my noble friend, if Boris Johnson wins this evening then, under his Government, I warn you not to be vulnerable. I warn you not to be young, not to fall ill and not to grow old. Most of all, I warn you not in any way to need the help of the state, as it is very likely not to be forthcoming.