William Hague warns against Brexit 'referendum merry-go-round'

Former Conservative leader William Hague has warned against getting on to a "referendum merry-go-round" over the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

"We could have made a success of the UK in the EU and we can make a success, with some cost and upheaval, of being outside the EU," Lord Hague of Richmond told the House of Lords.

"But we cannot possibly make a success of being in a national state of bewilderment about when we're going to have another referendum and which direction we are going in."

In the marathon two-day Lords debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, Lord Hague was opposing a call by Labour's Lord Adonis for a second referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal, which could be voted on later on Wednesday night.

Lord Hague delivers his verdict on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (PA)
Lord Hague delivers his verdict on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (PA)

Lord Hague said the Bill was necessary although it had not arrived in the House "in a perfect finished form".

Insisting that a second referendum could even trigger calls for a third, he warned a change of decision could "plunge the country into a long and bitter dispute and division, greater than anything we have seen so far".

Lord Hague said the Government was doing a "good job" in trying to implement the referendum result but urged ministers to give a "warmer embrace" to parliamentary scrutiny.

"I hope ministers will continue the robust implementation of the referendum, will set forth the arguments against a referendum merry-go-round that might never end and isn't in the national interest - but will embrace the parliamentary scrutiny and sovereignty which was meant to be one of the upsides of leaving the EU."

Former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd urged peers to use the "entire arsenal of our powers" over Brexit legislation to "limit the damage" to Parliament and the national interest.

Lady Boothroyd said she could not recall "a comparable crisis of such prolonged intensity and danger to the national interest", adding that, having campaigned for Remain, she was "bemused now to find it is the winning side that is blowing a fuse".

The independent crossbencher said the duty of the House of Lords to examine, amend and potentially reject parts of the Bill was clear regardless of how people voted in the referendum and their opinion of the Government's "squabbling factions".

The Bill, bringing existing EU law into UK law,  is expected to clear its first hurdle in the Lords at around 10pm on Wednesday, although it faces a rough ride during committee and report stages.

Many of the 190 peers speaking during the Bill's second reading stressed that while the measure must pass it needed substantial amendment.

The House of Lords considers the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at second reading
The House of Lords considers the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at second reading (PA)

Labour former attorney general Lord  Goldsmith hit out at the Bill saying it was "not fit for purpose".

Lord Goldsmith condemned "its technical deficiencies, its assault on our constitution, its assault on parliamentary sovereignty, its extraordinary switch of powers to ministers, the jeopardy it creates to our devolution settlement, the legal uncertainty it creates, not to mention to the peace in Ireland.

"This Bill as it stands does not do what is required to make it fit for purpose."

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