After the last couple of days, today’s debate has something of the feel of the morning after the night before. Indeed, it has been a sobering debate, reflecting the depth of the crisis that we are in. Two years on from the referendum, the Government are still unable to speak on behalf of the British people. The most important negotiations the country has faced since the second world war are being led by the most dysfunctional Government in living memory.
It does not have to be like this. The Prime Minister was right at Mansion House to say we had to face up to hard facts, but that meant facing down those in her party who put their ideological hostility to the EU before the interests of the country. If she had faced up to the facts two years ago—if she had said then that the country had voted to leave the EU but by a painfully close margin, and that it was a decision to depart but not to destroy our economy, and if she had said that we would leave the EU but remain in a customs union and close to the single market and the members of the agencies and partnerships we had built together—she could have secured a clear majority in this House and built a consensus in the country, which had been so bitterly divided by the referendum.
But she did not. Instead, she handed a veto to the European Research Group—the people who have sought to undermine not just herself at every step but every one of her predecessors. They are, as John Major commented recently, even more hard-line than those he faced. They are less than 10% of this House but are calling the shots. The tail is wagging the dog. They are demanding the red lines that have held us back—no single market, no customs union, no European Court of Justice, no agencies. To be fair to the Prime Minister, she put that proposition to the British people in last June’s general election. She sought a mandate for an extreme Brexit, but she did not get it. She went into that election with a majority and came out without one.
I remind Mr Baron, who sought to misquote our manifesto, as others have done, that at that election we said:
“and replace it with fresh negotiating priorities that have a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union –
which are essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses”.