I tried at length in my own inept way to explain why that was the case. I believe that the Government must honour the result of the referendum, democratically expressed in the biggest electoral exercise that this country has ever had, and not to do so would be a disgrace. In my view, this plan has very carefully and very cleverly managed to separate Britain from the European Union—46 years of combined earnest endeavour and legislation—with, frankly, miraculously minimum damage to each side. We need to keep it that way for this is a golden prize, given the circumstances. It would be extremely ill-judged to throw it away, which, above all, would be contrary to our national interest.
I am confident that we can then move on to building a stable future framework, as clearly set out by the Chancellor, which will formalise the great importance of our future relationship with our European friends, allies and partners. There is only one agreed proposal on the table. We owe it to our country to lay aside our differences, to accept that our great national traditions of pragmatism, common sense and compromise have never been more vital than now and then to come together, as the Prime Minister said, as “one Union of four nations”, to reassert the confidence that we should most definitely have in the opportunities that lie ahead for our nation’s future, if only we can grasp this nettle and move on. It will be the experience of many right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House of Commons that most of our fellow citizens devoutly wish us to get this done and to focus on the things that they really care and worry about daily—schools, policing, the national health service, transport, the environment and just getting from A to B—and all the other issues that, inevitably, have not had the attention they should have had as the Government have had to focus so much of their necessary effort on coming to this moment.
I am approaching the end of my parliamentary life. I am truly sad beyond words that our wonderful country has reached this pass, but I feel very strongly that we really must not reject this agreement and thus go back to square one, which would mean perhaps another deeply divisive and very unhappy referendum. In turn, that would mean the most damaging uncertainty economically and continuing division that will inevitably threaten the jobs and lives of our constituents and investment in our economy. I am afraid above all that the House would earn the undying contempt of the British people if it does not have the courage and vision to grasp this deal, however we may feel about it, in the interests of the greater good.
I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House remember Lewis Carroll’s wonderful poem, “The Hunting of the Snark”. It includes these lines, which I believe are appropriate:
“But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
And the Bellman, perplexed and distressed,
Said he had hoped, at least, when the wind blew due East,
That the ship would not travel due West!”
To coin a phrase from a greater, kinder and more resolute period in our national life, “Come, let us go forward together and settle this now”.