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My Lords, our debate today has the potential to be one of the most significant in the recent history of your Lordships’ House. Indeed, I see today as a real opportunity for us as a House to reflect on the decision that has been made and to offer some clear thinking about the issues we now face as a country. It is an opportunity for the House of Lords to show why it exists.
In repeating several Statements over the last week, I have set out the views of Her Majesty’s Government, and I want today to be much more than an occasion for me to set them out again. Over the next two days my noble friend Lady Anelay and I are here primarily to listen, so, in opening, I will try to start the process of reflection by offering my perspective both on the vote itself and on the responsibilities incumbent on this House, as I see them, in the weeks and months ahead.
To state the obvious first, the referendum was a momentous democratic exercise. Over the weeks of the campaign we saw passionate cases put forward by both sides and, more importantly, we saw voters engage with an enthusiasm that we had not seen for many years. Indeed, more than 33 million people from across the UK and Gibraltar exercised their democratic right.
I appreciate that when the votes were counted it was not the result that many of us may have wanted— indeed, 48% of us voted to remain—but the result was clear. By a margin of more than 1 million, 52% of the people who voted elected for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union—an instruction that this Government, and all of us, must respect and seek to act on.