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My Lords, one of the most momentous decisions of our time has now been taken. Parliament agreed by an overwhelming majority that the people should decide in a referendum whether our country should stay in the European Union or leave. The people decided, on a massive poll, that we should leave.
It is regrettable that some, unhappy with the result, seek to prevent its implementation, whether by way of a second referendum or some other device. It is difficult to imagine anything more irresponsible, either democratically or politically. I can only assume that living in an elitist London bubble they are blithely unaware of the alienation of a large and growing section of the British people from the London-based political and banking establishment. Any attempt to overturn the referendum result would invite mayhem of the most grievous kind. It would not only be dishonourable, it would be playing with fire. I invite those who entertain this desire to consider the consequences. Incidentally, they might also reflect on what their response would be had the referendum produced a majority to remain in the European Union and the disaffected losers then demanded that it be re-run.
The only question before us is how best to implement our departure from the European Union. Our starting point should be that we wish the best possible relationship with the peoples and Governments of Europe, against whom we have no grievance whatever and a multiplicity of mutual interests. One important point that follows from this is that we must respect the EU doctrine that to remain a member of the so-called single market we would have to accept the freedom of European citizens to live and work here. That is something the British people have made clear is not on, so we must accept that we will be outside the single market. That is scarcely a disaster. The rest of the world is outside the so-called single market and trades happily and profitably with the European Union. You do not need a trade agreement to trade. Moreover, if we were to seek some special trading relationship with the EU, not only would we be adopting the position of a supplicant—which I do not like—but it would be a futile quest.
Following the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, it is important that our negotiations with the EU are completed as speedily as possible. A prolonged period of uncertainty can only be damaging for British business and the British economy. By ruling out the chimera of trade negotiations, a speedy process becomes practicable. Among the issues that will need to be agreed is the position of existing EU nationals resident in the United Kingdom and existing UK nationals resident in the European Union. In common with other noble Lords, I am appalled by the unwillingness of the Government to give a clear undertaking that EU nationals resident here before
Instead of wasting time and energy on a futile and wholly misguided attempt to secure a trade agreement with the EU, the British Government need to focus on how we plan to conduct ourselves as a self-governing nation outside the European Union. A whole range of issues need to be addressed, from the precise nature of our immigration controls—which need to be a single system applying to Europeans and non-Europeans alike—to how we will support our farmers following our exit from the CAP. The Government also need to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which makes UK law subordinate to EU law, with a delayed commencement date to be determined by Parliament in due course. Meanwhile, a study needs to be undertaken of the vast corpus of EU regulations presently on the statute book to decide which we wish to retain, which to amend and which to scrap altogether. All this is a substantial and vital undertaking, which needs to be started now. It is all entirely in our own hands and not a matter of negotiation with others.
The result of the referendum was a tribute to the courage of the British people. Project Fear may have been successful in reducing the size of the Brexit majority but most of our fellow citizens declined to be cowed. The next Government and the next Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be, will have a historic opportunity to make the United Kingdom the most dynamic and freest country in the whole of Europe—in a word, to finish the job that Margaret Thatcher started—and to become a beacon to our European friends, currently embroiled in a failed and doomed experiment.