My Lords, I never thought in 1972, when I was opposing entry to the EEC, that I would still be alive today to be debating in the House of Lords the question of leaving the European Union—but I am very glad that I am still here to do so.
I am very pleased with the result of the referendum and very proud of the 33.5 million British people who took part in it. That shows the great maturity of the British electorate and their ability to understand and give answer to complex questions. Their decision must be respected and acted upon. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and others have said, it is essential that it is acted upon quickly. I, too, agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, about the attempts being made to undermine this decision of the electorate. Those who now seek devices to set the people’s decision aside should be aware of the consequences of their actions, especially the possibility of further alienating the electorate from the political process.
What concerned me most during the referendum was the incessant talking down of our country and its ability to survive and thrive outside the European Union. I was also concerned that the government machine was used to promote the remainers and that £9.1 million of taxpayers’ money was used to circulate to every household in the country a one-sided leaflet. The Prime Minister promised us a free and fair referendum, yet it was anything but, due to the unacceptable behaviour of the Government. However, despite that and the campaign of fear, the people voted to leave the EU by a substantial majority of 1.25 million people. In England and Wales, the majority was more than 2 million; in other words, it was higher than in the United Kingdom as a whole. I remind noble Lords, if they do not already know, that in 1972 the European Communities Bill was passed at Second Reading by only eight votes. So when it is said that the balance between the remainers and the outers is too small, the decision to go into the EEC was very small indeed.
It is quite clear then that people have confidence in their country and its ability to be economically successful and a world leader. Above all, they have decided that they wanted to be governed by their own elected Government through their own institutions, fought for over the centuries, rather than by an oligarchy sitting in a foreign capital. When an electorate of such intelligence and sophistication have spoken, their decision must be acted upon swiftly and decisively. This should be completed in months, as has been said, rather than years. Backsliding and attempts to thwart their decision will not be tolerated by the people. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, was absolutely right in his remarks about the single market. Having the single market does not mean that we have to apply all its rules. Trade is between countries and not through blocs.
I believe that Britain is a great country with a great past and a great future. Our country has given much to the world in the past and still has much to give, provided that we have the confidence to grasp the opportunity given to us by the wisdom of the electorate. To those who doubt our ability to survive outside the EU, I say: look forward to the horizons ahead and embrace optimism, not pessimism. To quote from Matthew, chapter 8, verse 26:
“O ye of little faith, why are you so afraid?”.
Let us all set aside our fears and work together for the greater future awaiting our great country.