My Lords, it is customary in your Lordships’ House to say how pleased and honoured one is to follow the previous speaker. Of course it is true when the previous speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, whom I first met as a callow 37 year-old newly elected MEP when he was ambassador at UKREP and, frankly, I was pretty frightened of him. As the 113th and final Back-Bench speaker in this hugely wide-ranging two-day debate, I am sure that my pleasure is shared by the whole House.
I voted remain because I believed it was in the national interest. I do not regret it, but the world has moved on and in the knowledge that politics is the art of the possible we must strive to achieve the best for our country in changed circumstances. In doing that, we must be hard-headed, realistic, assume no favours and recognise that there is no such thing as British exceptionalism.
Our economic future was one of the main themes of the great debate. I am concerned by the apparent binary choice in front of us which I describe in shorthand as either the EFTA way or the WTO way. I believe neither is satisfactory. In going down the WTO way we voluntarily erect a tariff barrier between ourselves and our 500 million closest neighbours. However good we might be at business, it does not seem to be sensible. However, I am also concerned that if we simply tried to emulate the Asian tiger, our current political and economic structures are such that we may well end up inside her.
Looking down the other fork in the road, we should recall that it was the shortcomings of EFTA membership which led us to join the European Economic Community that was in the first place. In my experience of 10 years working on the legal affairs and the single market in the European Parliament, very scant regard was paid to EFTA’s concerns. Furthermore, it is my view that we would diminish not increase our sovereignty by losing real political input into the rules and governance of the single market. And of course, it is going to cost us. In this part of the great debate, we must not forget non-tariff barriers and their potential impact on trade. As Lord Cockfield appreciated when working out the template for the single market, they were crucial to a fair as opposed to a free market.
We all know that freedom of movement is a very pressing concern in this country. It is equally so to others in a different way. I recall a senior Polish figure explaining that freedom of movement was the quid pro quo for the right of other member states establishing businesses in his country. Put like that, it does not sound so unfair or so silly. It is an issue that does not lend itself to simple solutions based on slogans and we should not pretend it does.
The EU is not only about pure economics but also about our other national priorities, for example agriculture and especially our foreign and security interests. How are we going to deliver our aspirations and can we afford it? Then there is the coming generation who, as has already been mentioned, feel rightly or wrongly that their future has been stolen by a corrupted process. How do we keep faith with them?
During the campaign I used to comment, perhaps a trifle flippantly, that this is a civil war. I was probably closer to the truth than I thought. Some 17 million angry people voted to leave the EU and 16 million more are now equally angry that they did. It is a horrible predicament for the country to find itself in.
On top of all this is the matter of Britain. I fear for Scotland. I am a unionist, but if Scotland feels as it voted, constitutional niceties will not stand in the way of political turmoil. I fear for Ireland. As chair of the ad hoc Committee on Extradition Law I was entirely persuaded of the importance of the European arrest warrant in stabilising that part of the United Kingdom. We must not allow our home-grown version of Daesh, the IRA, to reopen its campaign of atrocities as a result of this. Perhaps most of all I fear for London, which seems to stand to lose more than elsewhere in the country. It is the nation’s paymaster, albeit we do not collect as much as perhaps I feel we should. My instinct tells me that this could turn into the biggest problem of all.
Furthermore, I believe we forget at our peril that the terms of leaving the European Union depend as much on them as they do on us. The 27 other member states have a veto. What the future will be is not under our control; we are merely in charge of our national wish list. To go forward successfully requires pragmatism allied with intelligence and flexibility and it will be fatal if everything is seen in terms of black or white.
Here at home we know that the two largest political parties are in turmoil over their leadership. My advice to them—if anybody is remotely interested—is the same for each. Leaders must lead, must lead in the national interest, and they must be wise. A failure on any of these counts, on either side, will make a difficult situation even harder. In addition, regardless of the constitutional niceties, if Parliament does not assert itself over the next steps in this story then, quite simply, what is the point of Parliament at all? We might as well strike our tents and go home.
The case for Brexit was the greater opportunities that lie ahead for us. Unless we seize them, the whole exercise will turn out to be pointless and very damaging, so we must work hard to make that happen. What that might involve, I quite simply do not know. However, we first need a plan, then a team to deliver that plan, and that team must be drawn more widely than from the Westminster and Whitehall bubble.
In conclusion, a couple of years or so ago I said in a debate in this House on a possible EU referendum that any fool can get divorced, but that dealing with the children and the financial consequences were the hard bits. Now we know.