My Lords, this is in many ways a sad occasion for me because, as the House knows, I was a European Commissioner for many years. I was very proud to serve in that role; I believed then, and I believe now, that the work on which I was engaged was in the underlying and long-term interests of the United Kingdom. Now that we have decided to leave, I share many of the emotions that were expressed last night by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, at the beginning of her speech. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, for the words of appreciation that he expressed for those of us who have worked in European institutions and who have sought to further the cause of Britain in Europe. However, we failed to convince our fellow countrymen and women, and we therefore have no choice but to accept the result of the referendum.
The referendum was fought on the basis of in or out, and the Government, supported by Parliament, promised to accept the result. Indeed, I myself promised to accept the result when we debated the referendum Bill in the summer. To attempt to go back on that result would not just have been a massive breach of faith; it would have ended in disaster. The Government would have lost all credibility both within this country and within the European Union, and it would have been quite impossible for them to conduct any sort of constructive policy either here or there. I hope that this is a point that my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lady Wheatcroft, who spoke with such emotion, would like to reflect upon. The right course now, in the Government’s own words, is to set out to create a new partnership that works both for us and for the European Union and its member states, with whom we have so many bonds of friendship and common interests. These are economic, financial, foreign policy, strategic and security, and I believe that the approach set out in the Lancaster House speech and the White Paper is the right place to begin.
I say that not least because it respects the stated wishes of the other EU leaders. They have made it quite clear that their emphasis is on the integrity of the European Union. What they do not want is a repetition of the negotiations over opt-outs and derogations involving issues of principle that necessarily characterised the Cameron negotiations. If we go down the route of aiming to stay in the single market and the customs union as an object of policy, we will be going down exactly the route which our negotiating opposite numbers do not want. We cannot combine those objectives with taking back control of immigration and rejecting the supremacy of the European Court of Justice. It is, therefore, far better to set out with the 27 remaining members of the EU and with the EU institutions on building a new UK-EU partnership covering all our common interests that takes account of their red lines and of our referendum.
The negotiations may well be very tough—the noble Lord, Lord Birt, expressed a strong view on that last night—but they need not be either protracted or overly difficult, and I shall explain why. In a normal negotiation, the two sides have to put together a new structure. In this one, we start with a structure because we are all members of the European Union. The question is how much of that structure to dismantle, to the disadvantage of both sides, and how much to retain under a new brand and in a new form as part of a new partnership. There is no need in these negotiations to start from scratch and then go through all the work that would have to be done. We should start from where we are and see how much of the existing arrangements it is in the best interests of both sides to keep within the context of the new partnership. There are models that could be moved from one to the other; there are models that can be built on; there are models that can be retained. That is the direction down which the negotiation will, I hope, go. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, might be right and it might all end in failure, but, personally, I take a more optimistic view.
Of course, the other 27 members and the EU institutions will not want the new deal to be as good for us in their eyes—I emphasise in their eyes—as the existing relationship. We must accept that. The challenge for Britain will be to make up for that by taking advantage of the new opportunities that open up for us in trade and in other fields as a result of leaving the Union. That will not be easy, but I hope very much that we will succeed. I hope, too, that we will maintain as much co-operation as possible with the other members of the EU on matters of foreign policy, security, research, Europol and wherever else is to our mutual advantage.
I hope very much that the new partnership will be a more harmonious one than our membership of the European Union has sometimes been. We must not look back on the past through rose-tinted spectacles. All of us who have been involved with the European Union know that the marriage was not always a very happy one, and we must hope that the new partnership will be set up on more lasting lines.