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My Lords, I regret that I am a very poor candidate for the consensus advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am so because in the immediate aftermath of the referendum my emotion was resignation, but as the debate has developed, I have become more convinced that the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom would be found in remaining within the European Union. The noble Lord may not find much scope for consensus if he talks to the Democratic Unionist Party because fresh from having extracted Danegeld from the Conservatives and having begun to exercise influence far beyond its numbers, it is important to remember that it favours a hard Brexit. It wants a hard Brexit with a soft border, if that does not seem to be internally contradictory. I find it difficult to see how those two ambitions may ever be reconciled.
However, I welcome the fact that proposals have now been made by the Government in relation to the rights of European Union citizens. Much more detail is clearly necessary, but I go back to the point made earlier by others: that our Prime Minister really missed a golden opportunity. By not publishing those details earlier, she inflamed the anxiety of people who are understandably concerned about their future. She might have occupied the high ground; she could have given comfort to those who seek it; and, more to the point, she could have set the tone for the whole of the negotiations which are now to be embarked upon.
As chancellor of the University of St Andrews, which interest is recorded in the register, I can tell the House that the Government have done little to convince the staff of that university—and, I suspect, of every other university in the country—that the research funding provided by the European Union will in the long term be replaced by any Government of the United Kingdom. People may ask where that money would come from if they did so. I do not think that it would come from the “money tree”—that expression now so beloved of Conservative Ministers—nor indeed from the £350 million painted on the side of the bus then directed by the blond bus conductor now elevated to one of the highest offices of state. It is not just continuance of residence which affects so many sectors of the academic community in this country but access to European funds and the collaboration with peer groups which goes along with it.
Mr Hammond, recently released from the bondage imposed on him by the two sacked chiefs of staff of the Prime Minister, said wisely that the British people did not vote to leave the European Union to become poor, yet many of them are poor already. The depreciation of the pound has raised the cost of living. Inflation is on the increase, at 2.3%, and there is now the possibility, even probability, of an increase in interest rates. Is it not ironic that the economy of the European Union is showing sustained growth, a comparison which I think few would have been willing to draw in the past when seeking to undermine the economic effectiveness of the Union?
The Prime Minister caused the unnecessary election, claiming that the country was united and that political parties were undermining the Government’s objective of negotiating good terms for our departure from the European Union. I wonder what she thinks of that analysis now because if the country was not divided before, it is most certainly divided now, and that may come to be her epitaph.
I am sure that many Members of the House, like me, are rather tired of being accused of being obstructive when we seek to exercise our best judgment, the very role for which we have come here. That is why I agree with the noble Baroness who most recently addressed the House. I am so convinced that the interests of this country rest with being in the European Union that I have no interest in or enthusiasm for the idea of facilitating the implementation of a decision which I profoundly believe to be against the interests of the people of the United Kingdom.