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My Lords, I do not agree with votes on amendments in the middle of a debate. To me, that is not good practice and rather discourteous to those who will speak in the debate tomorrow. I hope it will not become frequent practice.
I declare an interest as a part-time resident of Italy for the last 37 years. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that they may be laughing at the United Kingdom in the grand congress he told us about at the start, in a rather de haut en bas speech, but in the streets, squares and fields of the rural Italy I know ordinary people are green with envy and full of admiration that Britain is breaking free from the vice in which the euro is throttling the Italian small business economy and the prospects of the young. Perhaps it is a problem in me that I speak to the ordinary people over there.
Last year, 17.4 million British people voted to leave the European Union—the highest number ever voting for anything in our history, on a turnout of 72.2%, against just 68.7% in the general election. Yet today, every day, you hear those who opposed that referendum decision seeking to dilute the awful clarity of that single word of command from the British people: “leave”. Labour’s Front-Bench Motion tonight takes not one but 82 words to leave us with not a clue—I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, on that—about where that party stands on leave or stay in the single market and the customs union. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is more direct—I avoid the word “honest”. He says that we should stay in them and put a case for it. So, too, have many in this debate.
Staying a member of the single market is very different, as my noble friend Lord Lamont said earlier, from access. It is tantamount to staying in the EU. It denies control of our borders. As the shadow Chancellor said on
“people will interpret membership of the single market as not respecting the referendum”.
For once, I agree with Mr McDonnell. Labour’s recent manifesto declared:
“Labour accepts the referendum result”.
Listening to many of the speeches from those Benches today, you could have fooled me. I hope that those speeches were out of line and when the noble Baroness winds up she will tell us that they were and that Labour was not trying to fool the people in the recent election.
Of course, our Government should reach across party lines to the party opposite and all those who genuinely wish to honour their promise to the British people to see Brexit through. But I am a little puzzled by this sudden idea of a commission—a sort of corporatist body involving precisely who, accountable to whom? Who would pick the team? Can I be a selector? Would Mr Farage be in it? Why should a decision of the British people and a charge to a Government with the confidence of the other place be taken away into private rooms? Is not Parliament there for this? Many noble Lords seem to want to take us back, in effect, into the EU by stealth. It is as though the British people cut a Gordian knot in a single stroke and some in the Westminster bubble want to tie that knot all over again.
Only one major party campaigned to remain in the last election—the Liberal Democrats. Reversing the referendum result was so far from a winning issue that they lost vote share and won only 7.37% of the vote. In my own constituency, Richmond Park, one of the most pro-remain in the country in 2016, they lost the seat to a man they vilified, crudely and falsely, as a so-called hard Brexiteer. Yet, with less than 7.4% of the vote, they sit on 17.8% of the political House. For those noble Lords who remember military history, while once a thin red line stood to defend the British cause in battle, now—and I refer to an overblown party, not to any individual—a fat yellow line sits there, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, told us, to block the wishes of the British people. That is surely unfinished business in House of Lords reform.
The referendum said leave. Parliament triggered Article 50 in response. Over 85% of the vote this month went to parties promising to leave. Now the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, comes out, with motives that I understand and respect, and says, “I’ve got a great idea, Prime Minister. Let’s put the whole thing off”. We all know that if that particular kettle were taken off the stove, many parliamentary Pollies would never put it back again. Let us get on with it, have done with obfuscating and obstructive amendments, negotiate in amity and in good faith with our friends, strike a good deal—which at heart every one of good sense should want—and then leave the EU as the British people have required.