My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, who has made a passionate speech against what was determined by more than 400 votes in the other place—that is, withdrawal from the European Union on
In my youth I was a keen rock climber and one summer evening I nearly ended both when I wandered off route on a cliff face high above the valley of Glencoe. As I climbed upwards, the holds became smaller and less frequent, and the rock ahead smoother, greasier and unstable. Hanging on by my fingernails with a big drop below my heels, my legs began to tremble and fear suffused me. I had a choice: continue further in the hope that good jugs lay ahead but risk not being able to reverse my moves and a spectacular fall, or, with great difficulty and considerable risk, climb back to the point where I had gone astray and return to the known route I had set out to follow. The response to the White Paper by MPs on both sides of the Brexit debate, the public, Conservative voters, the Opposition and an arrogant and bullying EU suggests that the Prime Minister finds herself in an equally uncomfortable and precarious position.
My noble friend Lord Heseltine says that the Government have no plan and blames this on the Brexiteers. The White Paper is Olly Robbins’s plan; it is not the Brexiteers’ plan. Indeed, the constitutional outrage is that the Secretary of State’s plan was being ignored. This paper was produced in parallel and he was presented with it some 48 hours before a meeting at which members of the Cabinet were invited to agree it or take a taxi home.
My response on that cliff face was to climb down to the point where I had gone astray. For the Prime Minister, contrary to what the noble Lord suggests, that means taking the rejected Chequers deal off the table now and returning—the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, does not seem to have noticed it—to Mr Barnier’s previous offer of a Canada-plus free trade deal and, if that cannot be agreed, putting in place arrangements to trade with the EU on the same terms as most countries in the world under the WTO, of which we are a member and to which we have been paying a substantial subscription every year. We do most of our trade now with non-EU countries under WTO rules, which incidentally require members to facilitate frictionless trade—that is a rule of the WTO—and that includes the EU.
If we end up trading under WTO rules, with no EU trade deal—although, contrary to what the noble Lord suggests, there has never been any suggestion that any government Minister has not wanted to do better than that—we will, of course, save every penny of the £39 billion that the EU is demanding. I defy anyone—although this does not, of course, apply to anyone in this House—to stand for election in this country and explain that they want to spend £39 billion to receive no conceivable advantage.