My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington. It is an inescapable fact that many of the debates your Lordships’ House has held on Brexit have sounded like a rerun of the referendum campaign. It is as if somehow we believe we could change the result and ignore the meaningful vote that a majority of people cast in the referendum. Today’s debate has been no exception. Indeed, listening to many of the contributions from noble Lords, one could be forgiven for thinking that the referendum had never happened and that the people had never spoken. Their vote to leave has been practically airbrushed out of the picture.
So when we consider how the negotiations are progressing, what matters is not so much what we think but what the majority of the people think—whether we are honouring their democratic decision to leave the EU. How do the people think the negotiations are going? Professor John Curtice of the University of Strathclyde highlights that, according to YouGov, as many as 58% of leave voters do not think that the Chequers agreement reflects what they believe the country voted for in the EU referendum. Only yesterday, Paul Goodman of “ConservativeHome” reported that 68% of respondents to a snapshot survey of leave voters think that it would be bad for the country if the White Paper were implemented; 67% oppose it.
The British people are not fools. They can see that this is not a fight between government and Parliament. It is between the establishment in Parliament, government and some of the media on the one hand and the people on the other. The well-respected journalist Tim Stanley, writing in the Daily Telegraph, talks of the people being ignored. I would go further. There is a very real danger of the majority who voted to leave feeling that they have been betrayed. The evidence suggests that people think that the Chequers agreement and the White Paper are recipes for remaining. So, even if the White Paper were accepted by the EU, we, the establishment, are playing with fire if we think that we can tell the people that we have honoured their vote to leave when they can see—we can guarantee that the EU Commission will make this point to them—that we have not left at all.
We need to accept that the referendum result was a vote for honest politics and for a break with the endemic defeatism of the establishment. We should be thanking the British people for giving us this amazing opportunity, not bottling it and losing our nerve. We need to tell Brussels unambiguously, “We are British. Get over it. We will not be bullied. We will not surrender taxpayers’ money unless and until the British people see that we have genuinely left and that their meaningful vote in the referendum has been honoured in full”. That is what the people are entitled to expect of us. My Lords, we patronise the people at our peril.