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My Lords, this is a very important debate at a crucial moment. I met young people—fifth and sixth formers—in my local area to listen to what they thought about this. They felt that this was a time on which people would look back and ask a lot of questions. One question they wanted an answer to was: will our leaders draw back from the brink of disaster and, if not, why not? It will, as they saw it, seem so obvious to future generations that to proceed with an act of fundamental cultural and constitutional change, based on a referendum result with the narrowest of majorities, was an act of irresponsibility. In their clubs and schools, they told me, changes to rules or the constitution, need a two-thirds majority. Why was this not included in the referendum?
Lots of people have criticised the referendum so I shall not go on at length. But two points were made to me. First, why, since under-16s could vote in the Scottish independence referendum, could they not vote for the future of their country within the EU? Secondly, they asked, if the Leave campaign has been found to have acted illegally, as the Electoral Commission has said, why have there been no prosecutions? I could not answer those questions. But it seemed, when we looked at what was still to be resolved, that there is an enormous amount, including on freedom of movement and its effect on business, science, medicines and healthcare. We have heard about Sir Paul Nurse’s letter and seen the BMA briefing. For individuals and families—not only organisations and their interests—the effects could be extremely worrying.
Will people need visas to travel to the EU and, if so, in what circumstances? Will people need private health insurance? Will older people be able to travel? Will travel insurance be too expensive for many people? These are the sorts of questions that are being asked. Returning to the young people I spoke to, they want the chance to share cultural and educational programmes such as Erasmus and Horizon, not to mention other opportunities in music, arts, culture and sport that are so important to them. The effect of Brexit on all these things has been well documented in your Lordships’ House by the work of the Select Committees.
How will it look to future generations that the UK left the most advantageous arrangements on the narrowest of majorities and entered into fundamental change to settle for something that in large part still needs to be decided during the transition period? If you talk to civil servants in Brussels, or to key witnesses, as our Select Committees do, they will tell you that there is so much still to be resolved. As a third country, having already left the EU, we will be trying during the transition period to resolve so many important issues for the future of our people, from a position of weakness.
Many people have talked about why we should have a referendum. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on his report, The Roadmap to a People’s Vote. I will not go into detail on it but I want to underline his point: yes, it will be divisive, but it will be much more divisive, and for a very long time, if we do not have the referendum. The options are very limited: leaving without a deal will be catastrophic; leaving with so little settled that we will still have to negotiate our future relationship with the EU from outside the EU will also be very damaging. I would definitely support a vote. Many people now say this offers the only way forward to resolve the current impasse and give our country another chance based on proper knowledge and facts.