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My Lords, it is already abundantly clear that Brexit will harm Britain’s economy and diminish our standing in the world. That is true even if the Prime Minister secures something like her Chequers plan. For all the professionalism of the Civil Service—I pay tribute to Sir Jeremy Heywood, who sadly had to announce his resignation as Cabinet Secretary yesterday, and to Olly Robbins, who has been disgracefully attacked in parts of the press—all it has been able to achieve in this chaotic period of negotiations, given all the splits in the Cabinet and the difficulty of coming to any kind of consensus, is a withdrawal agreement and the sketchiest possible outline of what might follow later. That is so far from what people were promised in the referendum that it is entirely reasonable that they should be asked whether that is indeed what they are now prepared to accept.
Given the state of our politics, it is entirely possible that even that outcome will not be achieved: either the Prime Minister will come back to the House of Commons without a deal, or she will come back with a deal that will then be rejected by that House. No deal would be catastrophic for this country. We are completely unprepared. No one voted for a situation where the Government have to charter ferries to bring in essential supplies, as if the UK were subject to some sort of UN sanctions. It will be a humiliating breakdown of our parliamentary system if the Commons votes down a deal brought back by the Prime Minister but does not then accept a general election to follow it.
In those circumstances, there is only one democratic option: to put the issue back to the people. It would be more democratic than the 2016 referendum because people have a real choice between an outcome—whatever it is—and retaining our membership of the European Union. It would be in the interests of leavers as well as remainers to secure a popular mandate for a decision of that gravity for the future of the country, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others have given. If it was legitimate for the Prime Minister to call an election less than two years after the previous one, surely it is entirely justifiable to have a referendum on the outcome of a negotiation more than two years after a referendum, on the prospectus described by the noble Lord, Lord Sugar. I agree that the EU would grant an extension in those circumstances. It is not in the interests of any EU country to see a chaotic Brexit, given the many other issues the EU is having to cope with in this dangerous and turbulent world.
It is true that hundreds of thousands of young people will have come on to the voting register since 2016. Is that a problem? No, it is profoundly just to give them a vote. Their lives, and those of our grandchildren, will be affected far more deeply by what we decide in the coming months than the lives of any of us sitting in this Chamber today.