My Lords, I will say this for the Minister: he has an enduring self-confidence at the Dispatch Box, even if it is totally unrelated to reality. Every time he speaks, I am reminded of the 19th-century general who telegraphed his headquarters saying, “Our left flank is completely lost, the right flank is being overrun and collapsing. Situation satisfactory. I shall attack”.
Despite the confidence, the reality is that after two and half years of division, discussion and debate—sometimes acrimonious—we now have arrived at an impasse. We have an impasse in Brussels: despite everything that is being complained about, there is nothing more to be gained there. There is an impasse in the House of Commons, which we can ignore if we like, but there is gridlock there and no majority for anything, in my view. There is an impasse inside the Government and the Conservative Party, with a staunch minority wanting to get rid of the Prime Minister but not staunch enough to get 48 people to write a letter.
How did we get here? I think we got here for one simple reason. Among the many—I will not call them lies—fake news items during the referendum, there was one central self-delusion. That was that we could have all the benefits of the membership of the European Union without paying the price in obligations. Everybody in every land knows that that is a nonsense. That is why there is the expression, “You cannot have your cake and eat it”, but we were told we could. In France, I think it is having, “le beurre et le prix de beurre”. No doubt there are similar expressions in German and other languages.
It is the common sense of Europe that you cannot have all of those rights without the obligations, yet that was the delusion that was perpetrated for two and a half years. That is why we ran through this gamut of Brexits: the hard Brexit, the soft Brexit and the blindfold Brexit, and ended up with a sort of hokey-cokey Brexit, with one leg in and one leg out, shaking it furiously about to the bemusement of Brussels and the humiliation of the country throughout the rest of the world. It is not going to be changed.
How do we get out of this impasse—this gridlock? I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord King, who spoke passionately on this. There is only one way and that is to put it back to the people. If Parliament is incapable of reaching a decision, as I predict will happen over the coming months, then the people who made the decision must be allowed to revisit it. Why is this? It is not because I am a remainer who automatically assumes that they will change the decision. They may or may not, I do not know, but I know one thing: democratic decision-making—meaningful votes as they call it in the House of Commons—depends on meaningful information. We now know legal, political, social and economic and fiscal information that was not known at the time the decision was taken. In almost every other contract in Britain, from buying a washing machine to going through a divorce, a preliminary period for reflection is allowed if further information comes to light. Let us do the right thing: admit that this has been a mess and will continue to be so as long as we deprive the people of their democratic right, in the light of all the information known now, to make that decision. It should be a people’s vote and a people’s decision.