My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to be able to welcome a new colleague to your Lordships’ House, and I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, in a very rumbustious maiden speech. He made some very gracious comments about his reception here, and then he gently forgot that maiden speeches are normally non-controversial. I do not look down upon him in any way for that but I am disappointed in him, because he is famous in Northern Ireland for his wonderful singing voice. How much better it would have been if he had sung to us. He is as well known in the recording studios of Nashville, Tennessee, where he has cut many disks of country and western music, as he is in the pulpits of Northern Ireland. Although I cannot tonight sing from the same hymn sheet, I do hope that he will enjoy many happy years in your Lordships’ House.
I would just say, on Northern Ireland, that those who come from the Province—which I know well and love dearly, having done a stint as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee—must remember in all humility that the people of Northern Ireland voted in the referendum by a significant majority to remain in the European Union. Therefore, those who purport to represent them should always remember that.
I want to make three very simple but important points. First, whenever one leaves an institution, club or association—any gathering of people or nations—one cannot retain the advantages that membership brought. When Members retire from your Lordships’ House, they will be able to sit on the steps of the Throne and they will have dining rights and some rights in the Library, but, for the rest, they will not. I am sorry that we are leaving the European Union. I accept the result of the referendum. I am sorry we are leaving because I think whatever deal we have cannot be as good as what we are letting go of.
I appeal to everyone in this House, as in the other place, to consider very carefully what the Prime Minister has negotiated. She has shown enormous resilience and great stamina and, although there is room for tweaking and improvement, she has probably got as good a deal as she could. Before we dismiss it, we ought to think carefully about the abyss into which we would be plunging with no deal. Although I greatly respect those who call for a second referendum, I ask them just to think for a minute about the divisiveness and bitterness that has been brought to this nation by the first one and to be careful what you wish for.
If the Prime Minister is to have a proper opportunity of presenting her position to the other place, I would appeal to her to adopt the precedent of Edward Heath when we went into the European Community as it then was. I think she should grant a free vote. There is a lot to be said for a free vote, where Members are voting according to their consciences and beliefs but having to take into account the risks and advantages to all their constituents. I think she should also do one more thing: she should speak to the nation on the television, in the course of the next two or three weeks, and explain, face to face, as previous Prime Ministers have done, just what the issues are and how we can best face them together.
The one thing that must happen is that, when all this is over, we must be together as a nation. We have a great past; we can have a great future. We have made a terrible mistake, but we can get over that as well. I hope and pray that we will.