My Lords, some two and a half years have passed since the 2016 referendum. My concern in this debate is the role of Parliament now, after not just that referendum but the reaching of the draft agreement we have in front of us. I agree with what I regard as the very cogent arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, and my noble friend Lord Hennessy.
I suggest that our task as parliamentarians, particularly in the other place now, must surely be to cut through the recriminations and posturing which have been so clear in the last few years and clear the path to a solution, without running back to the people on the basis that we are not fit to do our duty as parliamentarians.
Parliament was advised strongly, but not enslaved, by the 2016 referendum. The Government have done their duty, in the sense that they have negotiated and presented us with a settlement of a kind, whether we like it or not. I note that the negotiations for that settlement were conducted by two strongly Brexiteer Secretaries of State, neither of whom advocates no deal as being a felicitous result. As many in this debate have said, it would be a disastrous result for the United Kingdom. I suggest that surely it is now time for Parliament to exercise its judgment. It was neither a constitutional nor empirical requirement that we should leave the European Union come what may if the result of the negotiations was contrary to the national interest.
There has always been a clear inference—and, I suggest, a constitutional requirement on us as parliamentarians—that the deal obtained should be considered on its merits by both Houses of Parliament and accepted or rejected accordingly. I fear that the current political drama—many in the Conservative Party will recognise this—has been forced on us by internal disputes within that party. I observe and venture—kindly, I hope—that now may be the time for Conservatives, particularly in the other place, to recognise that they cannot all have their own way or, to coin a phrase, “scweam and scweam”. The interests of our country should be placed above their own perceptions.
My conclusion is that there are only two realistic options, given that no deal is so plainly contrary to the national interest. Either we accept, subject to what appear to be available nuance changes, the still-available deal negotiated and agreed in Cabinet by Mr Raab before his somewhat unusual resignation the day after a passionate declaration of Cabinet responsibility; or we reject that deal and abandon the whole Brexit project as having produced a result contrary to the national interest. Those are the alternatives that should be placed before Parliament and on which Parliament, especially the other place, should exercise its responsibility with as little delay as possible.