My Lords, having congratulated the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, I say with all my heart that I wish we were now remaining in the European Union, but we are where we are. Opinion is still divided down the middle. The Welsh and Scottish Governments have significant misgivings about the effect of Brexit on our manufacturing and agricultural economy. There are also concerns about the effect of this draft agreement on devolved powers, such as those arising in Articles 75 to 78 on public procurement and in Article 93 on state aid. It is highly regrettable that the First Ministers of neither Wales nor Scotland were allowed to see the draft withdrawal agreement before it was published. It takes us out of the EU without specifying where we are going. The outline political declaration is a flimsy wish list of ill-defined aspirations.
“a new relationship with Europe”.
We indicated that we could accept a withdrawal agreement if the Government, while leaving the EU, negotiated single market and customs union membership. But we cannot possibly support what is now proposed. Northern Ireland is given special status in its relationship to the single market and customs union, so why is that not available to Wales and Scotland—or to the whole of the UK? If this is meant to be a bridge over troubled waters, it is only half a bridge. It takes us to mid-air. We have no idea what follows after 2020. It is a blind Brexit. It pushes uncertainty two years down the road, with potentially devastating costs thereafter for manufacturing and agriculture. Ongoing uncertainty will undermine attempts to secure new investment.
The penny has now dropped with Welsh voters. They realise that this offer bears no semblance to the Brexit promises of 2016. That is why it is legitimate to ask for a people’s vote—to ask whether they really want to follow this Brexit trail, now that they know its horrendous destination. If they say yes, so be it—they will have voted with their eyes open—but if they say no, that decision should stand. It should be a straight vote between this draft agreement and the status quo of staying in the European Union. No one in their right mind wants a no-deal Brexit. That was not offered in the 2016 referendum and it should not be on the ballot paper now.
An early Commons vote should facilitate such a path. The Government should then apply to put back the Article 50 departure date—as late as the EU can accommodate, given the forthcoming European elections—or withdraw it unilaterally if the CJEU confirms that power. A people’s vote Bill should be tabled before Christmas with voting in mid-April. If the present Government are unwilling to allow a people’s vote, let them be replaced, without delay, with a cross-party Government specifically to get this done. Having had a people’s vote, then—at that point and not before—let us have a general election to elect a Government willing to turn the people’s settled wish, as expressed by a people’s vote, into a stable, lasting and outward-looking political reality.