My Lords, its increasingly anti-European stance was the prime reason for me leaving the Conservative Party 20 years ago. Thus, not surprisingly, I was bitterly disappointed by the referendum result. But I accepted it as a democrat and did not go along with those calling for some form of second vote, recognising the potential divisiveness of that. I assumed that an agreement with the EU would be reached and ultimately approved by Parliament, but that now looks very unlikely.
The Brexiteers are rubbishing the agreement, not accepting any responsibility themselves for this ghastly mess, this national embarrassment, this actual and potential disruption to so many lives and jobs, blaming everyone else—the Prime Minister, European negotiations or poor old Olly Robbins, not themselves. We have a wholly unedifying spectacle of Cabinet Ministers resigning, others supporting the Prime Minister inside No. 10 and then bad-mouthing her outside, others plotting over pizzas, some putting their prime ministerial ambitions well above the national interest.
If the agreement is not approved, there are three alternatives: crashing out, which everyone agrees would be a disaster; renegotiation, and it is pretty clear that the 27 are unlikely to make any further concessions; or another vote, which is now favoured by a clear majority of our population, by three former Prime Ministers, with Labour moving in that direction as well as my own party, which was the first, of course, to advocate a vote on the final terms.
We have a changing electorate. By March 2019, there will be nearly 2 million new voters. By seven to one, they want the UK to stay in the EU. Some 80% of the under-25s support remain, and it is their future we are talking about, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said earlier. Next time, they would know what they were voting for—not the bogus prospectus of 2016, with its extra £350 million a week for the health service, one of the easiest negotiations ever and 40 new trade deals just waiting to be signed.
After the 2016 referendum, remainers like me were urged to respect and honour that vote. I now say to the Brexiteers: if Parliament fails to ratify the agreement, you now show the same integrity and honour that you urged on remainers like me. In these changed circumstances, support a new vote. As Rachel Sylvester states in the headline to an article in today’s Times, “Each chaotic day brings a People’s Vote closer”.