My Lords, the chaos of our proposed exit from the European Union continues to swirl around us as the latest chapter in a sorry tale. From Mr Cameron’s appeasement of Brexiteers, who were and still are the minority in the Conservative Party, to the current Prime Minister’s disastrous decision to invoke Article 50 without any agreement in the country or even in her own party as to what kind of Brexit we wanted, and the equally disastrous commitment to red lines that obviously would make it impossible to achieve the desired close and frictionless arrangements with our European partners—none of which does the Government, who I have supported, any credit.
At this late stage, there is an acknowledgement that the agreement is a compromise and that the scenario of enjoying all the benefits of membership while being free of the rules and obligations of membership was, and always has been, a fantasy. It is obvious that any arrangement that keeps us close to the European Union cannot be as good as that which we have as members. Before we espouse the doubtful procedure of a referendum, is this not the time for honesty and leadership from the Government and for the people to be told, “We have tried to do your will, but this is the best we can do”? With the knowledge that we now have, do we really want to leave? I put it to my noble friends on the Front Bench that the agreement does not meet the wishes of either leavers or remainers. How can they come to the House and tell us that they are, nevertheless, pressing on with the plan with so many opponents and which is unlikely to pass in the other place? How can they maintain the fiction that we will be better off outside the European Union?
We cannot blame the European Union. The 27 want to preserve the integrity of the Union, its institutions, the single market and the customs union. They knew what they wanted from the start and gave a clear mandate to Monsieur Barnier, while we were unable to agree among ourselves about what we wanted.
Unfortunately, this is not the end of this sorry story. We still do not have the fully agreed version of the political declaration which, unlike the withdrawal agreement, will not be legally binding. What we have is full of generalities and mere aspirations, to which we have become too accustomed over the past two years. Realistically, how long will it be before they put flesh on those bones? How long will it take?
Some who are calling for rejection of the agreement seem to contemplate a catastrophic no deal with equanimity, despite the consequences. If the agreement does not pass in the other place, what is the Government’s plan B? I hope that we will not be told, “We cannot disclose our negotiating position”. We have spent some two years trying to agree what we wanted, but now we have only a few months to plan against a no deal. Stockpiling medicines, chartering ferries and turning motorways into lorry parks may meet the short-term emergency but are not the answer for the long term. I therefore ask again: what are the Government going to do to ensure that there is no deal?