My Lords, I begin with the words of Albert Einstein:
“Politics is a pendulum whose swings between anarchy and tyranny are fuelled by perpetually rejuvenated illusions”.
The word “illusions” in many ways sums up how we have arrived at the current position, and delusions or fantasies still abound in many debates on Brexit. Apparently several members of the Cabinet, several noble Lords today and the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition in the other place seem to believe that they can go back to the negotiating table and achieve a better outcome. This is fantasy.
I have to express my utmost admiration and sympathy for the Prime Minister: I have nothing but respect for her tenacity and resilience. The way she has been treated by some in our party has been shameful. She has done the best she could. She originally stated that we would leave the single market and customs union—the extreme Brexiteers insisted on this. She also said that we must have frictionless trade, leave the ECJ and protect the Northern Ireland border. These objectives are mutually exclusive. Her task was impossible. As her Statement rightly claims, delivering Brexit involves difficult decisions and choices for all of us. There will always be trade-offs. However, she must be honest with the country—her agreement is not a deal.
It is true that the agreement allows us to leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way next March. It agrees a time-limited transition period, which literally buys time to agree a future relationship, but that is as far as it goes. It is a legally binding commitment by the EU to enable us to remain in its free-trading orbit, from which we have benefited significantly, for a temporary period, while giving up our political membership, not even retaining the already-elected MEPs. But this is not a deal for our future relationship. It does not provide the certainty that business needs. It is merely a stay of execution. It also fails to protect our service industries—some 80% of the economy. The political declaration is all but worthless: warm words which any future EU or UK Government can tear up. It does not bring back control.
The Prime Minister outlined three options: no deal, this agreement or no Brexit. No deal cannot be an option. It has always been unconscionable but my noble friends on the Front Bench have consistently insisted that we have to keep no deal as an option; otherwise, we would undermine the Government’s negotiating position. The negotiations are now at an end so that argument no longer applies. We must exclude no deal. No responsible Parliament could possibly contemplate the chaos it would unleash. That leaves two options: the agreement outlined by the Prime Minister, which she insists delivers on the result of the referendum, or no Brexit. On this, the Prime Minister is right. I earnestly wish I could simply support what she has managed to negotiate but the terms that she has brought back are so significantly different from the campaign promises and post-referendum assurances given to the British people, how can Parliament truly believe it is safe to proceed? If Parliament is not sure that this is what the majority of British people want for our future, democracy demands that it must find out before making an irreversible decision.
I finish with more wise words from Albert Einstein:
“All of us who are concerned for peace and triumph of reason and justice must be keenly aware how small an influence reason and honest good will exert upon events in the political field”.
We must ensure that “reason and honest good will” will indeed finally influence the political future of our relationship with the EU.