My Lords, this is probably the best deal the Prime Minister could have brought back from Brussels, given where she started from, with those misjudged and totally unnecessary red lines in her Lancaster House speech. She has been hamstrung from the start by the fact that this whole misguided Brexit enterprise has been a massive military endeavour, started by David Cameron to keep his party together. The people of this country have for the most part been mere hapless civilians, trying to find their way through the fog of war.
Watching the PM in the three-hour Commons debate last Thursday, she did seem to be one of the few grown-ups in the Chamber and I could not help but admire her resolve. However, as a former Government Whip, I cannot see how this unloved deal will get a majority in the other place. That is if she survives any 1922 Committee leadership challenge. Did Jacob Rees-Mogg write his letter to Graham Brady with a quill on vellum? Does anyone remember that American show about a dysfunctional family called “The Brady Bunch”? But however dignified, the Prime Minister cannot be absolved of responsibility for the very serious crisis we now face as a country.
As I see it, this is the withdrawal deal that the EU has sweated over with our various negotiators for the last two years and it is not of a mind to conjure up a new one. Mr Barnier’s clock has stopped ticking. From next Sunday, Mr Barnier will metaphorically go off and have a nice, well-earned gin and tonic, as he sees it. It is now over to us.
There is little point saying that Parliament will not allow a no deal, because without a plan B we automatically fall into no-deal territory. That is the real Project Fear, where the raw truth of this whole sorry enterprise could face every family in this country in the next few months. There is the prospect of the stockpiling of food and medicines and of just-in-time lorries being refused entry at ports while goods, livestock and jobs perish.
Such prospects are bad enough but, looking through the draft withdrawal agreement over the weekend, especially the free movement part of it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, it was striking to see how much our interests as a country will be undermined immediately under no deal. What happens to the rights of UK nationals currently living in the EU? What about our professional qualifications being recognised in Europe? What about police and judicial responsibilities and co-operation across borders? What about the orderly transfer of responsibilities through Euratom on nuclear materials and radioactive waste destinations? What about British people’s court cases before EU courts? Does it all stop dead in its tracks?
No agreement on the Irish border is another horror story under no deal. Presumably an EU border comes into immediate force. What happens to the all-Ireland energy market? Do all the lights really go out in Belfast? If we think this draft withdrawal agreement and the future relationship paper are unacceptable, wait till we see a no deal.
Mrs May does not have the numbers in the House of Commons—however, never say never—and although a general election may be triggered, I have my doubts; the last general election in January was in 1910. I have to conclude that it is now over to the British people in a people’s vote to take back control.