My Lords, Denmark and Ireland joined the Common Market with us in 1973 and some predicted that they would follow us out. However, the latest Eurobarometer poll, taken this spring, showed that 75% of Danes and 91% of Irish thought that their countries had benefited from being members of the EU. Across the continent as a whole, we are seeing the highest levels of satisfaction with the EU in 35 years. Brexit has achieved this at least: by deciding to leave we have fortified the others in their desire to stay in the world’s largest and most frictionless trading bloc, its strongest promoter of civilised values and its only regulatory superpower.
We have all been formed by our own experience of Europe. In my case, it was as a junior in the office of Lord Cockfield, the architect of the single market; as an advocate for 30 years in the courts where its principles were worked out; and, after 1989, as a visiting teacher in places where—as Mrs Thatcher had prophesied in her Bruges speech—people were once again starting to enjoy a full share of European culture, freedom and identity. Despite that perhaps unusual enthusiasm for the European project, I believe that we could do worse than this agreement. I see the backstop as an opportunity for Northern Ireland rather than a threat. The procedure for ending it is both fair and inevitable. By providing so carefully for an orderly withdrawal, it demonstrates how disorderly a no-deal Brexit would be. If we need to come out, this agreement enables us to do so in a grown-up way.
However, it also demonstrates the greater folly of our present course. It binds us to EU rules while removing all representation and influence. Our historic leadership role in areas from sanctions and security to financial services and the internal market will abruptly end. As to the future relationship, we might have a long wait for the struts and girders to which my noble friend Lord Kerr referred. The intention apparent from the seven pages is already plain: to pay a heavy price for the primary goal of ending free moment in terms of our exclusion from other economically vital elements of the single market. The next four years at least will be consumed by negotiations that will make these ones look simple, and not only with the EU. Other pressing priorities will be relegated, as they have been since 2016. We cannot hope to end up with the same benefits as we have now. That is not the basis on which Brexit was sold.
If I had a meaningful vote today—for all the great respect that I have for the Prime Minister and for those on the ground who negotiated and drafted this workmanlike agreement—I would use it to seek an extension to the Article 50 deadline so that the public could vote for the first time on whether to accept this predictably inadequate Brexit deal or to cancel the whole unhappy project.