My Lords, blinkered, ignorant, petulant, complacent, hypocritical, destructive—those were some of the adjectives thrown at those who share my position by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. You would wonder who was seeking to uphold the verdict of the British people and who to overturn it.
I cannot support this plan. It flows from a lack of confidence and competence in negotiation, as many have said, and a sense that the British people’s vote to escape the authority of Brussels was a cause for damage limitation and not an opportunity for the future. Yesterday, my right honourable friend Greg Clark said he saw advantage in remaining tied as an EU rule-taker until 2022, six and a half years after the vote to leave— longer than it took to win the Second World War. One does sense that the confidence in our country and the clarity of purpose of some of my right honourable friends is a little less than Churchillian. Once again we hear project panic, catastrophe and chaos let loose. It started with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and has run through this debate.
This Prime Minister—honourably—never joined in Project Fear. How sad it would be if she let her office reach for the manual of Mr Osborne. Like many others, I ask how long this agony must go on, but that does not lead me to arrive at the choice now being designed for the British people in high places. It is the same choice that has been advocated by so many in this debate: a binary choice in the Commons—and if it comes to it, the country—between this sad deal and staying in the European Union. It is a choice between accepting European rules without a voice or with one. That false choice is a snare and a delusion: a choice between spam and würstel, set before a British people who voted for beef and liberty.
There is another way forward: Peel’s vision of Britain as a champion of free trade, a policy built on the terms that most of the rest of the world uses, working to a mutually respectful free-trade offer such as that lately agreed between the EU and Canada. Instead, we have a clunking document in which there is much that is shared and valuable, but within it a catalogue of crucial concessions. It offers many billions for a product: the future relationship that is still, fatally, not fully defined. It perpetuates—crucially, potentially indefinitely —a customs union we promised to leave; my noble friend is right about trust. It delays trade deals, ties us to non-regression, a promise not to be competitive with the most uncompetitive part of the globe, and it volunteers Britain into the humiliating position that it may only ever leave if Luxembourg allows it. In addition, with an odour of dishonour, for which I would apologise to my unionist friends if they were in their places, it breaks a promise that there could never be any distinction in the way parts of our kingdom are treated. Like other promises, that has been forgotten in the small print with which Downing Street and the Cabinet Office have smothered the clarity of the vote to leave.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister is a great public servant, and her belief that she is doing the right thing is beyond question. But I regret to say, like many in this House today, I am dismayed at the point to which this country has been led, and I have little faith that the necessary change of direction will be forthcoming from this quarter. I will not lend my support—in any way—to imposing these articles of dependency on a people who voted to leave.