My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, even though I cannot always follow the thrust of his arguments.
How I wish this deal might have settled things, even with a heavy dose of compromise. Would that not have been nice? But where it should clarify, it confuses, and where it should deliver, it delays. Far from shining an illuminating light on the subject, it simply lights a bonfire of the Government’s frequent explicit promises about the role of the ECJ, about leaving the customs union and about treating all of the United Kingdom as one.
Historians of the near future will ask why the EU, with all its genuine ideals, went so badly wrong. They will identify one cause above all else: its driving ideology, that of political union. It is not an evil ideology, but it is unremitting and so inflexible that those who threaten it, as we do, are punished as a deliberate act of policy—like Greece has been punished. The birthplace of democracy had the temerity to vote for change and instead has been ruined. If you think that is rubbish, please visit the poor, benighted citizens of Greece and see how they are suffering.
Why should elections or referendums make any difference to a European Union whose deafness of ear, blindness to opportunity and wilful rejection of demands to fill the democratic deficit have turned it in on itself? Its response to every question and every rebuff is always more of the same: more Europe—an insistence that there is no other way but theirs.
The establishment loves this deal, of course, because it changes almost nothing. Elites do not want change; they want protection and the status quo. So the CBI, big business, even big charities—those who think only within the big bubble—applaud.
But just imagine if Brexit were put on hold, as I think this deal tries to do—or even reversed, as some want. That would not finish the argument. Political union, the fundamental ideology of the EU, will not change, so the fundamental arguments against it will not change either. The demand for separation from the EU would return with even greater force and, I fear, perhaps in sharper, uglier form. It would be a gift for the bigots and xenophobes who would treat our neighbours in Europe as the enemy, not the allies and friends they are.
There are those who embrace the EU and all its ideals, including many in this House. But sometimes we destroy the things we love the most. Look around Europe and tell me that that is not happening there.
I want a bigger, more open Britain, which takes the many talents and cultures we have and forges them into an exciting new player on the stage, not looking back but looking forward to the challenges and opportunities of a new world that has already left the European Union behind. It is not about having our cake and eating it but finding a better future for our children and grandchildren, one they can create for themselves.
Today we are engaged in a great experiment to test the proposition that it is possible, democratically and peacefully, to leave the European Union and become a sovereign, independent nation once again. If we fail that test, I fear that the price we will be forced to pay—the damage to our sense of self, our standing in the world and, perhaps most of all, our respect for our parliamentary institutions—will be beyond measure.