My Lords, I feel a genuine sympathy for the Prime Minister in her plight and I rather admire her dogged determination, but this deal will not wash. Jo Johnson described it as being offered a choice between vassalage and chaos. I am not against vassalage if it means that sticking to EU rules brings big economic advantages. We could have said that we wanted to remain in the single market and customs union. I believe that that is the position we should have taken after the referendum and it is the position the Labour Party should then have supported, but we did not. Now, we are facing a situation where Michael Gove talks about “Norway for now”. If I were Norway, I would say, “Never put up with that kind of playing around with our future”.
However, accepting the EU rulebook is not worth it for the deal that we have on offer. The declaration says that the temporary customs territory is the model for the future. It is what the EU describes as a swimming pool, with a shallow end and a deep end. Economically, Northern Ireland does very well out of this, and it is a shame that the DUP, which of course does not speak for the majority of the people in Northern Ireland, does not recognise that fact. However, my worry is about the shallow end of this offer, which is Great Britain. It is not a full customs union; it is a bare-bones deal that will result not in frictionless trade but in industries with complex supply chains withdrawing from Britain in the future. It is a real economic threat to our future.
In the negotiations, the Prime Minister might think that she can revert to the Chequers idea of a common rulebook but, because of the arguments in the Conservative Party, in Brussels there is very little trust in Britain’s willingness to stick to a common rulebook. Brussels recognises that the only viable national strategy for Brexit is for Britain to become a regulatory competition state. In order to avoid that, it will try to attach details such as level-playing guarantees, enforcement mechanisms, supervision by the Commission and the jurisdiction of the European court. Frankly, the Prime Minister will never be able to get that through her party.
Therefore, this will end up being a bad deal without frictionless trade. If the last two years have shown anything, it is that we would be much better off if we stayed in the EU. To be fair to Mrs May, she does not pretend that this deal will make us better off than being in the EU. If I may just say a word to my own Front Bench, I do not understand why Labour does not speak out now and say that this deal is much worse than our current EU membership.
The fact is that in the last two years Brexit has been shown to be a disaster. It is leading to the biggest political crisis we have faced since the Second World War. I believe that it can be stopped now, but we on this side of the House have to rise to the level of events. Let us hope that in December, we will.
It is time to end all the verbal conundrums about how we can get a better deal. The only choice now is to give the people the opportunity to vote on this deal in a referendum and to see whether they decide to remain, which I sincerely hope they will.