My Lords, I recently listened to the debate in this Chamber on the Kindertransport, and heard the experiences of so many families in this country who suffered the destruction of war and the sadness of separation in the ensuing years after the division of Germany. In fact, my own family suffered not only from the effects of the two world wars but from the division of Europe through the Warsaw Pact. Cousins whom we discovered after the fall of the Berlin Wall have told us about their sufferings and hopes for peace in Europe, their sorrow at the loss of the UK from Europe, and their children and grandchildren, who see themselves very much as part of Europe and its future. The debate restated to me how many have benefited from the years of peace brought about as a result of the formation of the European Union.
Recently, I read about some of the events in Germany during the 1930s, and I asked people I knew why nobody did anything about them as they gained momentum. I believe there was a feeling that people knew what the direction of the events was, but they felt powerless as to how to stop them. Many of us have that feeling. We cannot ignore the rise of the far right, not only in our own country but across Europe and the world. It has produced politics based on hatred and division, and it seems unthinkable that we propose to leave our closest allies at a moment when we should be working together to fight for liberal values, principles and beliefs.
Yet we are proposing to leave the EU, with very little agreed other than intentions and hopes. As many noble Lords have said already, the agreement and the political statement are vague and lacking in specifics. Indeed, they give us little more than a flimsy tissue of assertion, ambitions and aspirations. Let us look at a little of the language. The parties are committed to a “high level” of co-operation. They are,
“endeavouring to adopt decisions by the end of 2020 if the applicable conditions are met”.
“Appropriate arrangements” and “best endeavours” are the language of these documents. As others have said, there is huge danger in the fact that we are contemplating leaving the EU after 40 years of close co-operation with little more than a vague statement of intent on which to base our future.
Members of the EU Select Committee, including myself, have been struck by the views of many witnesses who describe the real vulnerability of the UK in leaving the EU not on a basis of certainty or clarity but with all the substantive issues still to be negotiated. Whether it is security, the European arrest warrant, shared information systems, reciprocal healthcare, medicines, sport and culture—the arrangements for sportsmen and sportswomen, musicians, actors and entertainers to be able to cross frontiers simply to go about their daily business—if things go ahead as planned, we will be outside the EU when all these substantive issues are negotiated.
These matters and many more will have to be agreed between ourselves and the other 27 Parliaments when we are outside the EU as a rule-taker, with little influence and no leverage. It is a common view that at least 10 years of negotiations lie ahead, whatever the aspirations of the Government. Somebody said to me recently that, as it took us 14 years to get into the European Union, we should not be surprised if it takes us quite a while to get out. That must be the case, but how would we have felt a few years ago if someone had told us that we would leave and then settle the arrangements afterwards? We would not have believed it. To those who have said we need more time, I support that. Had people been aware, when they thought of the amount of time ahead for negotiations, that at this stage they would still not know how they would travel abroad, whether they could get their medicines, whether their pets could have passports or whether they could go on holiday without worrying, many would have been shocked. They were never led to believe this.
As the most reverend Primate said, we have a moral choice: we should never be afraid to speak from our hearts. If this Brexit will harm our country’s future, make people poorer and threaten our position in the world—our ability to construct a future for the benefit of our people—then it is our duty not just to say so, but to fight it. If we do not, there will be even more scope for division and resentment. Referenda are not an ideal form of government; I agree about that. But the problem is that the referendum genie is out of the bottle. I do not believe any change of direction will be possible without a vote on the current deal. To the people who say that this would be divisive, my response is that the situation is extremely divisive now; it is getting more so as people realise that they are losing out and have been lied to on many issues. What hope for reconciliation—if that is what we want to achieve, as I certainly do—if there are more constraints, more costs, fewer benefits, and the people who lose out are the poor and the dispossessed?
Now that the reality of the problems is clear, the only way we have a chance of stopping this march to massive self-harm is by giving people the right to vote to approve the deal or say that they prefer to remain. This must be a decision taken for the long term; even if it is fraught with the utmost difficulties, we must get it right or our children and grandchildren will not forgive us.