My Lords, I would also like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister as someone whom I have known for more than 20 years and whom I admire for her stamina, her resilience and her self-belief. No one can claim greater ownership of the process, the detail or, indeed, the outcome of the Brexit negotiations than the Prime Minister. No one deserves greater credit for this deal.
That is why there is nothing that I would rather be able to do than stand here today and say that I support this withdrawal agreement. How much easier it would be to say that I was convinced by the arguments, persuaded by the appeals to loyalty and resolved to ignore the overwhelming evidence that this is such a bad deal that it is worse than the deal on World Trade Organization terms. I would love to be able to reject the advice of successful British entrepreneurs, like the inventor Sir James Dyson; Tim Martin, founder of the Wetherspoon pub chain; and the hotelier Sir Rocco Forte. All have the deal-clinching confidence to believe that a clean, global Brexit on the WTO terms on which most of the world trades would be a better deal than this deal.
When I worked for various charities over a period of almost 20 years, I fought hard to protect their independence from government, in the sure knowledge that it underpinned their credibility in the media, in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. That the Governor of the Bank of England should have so compromised its independence totally undermines the credibility of his predictions of Brexit Armageddon, based on factors which its former Governor, the noble Lord, Lord King, has argued are not plausible. I agree with him when he says:
“It saddens me to see the Bank of England unnecessarily drawn into this project”.
The former Governor is surely right because that is, ultimately, what this is all about: the project that is ever closer political union with the EU. It is exactly what the British people voted to leave in the 2016 referendum. Yet this deal would see us trapped and with less control than if the country had actually voted to remain.
It reminds me of a cross-party trip to Berlin which I went on last year, when a British parliamentarian—who shall remain nameless and, I should add, is not from your Lordships’ House—told our counterparts from the Bundestag, “I hope you give us a good hiding so that we realise the mistake that we have made”. I think the EU Commission might have been listening, because it has done exactly that.
Just consider the £39 billion from us to them—for what? It was for a backstop, the so-called insurance policy which not only insures them against our having a competitive advantage but, for good measure, treats a part of the UK differently from the rest and, incredibly, would be indefinite. As the Attorney-General has advised, there is no unilateral right of termination. Yet we understand that the backstop was “a risk worth taking” because both sides have agreed in the deal to use their “best endeavours” to find a way out of the arrangement as soon as possible. With all due respect, a quick glance at the Attorney-General’s legal advice to the Prime Minister shows that this deal is fraught with risk.
As my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes, who is not in his place, intimated earlier, much has been made of the term “best endeavours”, as if somehow the EU and UK can resolve their differences by having a group hug—without my noble friend’s shotgun, I imagine. If that does not work, we can always tell teacher at the independent arbitration panel, in the hope that they side with us eventually and that the ECJ will look on benignly and with complete neutrality. All I can say is: “Good luck with that. I am sure it will go really well!”.
As a Member of the other place explained a few hours ago, “best endeavours” is not a legal obligation. The EU is not obliged to compromise its own interests, so why should we trust the EU to stop endeavouring to do its best to do us down—not because it hates us but because it is acting, as it has always done, in the national interest of the political project that is the European Union? Even if we choose to indulge in such wilful delusion, the people out there know that not only is that not the same thing as our national interest but in some areas it runs wholly contrary to it. Yet this deal presupposes that, after two years of interminable negotiations, we should suddenly trust the EU to respect our national interest after we have handed it £39 billion. Why?
I will close on this point. My noble friend Lady Meyer, in her superb speech, referred to defeatism. This defeatist deal is not about a compromise; it is about being totally compromised. Of course I share the Prime Minister’s desire to bring the country back together. Who does not? But for us to mouth meaningless mantras which conceal the truth, foment distrust and dishonour the majority result of the 2016 referendum is a recipe not for healing but for prolonged uncertainty and deeper division.