My Lords, as some noble Lords may know, I supported the campaign to leave the European Union with my vote and also with my finances—and I have the inheritance tax bill from HMRC to prove it. Despite the political and economic turmoil we are in, and the irritation of having to pay twice to help level the playing field, given that the remain-supporting Government pumped more than £9 million into their cause, I am an unrepentant leaver, with no regrets.
Along with many other Brexiteers, I do not say that capriciously or for cavalier reasons but because I am a democrat who is primarily and viscerally driven by the desire to regain our sovereignty. This prime motivation means that I cannot support the deal on offer, however naive, ideological or downright inflexible that makes me appear.
Flexibility, as it is currently understood, is not an unlimited good. Professor Richard Sennett describes how the meaning of flexibility has fundamentally changed. Originally it was derived from the observation that, though a tree may bend in the wind, its branches spring back to their original position. Flexibility denoted,
“the tree’s capacity both to yield and to recover, both the testing and the restoration of its form”.
The shape of the tree, its identity and identifiability as a tree are unchanged.
Today, he says, flexibility means the ability to move rapidly from one shape to another—to be always in flux and to have no essential shape at all. The tree to which I am referring is the structure of the United Kingdom and the sovereignty of our Parliament. The deal on offer, which we are strenuously told is a reasonable compromise requiring a flexible approach, requires us to morph into something that we are not. Its shape shifts the union of nations and makes a mockery of our sovereignty.
Under the proposed withdrawal agreement Bill, the United Kingdom will have no representation in the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. We will have no representation in the bodies which make laws that will continue directly to affect us. No one who actually makes or implements these laws will be accountable to us, and the names of those making and implementing those decisions will be unknown. It will mean government without the consent of those to be governed—yet as Abraham Lincoln said in his Nebraska speech in 1854:
“No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent”.
Paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, to secure every human being’s inalienable rights, which include liberty, Governments are instituted, and they derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This has always been the problem with the European Union. It is why so many in this country chose to leave and why others across the land mass it controls are not enamoured with it. Who in this country, or in any of the other 27 countries, voted for Juncker, Tusk —or, of course, Selmayr or Barnier? Yet they wield disproportionate power over our everyday lives and will continue to do so under this draft agreement, despite the 2016 referendum result.
I fear that too many view this in the short term, just wanting a fix so that we can move on. In reality, it is a straitjacket that will ferment Europhobic division over the long term. It would be far better to adopt the spirit of adventure and freedom that has enabled us to walk a narrow path in the past and take the short-term pain that leaving on World Trade Organization terms might entail. For this reason, the Labour Motion, which emphatically rejects a WTO outcome regardless of the actual final deal, should itself be emphatically rejected.
Finally, the argument that we are not ready for what is otherwise called a no-deal exit is indefensible. A Government who have not prepared for a no-deal scenario have not acted responsibly, given the oft-repeated mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal. Somewhere along the line, this script was rewritten, and now we are being told that a bad deal is better than no deal. We must hold our nerve, as my noble friend Lady Meyer encouraged us to do just now, and we must push back, not just against this rewrite but against the flexible revision of democracy—otherwise it will shapeshift into something no longer identifiable as democracy. That is a divisive and unresolved inheritance that we do not want to pass on to future generations.