My Lords, it is interesting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, because he epitomises those in this House who stubbornly refuse to accept what the people voted for, who constantly use the word “if”, not “when”, and who still hope that we will stay in. We are where we are because of two and a half wasted years: it has been trench warfare, with people trying to prevent us making headway. History will not be kind to those who have been so destructive in pushing through a vote of the people. Even the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who is not in his place, said “if” we come out. It is not “if” but “when” we come out—and how we come out. Many noble Lords have done a disservice to the nation in the way they have approached this.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talked about leaving, and said that people, in voting to leave, did not know this or that. What is it about the word “leave” that people do not understand? If you leave something, such as an organisation, a family or a company, you know what you are doing. You know that there will be consequences—of course you do; you think them through—but you still vote to leave. How patronising to say that people did not know what they were doing when they voted to leave. In 2016, they voted to leave the EU without any conditions whatever, yet an unholy alliance of recalcitrant remainers, remain-leaning civil servants, artful EU negotiators and an unhelpful Ireland has left us, after two years, being asked to accept a deal that completely betrays the decision we took and is totally unacceptable. It must, and I feel sure it will, be voted down by the House of Commons.
Monsieur Barnier’s brief on behalf of the EU was to try to stop us leaving: to drag things out for as long as possible in the hope that we would give up and, in the end, to give us the worst possible deal so that no other member state would dare to try to leave. How well he has met his brief. It is a mess. There are understandable calls to just get on with it, but we must not fall into the trap of signing something we will regret for ever just because we are tired of discussing it. There are other sensible ways ahead: either Canada-plus-plus or the WTO—the no-deal option, which sounds more negative than it really is, which would allow us to trade on World Trade Organization terms, as most nations do. He is not in his place now, but how well this was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, on the other side of the Chamber, in his excellent speech earlier.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said, “Brexit means Brexit”, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” and “No deal is better than a bad deal”. If these words are to mean anything and if any trust is to be left in our political system, Parliament must vote down the dreadful deal presented to it and set out in a new direction which, even if it brings us short-term problems to overcome, truly respects the decision the country took in 2016.
The saddest and most worrying aspect of this whole process has been, since the very day of the referendum, the deep and frightening divisions it has created between strangers, between friends and even within families. It is so important that the healing process starts as soon as possible, for the sake of the fabric of our society and to enable normal government to resume. As so often, the healing process cannot begin until decisions have been made, which requires leadership. To deal with some of the suggestions currently flying about, staying in would be a total betrayal of trust and would, I fear, have the direst of consequences, perhaps even civil unrest. A second referendum would open up old wounds, solve nothing and take too long; it should be dismissed out of hand. A people’s vote on any deal would be complex, difficult to understand, divisive and, in truth, an abdication of governmental responsibility.
If the withdrawal agreement is voted down in the Commons, the only course of action is to set a new proposal before the EU. I know the EU has said that it will not countenance that but, faced with this situation, it will have to. It should in my view be a Canada-plus-plus or similar deal, which has already been offered and which, with genuine co-operation to solve the overblown Irish border issue, could work quite satisfactorily. Then, perhaps, the healing process can begin.
In his speech today, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned the need for vision. As a nation with all that we have to offer the world, we should show self-belief without arrogance, conviction without pomposity, determination without aggression, competition without rancour and leadership without conceit. We must champion our deep-rooted belief in the value and integrity of the nation state and our distrust of blocs that attempt to harmonise and formalise unnatural groupings. Europe should be a flexible jigsaw of independent nation states working closely together, but each able to flex separately in response to its individual needs. Cementing nations together in blocs or unions produces a stultifying rigidity, tension, friction and, ultimately, cracking and break-up, which is now starting to happen in the EU. We are not tearing ourselves out of the heart of a thriving organisation, but sensibly detaching ourselves from an ailing bloc that has within it the increasingly obvious seeds of self-destruction. We will be of much more use to the EU in the long term as a strong and independent ally than as a disgruntled partner.
I finish by praising in her absence my noble friend Lady Meyer for her words this evening; let us be more confident in our own nation and drive this matter forward with a sensible deal that everybody wants to see.