My Lords, I will explain briefly why I shall support the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister, albeit with great reluctance and very considerable reservations. I shall also support the amendment to the regret Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for the reasons that he so eloquently expressed.
I start from the proposition that I am wholly opposed to the policy of Brexit. I believe that Brexit will damage Britain in many important respects. The dire economic consequences were highlighted in the recent Treasury and Bank of England assessments. If this were the moment to do so, I would vote to stop Brexit, either through a decision of Parliament or a further referendum—or more probably both. If that were not possible, I would support the softest version of Brexit available.
But now is not the moment for that. Those questions are not now before the House, although they may very soon be. What we are presently discussing is the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister. That is the subject of this debate. I acknowledge that many criticisms can properly be made of the deal—from both sides of the argument. Some of those defects were very clearly identified in the hitherto private advice from the Attorney-General to the Cabinet, and have also been developed by noble Lords in this House. However, despite the fact that many of those criticisms are wholly valid, I shall support the deal for fear of worse: namely, crashing out of the EU without a deal.
I know that many of my remainer friends will oppose the deal on the basis that out of rejection comes chaos, out of chaos comes opportunity and out of opportunity will come salvation. Their optimism has been much encouraged by the advice given by the Advocate General to the European Court and by the procedural amendment tabled by Mr Dominic Grieve and passed by the House of Commons yesterday. Both of these developments are much to be welcomed, but I am not yet sufficiently persuaded to take the risk of rejecting the Prime Minister’s deal.
I acknowledge that out of rejection chaos will ensue, and that out of chaos opportunities will emerge—but of salvation I am not confident. A disaster seems equally probable. I fear that, by inadvertence, error, misjudgments, lack of leadership, or an inability to assemble a cross-party consensus, we could crash out of the EU without a deal. That would be a calamity and it is a risk that I am not willing to run. It is on that narrow—and I admit very fragile—basis that I support the deal.
However, if the deal fails, as seems very probable, I shall support whatever measures seem most likely to keep us in the European Union on existing terms—most especially through a further referendum, following the early withdrawal of the Article 50 notification which, as a result of the Grieve amendment, the House of Commons could and should direct. If such a referendum is not available I shall support the softest possible version of Brexit.
I shall make common cause with whoever supports these views. That is what many Conservatives did in the 1930s when they rallied behind the national Government. My grandfather was among them. That is what the Conservatives did in May 1940 when they replaced Chamberlain with Churchill. My father was among them. That is what many Labour MPs did when they voted to join the Common Market. On all of these occasions the national interest was deemed paramount. If this deal fails to command support in the House of Commons, we must unite, across parties, if necessary under a Government of national unity, to prevent the disaster of no deal.