My Lords, before the Christmas Recess I had convinced myself that there was no point in adding my name to the long list of speakers taking part in the Brexit withdrawal debate. Potentially, every view had already been expressed anyway but now, as the Brexit situation worsens and time is running out, I feel the need to make a brief contribution—“brief” being the crucial word—and put down my marker, even if I find myself saying some of the things that many others have said.
Like almost everybody in or out of Parliament, I am approaching despair at the Government’s inability to come to an agreement with the EU that can satisfy a majority of MPs. I am beginning to think that any deal would be better than nothing. That view is, I suppose, what Mrs May is counting on. At least she has a deal of sorts to offer but if it is rejected by the Commons, as most pundits believe it will be, the best way in which the country can get out of this mess, in the short term anyway, is to continue as a member of the EU in the hope that, by working from the inside, in time we can reverse and amend some of Brussels’s restrictions that so frustrate us.
However, because of the result of the last referendum, there is no way in which this Government, or any other for that matter, will allow Britain to remain in the EU without holding a second referendum or people’s vote, as we like to call it. It would need to result in a clear majority for the remainers. Would any Government risk this? After all, we remainers regarded holding the first referendum, or at least its result, as being responsible for the ghastly mess in which we find ourselves. Who dares to call another one? Certainly not this Government, it seems.
I have only two firm convictions that I have stood by from the beginning. One is that a no-deal Brexit would be a catastrophe for this country. Here there is a majority in agreement on that. The second is, whether we like it or not—and I happen to like it—we are part of Europe. Our future and that of our grandchildren depend on us being part of Europe. Any influence we may have in this ever more threatening world depends on us being part of Europe. Ideally, on many issues, we should be speaking for Europe.
However, many Brexiters seem to believe that we can go it alone and just float ourselves out into the middle of the Atlantic and, being such a plucky and resourceful little country, we can thrive on our own—free from restrictions imposed on us by foreigners. They are living in a dangerous fantasy world and their unrealistic optimism must be resisted.