My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. As always, I listened with intense interest to his contribution. I say today with great sadness but with absolute conviction that the agreement so painstakingly negotiated by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stems from dreadfully flawed advice and is nothing short of catastrophic. I am on record in your Lordships’ House as recognising the pain felt by many of your Lordships following the referendum result and, in consequence, I always hoped that a compromise that reflected the narrow win by leave was achievable, but today we are asked to take note of an agreement that, to my mind, is worse by magnitudes than anything I could have imagined.
Whatever redeeming features may be embedded in this agreement, and I accept that there are some, I touch today on two aspects that, for me, are quite impossible to accept. Under this deal, we would need to match all and any trade concessions offered by the EU to third countries. However, the obligation of those third countries to reciprocate would apply only to the EU 27 and not to Britain. Put another way, our home market would be at the disposal of EU trade negotiators to use exclusively for the benefit of the remaining EU 27. I wonder how a country such as ours could even contemplate such political and economic suicide.
No one, I think, quarrels with the notion that the first duty of the state is the defence of its citizens. Here I rely on the authority of others in concluding that the withdrawal agreement degrades, perhaps fatally, our ability to discharge that duty, through undermining our place at the heart of NATO and the functioning of the vital Five Eyes alliance. This alarming threat has led Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, to join forces with the former Chief of the Defence Staff, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, to raise this issue in the starkest terms.
It is surely beyond argument that the UK is legally and morally entitled to withdraw from a European project that keeps evolving in a direction in which British voters do not wish to go. I think the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, touched on this. That direction is constantly rehearsed by the functionaries of the EU, who make no secret of their federalist ambitions. The same applies to some, but not all, of the political leaders. Remain-minded people here are entirely silent on the implications of this country becoming part of a federal EU. Either they are too craven to admit to wanting such an outcome or they cherish the hope that somehow it will not happen. I find neither position deserves respect. The late Richard Crossman said:
“The amount of enthusiasm for federal union in any country is a measure of its defeatism and of its feeling of inability to measure up to its own problems”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/6/1950; col. 2039.]
Many noble Lords are given to adorning all discussion on a clean break from the EU on WTO terms with the words “unthinkable”, “crashing out”, “disastrous”, “chaos” and more of the same. I wonder whether they paused over the Christmas break to read a wide assortment of contributions from highly capable entrepreneurs and industrialists who take a different and opposite view. Only last week, my remaining noble friend Lord Finkelstein was politely corrected by the hugely distinguished Mr Shanker Singham and others who really understand international trade. Outstandingly successful British manufacturers such as Sir James Dyson or my noble friend Lord Bamford confirm how little we have to fear from a clean break. I respectfully suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—I do not know if he is in his place—is wrong to imply that only people of means are relaxed about a clean break. I could point to scores of small entrepreneurs who share my view.
I predict, I hope wrongly, that when the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, wind up—neither of them, I think, would claim to have even passing personal experience of trade or national security—they will ignore or repudiate the advice of those whose long and distinguished careers confer on them unparalleled authority.
For most of my adult life, I have chaired a diverse SME family business and my personal interests are detailed in the register. I have traded in some 50 countries in the world. Although my preference would be for a deal such as Canada-plus-plus-plus, I harbour no fears about the future under WTO terms—139 other countries manage it without extravagant distress. Do I pretend to know what is in store for my family business outside the EU? Of course I do not; no one does. Do I think everything will be better? Possibly not, but of this I am perfectly certain: it will get worse if we stay shackled to a sclerotic and moribund EU.
The point is that we are up for it and ready to seize the opportunities the future brings. The referendum result was a rebellion against a cast of unaccountable EU officials, whom power has corrupted and who visit pain, misery and financial hardship on the most vulnerable throughout the EU. What is there to like about this construct, over which there already hangs a sense of decay and morbidity? With or without a deal, this ghastly saga must end now so that we can begin once again to build bridges, revive old friendships and look once more to the world outside, where real growth resides.