My Lords, I never thought, just over 20 years ago when I came to your Lordships’ House, that this evening I would be debating withdrawing from Europe. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is right. Previously, many thought that the noble Lord who has just spoken was not really on the ball—but he clearly is on the ball in relation to the challenges we face today.
I make it quite clear that I voted to remain. I had the privilege of working overseas for five years of my life—most of it in south-east Asia, although there was a period in Canada. I am used to trading and exporting; I am certainly used to negotiating with Indians in India; so my background is of someone who understands industry and commerce. I was a founder member, I think, of the young European managers’ association in the 1960s. I was an active member of the council of the European campaign of the Conservative Party. My heritage in relation to Europe is there even in my second name: Wolfgang. I think that that says enough for most people in the Chamber: it is in the genes, as they say. Yet I stand before you deeply worried about what is happening today.
In a sense, I have suffered for the cause. My noble friend the former Speaker of the House of Commons knows that I was her Deputy Speaker—and, more relevantly, chairman of Ways and Means. I took the whole of the Maastricht treaty. To remind your Lordships, that created the European Union, set up the euro and set up the ability for families to locate somewhere within the European Union. Some 25 days on the Floor of the House of Commons; four all-night sittings—and all it was, was four clauses and the Title. At the end of the day Tony Benn MP came into my office and said, “I am moving a vote of no confidence in you, Mr Chairman of Ways and Means”. I said, “What have I done?”. “You have done it far too well”, he said. “We have not really managed to persuade the Government to change”. I said, “That is all very well”—but at any rate we saw him off and the majority I got on that fateful evening of
So my commitment is there—but when I look at what may happen tomorrow in the other place, I am deeply worried. Because I deeply believe in what was the European Union as far as we were concerned, I do not think that my friends in the Commons face an easy decision. The suggestions that have been put before them are difficult to vote on. We all know—perhaps we do not all know but certainly I believe—that the methodology used to negotiate leaves much to be desired, not least the change of management on the way through.
So I am deeply concerned, but it is for those in the Commons to make their decision. I sat in a marginal seat, with majorities initially of 179 and 142—it improved a bit over time. When you sit in a marginal seat, you listen to what people are thinking. It was quite clear—was it not?—to all of us in the referendum that the majority of our citizens wanted to leave the EU. That is there in black and white. Unfortunately, the then Prime Minister did not quite decide whether or not it was binding. But they made that decision and we should respect it.
If tomorrow’s vote goes against Her Majesty’s Government, they will have to think really seriously about no deal. I made some calls over the weekend to hauliers in Northampton. “What will happen?”, I asked. “Are you going to be stuck at Dover or Calais?”. “No”, they said. “We have known it was coming. We have made preparations. We have altered the software. No lorry will leave Northampton to go to the continent unless it has clearance”—and they are totally confident that they can get that in a few weeks. I talked to other industrialists. Look at the City of London. It has invested in micro-offices throughout the 27 countries. This is happening up and down our country today. It has happened. Yes, the small businesses will face problems, and Her Majesty’s Government are supposed to be doing something about that.
At the end of the day, we all have to face up to our responsibilities. If the great British public want to come out of the EU, and if MPs do not vote for the Government tomorrow, in my judgment we will have to look at a hard deal. It is a deal. It is a challenging deal, but we need some leadership and some nerve. But the opportunities are there. Our trade balance with the EU is not that smart. We are in deficit and have been for years. We have never really looked at the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has two and a half times the number of people there are in the EU. There is an ageing population in Europe and a young, thrusting population in the Commonwealth. I believe that the opportunities are there and it all depends on tomorrow evening. If the Government get their majority, so be it—good. But if they do not, I will not be afraid to stand up and accept that no deal is the way forward.