My Lords, I very much welcome the debate in the House this afternoon. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who spoke before me, that this was a United Kingdom vote, not a regional vote. I could point to parts of this United Kingdom that also voted to stay within Europe. Do we treat them differently? I do not think so. The vote, as far as we are concerned, was right across the United Kingdom.
A week is a long time in politics and the uncertainties over Brexit will certainly intensify over the next number of weeks, with our precious union very much at the heart of the storm. The issue of the union has been central to much of the criticism levelled against our Prime Minister. It was specifically cited by many of those Cabinet Ministers who resigned their ministerial posts several weeks ago. They realised that the integrity of the United Kingdom should not be undermined simply to comply with the EU’s desire to protect its own single market. Of course, in Northern Ireland, the focus has been on the deal agreed with the EU by the Prime Minister and the so-called backstop, a deal which puts the union, which she professes to cherish, at such grave risk.
These are critical times for our precious union, and we must all act in the national interest. I agree with noble Lords: our union is evolving, and has evolved over the last 100 years. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have different devolution models, but that should not stop us protecting this union. In Scotland, Scottish nationalists are pushing for another referendum on independence. In Northern Ireland, we know that people use Brexit to frustrate the union. Unfortunately, this Government, and especially the Prime Minister, have allowed the border to be used by some people in Northern Ireland as a political stick to beat her with in negotiating a deal with Europe. That is the tragedy of this whole thing. I have to say to the House, we have been let down by a British Prime Minister who gave us so many promises on the backstop and the border, and then agreed to a deal that certainly creates a major problem for ourselves as unionists in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister talked about her beloved union. In fact, at her party conference she talked about her “precious union”. If the Prime Minister really believes in what she says—I believe she does—the integrity of the United Kingdom should be the most important issue for her in the future and in future negotiations with the European Union. We continually said to the Prime Minister that the road she was travelling would leave many issues for the unionist community in Northern Ireland in particular, but also the whole community. I do not think we should allow anybody—Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland—to find a way of damaging this beloved union.