My Lords, “I’m 16 … Your Vote, My Future”. That was a placard photographed on the front of the Evening Standard and published on Friday. One headline said that 1 million people “marched to stop” the Brexit “madness”; another one said that over 5.5 million people had signed the petition to revoke Article 50. I do not imagine that Mrs May even noticed these headlines, or looked out of the window. So caught up is she in saving her position and her deal for her party that she ignores any other opinion.
The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, joked at the start of the last debate about the need to find something fresh to say—but he is only partially correct. Most of what noble Lords have suggested in these debates has been ignored or rejected in the Prime Minister’s single-minded pursuit of her deal—a deal unacceptable to right or left, remain or leave; a deal that leaves us in chaos; and a deal compromised by premature, unachievable red lines and a determination not to yield to any other point of view. Even now, days before our scheduled exit, it appears that she would prefer to plunge the country over the cliff in a no deal, if and when her plan is rejected.
The fate of the Prime Minister is irrelevant to most of the public. They crave a statesman, which the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, alluded to; a leader to take control and acknowledge that most voters in the referendum, whether they voted leave or remain, did not know the cost or the implications of leaving. They certainly did not vote to become poorer. I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—the economy is most important to them. Nor did they vote to make this country a laughing stock—which it is rapidly becoming in the foreign press—to devalue the pound, to see the Treasury spend millions on stockpiling essentials or to turn Kent into a huge lorry park.
The Prime Minister has not done much to bring the country together, but has instead alienated Members of Parliament in an attempt to blame them, rather than herself, for this chaos. We need a statesman to put country before party, to explain to voters why the Brexit promises of 2016 are not on offer or available, and to show that it is impossible to leave without damaging the UK economically and culturally. I refer again to the wonderful Erasmus programme, which has provided so many of our young university students with invaluable experience of studying abroad.
It is, above all, our young people who are going to be most damaged by a hard Brexit—hence the placard that the young boy was carrying, to which I alluded at the beginning of my remarks. They are the ones, mostly disenfranchised in 2016, who see their prospects and horizons narrowed by this insane desire to stop our citizens moving around and working throughout Europe. Indeed, the inward migration pressure from eastern European countries is diminishing, as wages rise rapidly in those countries and their people see the “Not Welcome Here” signs illuminated at Dover and Heathrow.
We have rehearsed endlessly the threat to our businesses and industries, and the incipient dearth of labour to service our agriculture, our hospitality and health industries, to name a few—but to no avail. It is that mantra again: the will of the people. Somehow it is democratic to ask the House of Commons to vote three times on the same Motion, but undemocratic to ask the nation to reconfirm its opinion of three years ago. However the next vote goes this week—if it happens at all—we have generously been given some extra time by the EU to make up our minds, to stand on the edge of the cliff, to come to our senses and to realise that this agony, this disruption, this cost and this division are not worth it.
One of the main failures of Mrs May’s deal is the lack of detail over our future trading arrangements with the bloc in the political declaration paper. This is a vital part on which our prosperity will depend. It leaves our economy at the mercy of negotiations over the next few years. I agree with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Let us revoke Article 50 and admit that we were wrong, perhaps confirming it by a people’s vote. Too much to hope for, perhaps, but then history will judge those who get it wrong.