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My Lords, it is a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord who just spoke, not least because he gave us an insight into Europe, which I do not possess. For nearly 25 years of my life I sat in a marginal seat, and managed to win it for most of those 25 years. When you sit in a marginal seat, you have to listen to the public and to the floating vote, not just the hard core of your constituents.
I want particularly to thank the two Front-Benchers: the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter—she has disappeared, but I gather she will be back in a matter of minutes—and the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, who is temporarily absent. It is not just they who have borne the burden; the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition have, too. They were in from day one after the extraordinary referendum result—seats in the north and the south of England voted to leave the EU—so they have had an important role in communicating what your Lordships’ House feels to their Members of Parliament in the other place. They have been given quite a burden, and I thank them for bearing it.
After the referendum, we had the general election. In that election, both parties’ manifestos were quite clear: the referendum result should be implemented. The issue before us this evening is the Prime Minister’s deal, not what is in the political declaration—we know there is some flexibility there—so any talk about a Canada deal or a Norway deal is pretty irrelevant this evening. It does not matter that I voted to remain. That is totally irrelevant. It is irrelevant to every Conservative Member of Parliament, every Labour Member of Parliament, and all the other Members of Parliament in the other place. It is no good people who were elected to represent the people then deciding to abstain. Not a single Member of Parliament will get much thanks from their constituents for abstaining—they are sent there to make a decision one way or another. It is no good a couple of Members of Parliament, in particular, Mr Letwin and Ms Cooper, trying to take the high ground from the Government of the day—what arrogance. I do not think that is acceptable.
I remind myself that all the MPs in the two big parties signed up to the referendum and their manifestos. Maybe the EU is very difficult to work with. My noble friend who spoke earlier is right to point out that we have never really been totally committed to it, other than during the period of just two Prime Ministers. Maybe Mrs May’s agreement on offer is not perfect—I do not think any of us believes it is perfect—but it is all that is on offer today. It is there, it is available and—this is the key point—it creates Brexit. We go back to that referendum and what the people of this country wanted.
I spent this morning in Northampton, where it happened to be press day for photographs of the cricket first 11. They will succeed only if they work as a team. For me, the most important part of this morning’s visit, apart from encouraging the troops, was to listen to our sponsors, large and small. I will now tell your Lordships what three of them said to me, while almost pinning me against the wall: “Michael, speak up for us, please. We need a decision—a deal or no deal. No more indecision. No more putting it off for another day”. I interpret that as no more kicking the can down the road, and no extension of Article 50. “But”, they said, and to me this is the key point, “Unless we get a decision, there will be no further investment”. I come from industry and commerce, and I know that this is absolutely crucial to the future of our country.
I finish on a quote, deliberately from a Labour Prime Minister. A number of my colleagues in the House will know I have a deep interest and involvement with the Indian subcontinent. Over the weekend, I looked up what Clement Attlee said at a difficult time, to create independence for India. A good number of MPs said that it could not be done then, because it was all too difficult and would cause absolute chaos; they said they would not support him. And he said, in winding up his long speech:
“The British Commonwealth of Nations survives today, and has survived through the strain of two great wars, precisely because it is not static, but is constantly developing, and because it has throughout the years steadily changed … My hope is that we may forget past differences and remember only how often and in how many fields of human endeavour Britons … have worked together in harmony.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/1947; col. 2462.]
It was a great speech. Churchill was ill at the time, so Macmillan had to respond. He agreed with what Clement had said.
There is a lesson here for all of us. We are not really leaving Europe and our millions of friends there—my second name is Wolfgang, and I feel I am part of the EU. We are Europeans in that sense and will remain so, but we are also an energetic and creative nation, particularly in trade, commerce and industry. We want some freedom to develop that.
I ask every Conservative Member now to support the May agreement—perhaps some will have to bite their tongue. I suggest to those on the Front Bench opposite that every Labour MP should think hard about their constituencies and the people they represent. They should bite their tongues as well. We must remember that, during Harold Wilson’s referendum—while I sat in that marginal seat with a majority of 179—I stood shoulder to shoulder with my next door neighbour, a Labour Member of Parliament, because we both believed in the future of our country. We put that ahead of anything else.
I return to those on both Front Benches—and I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, now in her place. I suggest they need to liaise and work more closely together than it appears has been happening on the surface. After tonight’s debate, I hope that those on both Front Benches will communicate to those in the other place and their followers that, although it is not a perfect withdrawal agreement, it opens the crucial gate of Brexit. If we achieve that and allow it to happen, confidence, that very tender plant, will return to our people, our commerce and our industry.