My Lords, my noble friend Lord True asked me to speak to this amendment; it is an interesting amendment to speak to. The amendment relates particularly to the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit and the effect of this guillotine on them. I point out that fact because, in the past, noble Lords have not always read the amendment. As the amendment says, it comes,
“in recognition of the fact that the vote of 17.4 million people in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union is no longer relevant and may be ignored or further deferred”.
That is a very depressing situation for those people. They are not following the intricacies of what is happening in your Lordships’ House today. They will be as mystified as some of us are. None the less, all I can say is that a dangerous impression is being given by today’s proceedings and, to some extent, by yesterday’s proceedings in another place: that the view of the people is being ignored through Parliament’s hijacking of what they said. I suggest that that will have an interesting ripple effect if and when an election takes place, not least because the terms of an election have changed—in recent hours, almost.
Not long ago, the movement was for a fresh referendum. At that stage, the discussion was all about what the question in the referendum should be. In fact, the Brexit side worried considerably about whether the question would divide the Brexit vote. This morning, of course, Sir Keir Starmer, on behalf of the Labour Party, gave a clear, unequivocal and, I hope, binding view that, in a general election, the Labour Party would campaign to remain. By doing so, he has succeeded in dividing the remain vote because, in that situation, the remain vote will be divided between the Liberal Democrats, who have always believed in remain, and the Labour Party, which has not always believed in remain. In fact, it has been very difficult to know what it does believe in. Perhaps we ought to look at the backdrop to all this. Why on earth are we in this position at all? I had better declare my own position very clearly, in case it is of interest to anyone: in the referendum I voted, marginally, to leave. If there were to be another vote or referendum, I would vote enthusiastically to leave because of what I believe has been happening in Europe. I would like to remind noble Lords of the backdrop to all our discussions.
In my view, the EU project is proving a tragic example of weakness through strength. The original purpose of bringing peace to a war-torn Europe in the treaty of Rome 1957 was achieved long ago. The successor objective of bringing together for free trade and economic collaboration an enthusiastic group of like-minded democratic European countries to enhance their mutual stability and prosperity was a success for many years. As President de Gaulle famously described it in 1962, the year in which the common agricultural policy was launched, it was meant to be a group of nation states retaining their cultures and their legal, political and national identities and traditions: a “Europe des patries” or “Europe des nations”—I think he used both phrases.
Earlier, the American states had joined together to forge a new democratic identity in a rather similar way. The world flocked to the United States to become American and to find wealth. The rights of states were set out with admirable clarity in 1791 in the 28 words of the 10th Amendment to the American constitution. It was not until 200 years later, in the EU Maastricht treaty in 1991—30 years after the signing of the treaty of Rome—