Yes, indeed. Of course, all that is what caused David Cameron to call a referendum in the first place. One must realise that when we voted to leave the EU, the Commission was outraged. It was also fearful. Once one country had taken such a step, others might follow and the whole edifice could come crashing down. Methodically and skilfully, it set about making the UK’s departure either impossible or too difficult and expensive to pursue. In this it had the collaboration of senior British civil servants, who had been equally shocked by the referendum result. The Commission has repeatedly made it clear that there are no circumstances in which the withdrawal agreement offered to Mrs May in November 2018 and subsequently, as we all know, rejected three times by the House of Commons—by the British Parliament—will be reopened for further negotiation.
The main sticking point has been the land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The EU Commission has insisted on a so-called backstop clause in the withdrawal agreement, which—this has been said and cannot be said too often—could mean that the UK would have to remain indefinitely in the EU customs union to avoid a hard border. Absurdly, it is felt by both sides that a hard border of any sort could cause the fighting between the two sides to start again. I simply do not believe that is true. The traumatic effect of the fighting was far too great. The Good Friday agreement, which took place with the help of the Americans, is much safer than people think.
The obvious example is an invisible sea border. It is interesting that only today—this is all happening now and is relevant to the legislation—it is suggested that it might be possible to have one island for the purpose of agricultural trade. If we were to have one island for agricultural trade, in my view, and presumably in the view of those who put forward this idea, this does not break the concept or idea of having a Northern Ireland which is part of the UK. I therefore hope very much that this could be extended to all sides. That would be very much better.
Mrs May, who was respected for her fortitude but not admired for her lack of flexibility in negotiating, has landed us in a state where we have to discuss this emergency legislation today. The Conservatives suffered a crushing defeat in the May elections for the European Parliament—the Labour Party even more so. That is why we have had a change of Prime Minister. The Labour Party is in even greater difficulties, largely because its leader, Mr Corbyn—this is totally relevant to the legislation that the House of Commons is in the process of passing—has been unable to make it clear whether he believes in staying or leaving.
I happen to know why that is the case. I read the Morning Star rather regularly. On
“We may well see Article 50 extended, allowing extra time either to renovate Prime Minister May’s ‘bogus Brexit’ deal or to hold a second referendum in the hope that almost three years of hysterical anti-Brexit scaremongering will reverse the results of the first … In any event, the aim will be the same: to maintain Britain’s subjection to pro-big business EU rules that would obstruct the policies of a future left-led Labour Government”.
Below, there is a lovely advertisement, “Corbyn and the Star”, offering a T-shirt which bears,
“the two great left symbols of our era—Jeremy Corbyn and the Morning Star”.
This is the big problem of Europe. It has divided politics in a most unproductive manner. I hope very much that we will not continue with the sort of discussion which the party opposite has put down in the form of a guillotine for its legislation. It will be very bad for the future of this House, which is rather more important than it seems to think.