My Lords, this is actually a simple and quite straightforward Bill, but that does not make it unimportant. What it seeks to prevent—a no-deal crash-out on the simple say-so of the Prime Minister—has major implications.
Like other noble Lords, I spent August in France where, at a birthday party, I met Monsieur Serge Ratel, born in Normandy soon after the war. Learning that I was British, he fixed me with a steady but rather sad eye and—I hope I have translated this properly, because my French is not perfect—said, “You Brits have done so much for us. You rescued us during the war and then, in the way that you engineered the post-war reconstruction, you enabled us to recover in a way that made possible the European Union. Since you have been in, you have helped steer our whole continent and helped us remain at peace with ourselves and with each other”. He went on to say that while, as strong allies, the EU could survive without us, as it had done in its early years, our leaving without a deal would harm not just the UK but the EU itself.
That is what the Bill is about. It is not about whether we leave but about the method of our going—whether we depart as friends, neighbours and allies, with agreement between us and in a way that best supports our economy, security and the people across the continent. It matters for them, but how we leave also matters for our democracy. It must not happen without the consent of the Commons.
We rehearsed the economic and security risks of no deal in your Lordships’ House on Tuesday. This Bill is about something else. It does not say that we could never leave without a deal. It says that that could happen only provided the Commons agrees. We have already in your Lordships’ House helped write into the withdrawal Act that any deal on which we leave must have the consent of the Commons, so this Bill simply extends that to include leaving without a deal. To ensure that that is the case, it requires the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period, either to provide time for that deal or to allow the Commons to concur with a no-deal exit, if that is what the Prime Minister is to recommend.
So the Bill is actually quite simple, it is democratic and we will support it from these Benches.