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My Lords, we have repeatedly heard this week the Conservative conference slogan: “Get Brexit Done”, followed by, “then we can get on with our domestic priorities”. That is an entirely false prospectus. Deal or no deal, if we leave the EU, our leaving on
What is more, the Government’s approach to our domestic priorities involves spending commitments as unbelievable as the £350 million a week on the leave bus. Such commitments depend on continuing economic success, when all economists agree that leaving the EU on any terms, let alone with no deal, would carry major economic cost. Notwithstanding that, Mr Johnson today advanced a tax-cutting agenda. Despite all those contradictions, the Government assert that “Get Brexit Done” is the people’s demand, but that assertion, in its unqualified terms, is unsupported by any evidence.
Certainly, the electorate is sick of the hostility, the political paralysis, the corrosion of our public life and the failure of the Government to do anything but Brexit, but “Get Brexit Done” will not address that. No, the real majority is for the blunt proposition: “Make it stop!”. The simple truth is that the only way to make it stop is to abandon Brexit altogether, whether by a remain vote in a referendum or by revoking our Article 50 notice.
Yes, there would be national embarrassment, but we would at least be turning back from disaster before we suffered the consequences of leaving. Yes, there would be many disappointed people who voted leave conscientiously, but many of them now recognise the impossibility of leaving without massive disadvantage. Many also recognise how international circumstances have changed: the dangers of an expansionist China, an aggressive Russia, a dangerous Iran, a still explosive Middle East and the mercurial unpredictability of President Trump’s United States.
In addition, our citizens increasingly see combating climate change as a priority and appreciate the EU’s massive contribution to that effort. Young people, more even than in 2016, value their freedom to study and work throughout the EU. More people now see the value of European co-operation in research and innovation, security and policing, law enforcement and co-operation in civil law. Yet, if these new proposals on the Irish border are rejected—as well they may be—we are threatened with an immediate end to all those benefits in a no-deal Brexit, with all its catastrophic consequences, graphically set out in the Yellowhammer documents, because our apparent willingness to accept no deal is said to increase the chance of securing a deal.
We now finally have the Government’s outline proposals to replace the backstop. The conduct of Ireland and the EU to date suggests that they are not so easily cowed and are too sophisticated to be threatened into accepting them against their interest. So was Parliament in passing the Benn Act. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, my noble friend Lord Campbell and others have questioned how the Government may respond.
Yesterday, we celebrated the opening of the legal year with international leaders of the legal profession, who have long admired Britain as a standard-bearer for the rule of law. The rule of law requires more than obedience to our courts, although the Supreme Court has fully demonstrated its quality and independence in striking down the purported Prorogation. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, pointed out, the rule of law also requires that the Government conscientiously strive to act according to law. The Benn Act is now the law. The Government must seek to comply with it, not merely because they fail to find a loophole but because our system depends on respect for the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament. If the Benn Act’s conditions apply, will the Government conscientiously strive to agree an extension with the EU? Then there can be an election or a binding referendum.
I add that it is in no way undemocratic to allow the people to revisit a generalised decision made in the spring of 2016 and express their view again in the light of the present circumstances and new knowledge at the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020. Let us have an end to this loose talk of Parliament against the people. At the heart of our democracy is the principle that Parliament represents the people. It is a principle worth defending.