My Lords, the Minister was kind enough to praise your Lordships’ House for its stamina. With your Lordships’ permission, I should like to return the compliment and praise him for the calm and reasonable way in which he has handled our debates.
It has all been a big misunderstanding. You hear it said that the people have spoken, that we had the biggest democratic vote in British history, that we must respect—that is the word used—the will of the people. It is said that we made a decision. It is true. We did make a decision in the referendum. The decision was: we cannot decide; we are not sure. The misunderstanding of that result is the cause of all our present difficulties.
You hear it said that the referendum result was the same as a general election, in which one vote is enough. But we, the people, do not agree. We know better. We never challenge a general election result, even if it is a victory by only one vote. That is because we know that, if we change our mind, we can change the Government at the next general election. This referendum is not like that. The result cannot be changed, and therefore one vote is not enough. In the court of public opinion, this would be called a “hung jury” or “deadlocked jury”; that is,
“a judicial jury that cannot agree upon a verdict after extended deliberation and is unable to reach the required unanimity or supermajority”.
That is the definition.
The problem arises all because of one word: “sovereignty”. What is in that word? Is there such a thing? What about the weather? For temperature, we do not seem to mind centigrade rather than Fahrenheit. For distance, metres and centimetres are okay rather than feet and inches. Regarding time, we are about to put our clocks back with Europe. On weight, I do not know about other noble Lords, but I have only kilograms on my digital scales, not pounds and ounces. We do not seem to object to the same procedures on science and medical research, terrorism, security, banking regulations, et cetera. Therefore, we now need a more grown-up conversation.
Usually, one conversation is enough to change history. It has happened many times before, so why do we not try it now? There are only three people in the room for this conversation, which is as it should be: our Prime Minister, the “PM”, and “Them”, the German Chancellor and the French President. This is the conversation that should take place—it is not too late:
“PM: Lately it seems we can’t talk without arguing.
Them: Well, what do you want now?
PM: We need to have a little talk, that’s all.
Them: About what?
PM: We’re through. Out. You know that—
Them: We don’t really care whether you come or go. All we care about is that you don’t set a precedent for anyone else.
PM: What about the Irish border problem?
Them: Northern Ireland? Where’s that again?
PM: We want a deal.
Them: Trade deals? Of course. No problem. My assistant will book a conference call.
PM: I know it annoys you to set a precedent. I’m not asking for any special treatment for us. Just a few changes in the EU for the benefit of all fellow members.
Them: Fellow members! From you! You think only of yourself. You’ve been sulking for years! Variable geometry! Two-speed Europe! Opt-outs!
PM: Yes, sorry about that.
Them: And we’re sorry that you’re leaving.
PM: Oh, you didn’t want us to leave? Why didn’t you say that before?
Them: So what?
PM: So, I’ve only got one question for you. We’ve had three years of arguments about our terms for leaving. How about three minutes on terms for remaining? If we agree to stay, what are you offering?
Them: What do you want?
PM: We don’t want anything. We’re leaving anyway. But you keep saying how sad you are to see us leaving, how bad that would be.
Them: So? Go on.
PM: We want equality. With you two. That’s all. Not a subordinate. Not a junior member. We don’t want you to boss us around. And we don’t want to boss you around. Equality. Equal voting rights with you on all EU legislation.
Them: What else?
PM: We want to recognise free movement of people, but we also want to recognise the legitimate concerns among members about uncontrolled immigration. All members want that too.
Them: Is that it? Anything else?
PM: No, nothing else. That’s it. ‘Remain-plus’ we could call it.
Them: Then you’d stay?
Them: What about America? America wants us to fail. They think your departure hurts us. America wants you to leave.
PM: They do now, but they’ll come round.
Them: And what about your Parliament? Will they go along with it?
PM: Yes, because it’s the only way to ‘heal the wounds’, ‘unite the nation’.
Them: And what about us? What do we get out of it?
PM: You get what you always wanted: unity, no breakaways, no precedent for anyone else. We all stick together. Peace, security, and the EU to be a vanguard force—a frontier spirit, an economic superpower to match America and China. What say you?
Them: OK! Done! Let’s go! When do we start?”
That conversation would change the course of European history: Britain to have voting power equal to that of France and Germany, and reasonable control of immigration. It is called leadership, and if Germany and France accepted that we were equal to them in votes, which currently we are not, everyone would be happy. Remainers would be pleased because it would make the case for remain more defensible, as we would not just be going back to where we were before, and leavers would be pleased because it would resolve their No. 1 problem—sovereignty—as we would not be subordinate to anyone.
Therefore, I encourage your Lordships’ House to end the current dismal choice that we, the people, have between the least-worst options that nobody wants. We need a North Star—a guiding light—and your Lordships’ House can help to provide it. We are at a historic moment of maximum British power in Europe. Now all we have to do is use it: one conversation to change history.