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My Lords, it is a pleasure to join in at this stage in the debate and recognise the contribution that the House of Lords is making to showing that you can debate the issues of Brexit without the sort of bad temper and extraordinarily bad conduct that has existed in the other place and led to a serious loss of public respect for Parliament.
In the various exchanges that have taken place, I particularly enjoyed the contribution of my noble friend Lord Heseltine, who is of course an authority on good jokes in conference speeches. I seem to remember him on one occasion describing Labour’s economic policy as “all Balls”, in reference to the shadow Chancellor of the time, which the Conservative conference much enjoyed. I also very much agree with him that the failure to consult the Cabinet on recent issues is extremely poor and certainly should not be repeated. It is also a severe reflection on the present membership of that Cabinet.
I also believe that it was a very serious mistake to seek to prorogue Parliament when we did. There was no need for it and I certainly was opposed to it at the time. But that is probably as far as I go in supporting my noble friend. His enthusiasm for all things European was perhaps helped by the fact that he used to delegate to me the responsibility of going to all the Environment Council meetings in Europe, avoiding the problem of getting involved himself in some of those discussions—but I will let that pass.
The reason I am concerned about the paralysis we have had over Brexit is that we now live in an extremely dangerous world. Look around at the situation in Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan. Look at Iran and its activities. Look at the growing strength of China, the risk of American isolationism and the push from China at this stage, just after its great 70th anniversary. Russia and China both have 2 million men under arms at this time, in a dangerous and unstable world. There is the difficulty and embarrassment of Hong Kong, coming at a time of semi-paralysis, when the people of Hong Kong are looking to see what the United Kingdom might or might not be prepared to do and getting a pretty big lack of clear signals.
There are other challenges that are quite new to the world. Undoubtedly, there are dire warnings about climate change. There are the far too inadequately considered problems of population growth, which will lead to continuing mass migration, particularly out of Africa, and the changes that that will produce. There are the new developments of cyber and social media. There was the issue of drones even before we had the attack in Saudi Arabia, and the new, cheap weapons that are available around the world to terrorist groups and hostile Governments, for extremely dangerous activities. And at this time, here is the United Kingdom, paralysed pathetically and battling through this issue. Against that background, we have proudly used the phrase that the United Kingdom has “a contribution to make”. We talk about being a force for good in the world, but this force is paralysed and is not making the contribution that is seriously needed.
I come to this situation. I had the honour to move a Motion on the Address for the Queen’s Speech. That speech referred to the proposal for a referendum Bill. I said in that speech that I hoped we would remain, but also that there would be a substantial vote in favour of leaving. I represented the United Kingdom for six years in different Councils of Ministers, and I found that the strength of the United Kingdom’s position was that we did have reservations about Europe and that, if we did not bring some attention to the issues that we were raising, there was a risk that we might leave. We can talk about the budget rebate, about no thank you to the euro or no Schengen. But that card is now lost. I also see the developments happening in the European Union. I notice that it is seeking to appoint a new commissioner for the eastward progression of the European Union.
In making these very truncated remarks necessary to oblige all noble Lords today, I feel that we now have to accept that Europe is moving away. I used to represent the United Kingdom when there were nine around the table. With 28 and rising, and an increased pressure for a united states of Europe, now is the time to enter into a sensible agreement to remove from the European Union, but to set down straight away work to establish the friendliest relationships going forward with all those countries in Europe and the European Union itself.