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My Lords, I would like to get back to basics because next week I have a birthday: a birthday that places me firmly in the generation that looked to the idea of a European Union as a means of maintaining peace in Europe, the rule of law, free liberal democracy, mutual respect and collaboration through economic renewal and progress. Yes, we were idealists then. However, this view has gradually became dated and replaced by people saying, “Let’s go it alone and control our own borders—have freedom to make up our own rules and regulations, and to trade with anybody we wish”. We now know that this has divided the country. It has divided us into those who are determined to leave, whatever the cost, and those who are alarmed and concerned about the cost and disruption and seek to minimise it. I belong to the latter group. Why? It is because of the size, the cost, the enormity of the disruption and the time it will take to adapt. All these things cause me great alarm.
In spite of all the assurances of a smooth exit, I think the Government have become alarmed too. They are desperately trying to prepare for the disruption through a whole ornithology of studies. We all know about Yellowhammer and the emergency plans to deal with the disruption of supplies but there is also Snow Bunting, which deals with the preparations the police have to make in the event of social disruption. Then there is Kingfisher, a scheme to save companies from collapse, presumably with financial support; and Black Swan, a picture of worst-case scenarios. Yellowhammer has been published in all its worrying detail. Will the Minister publish the other reports, or are they just too worrisome to contemplate?
There is yet more to worry about, such as Operation Brock and the disruption to ferry and road traffic that can be caused by delay or non-compliance. Yesterday, we heard about the dangers to health in losing access to food safety alerts. We know about the threats of violence to our politicians, particularly women. We know that civil servants too are being targeted, with one party leader accusing them of not doing a neutral job. What is the name of the bird that will help to protect our politicians and our civil servants from these pressures, so that they can properly carry out their tasks?
We in Parliament also have a considerable task. On
We were promised a whole range of new opportunities. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what these opportunities will be when we leave the EU, with or without an agreement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could not tell the Conservative Party conference. All he could do was to ask people to identify EU regulations that we can improve or remove—a kind of Red Tape Challenge. Is this really the best that the Government can do? If it is, fairly soon even the Brexiteers and the Government’s own supporters will turn on them.
Now that all these difficulties, problems and costs are apparent, I ask the Minister: do we really want to inflict them on ourselves? Do we really want to have years of uncertainty in grappling with the consequences, known and unknown? Surely, now is the time that people deserve a chance to think again, as any sensible person would do. Indeed, when I compare this scenario with the one that I described all those years ago, it does not seem dated to me now. The opportunity to think again would be an excellent birthday present next week.