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My Lords, it is always something of a bittersweet pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, if only as a faint reminder of the long-ago days when we worked together in relative harmony. I begin by addressing one of the observations made in her opening remarks by the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition. She complained that the views of the 16 million people who voted to remain in the European Union referendum were being, to use her word, “ignored”.
I pose this question. Can there be any doubt that if it had gone the other way—if 17.4 million people had voted to remain and 16 million people had voted to leave—the view of the 16 million would have been, to use the noble Baroness’s word, “ignored”? Can there be any doubt that we would simply have remained in the European Union and the 16 million people’s views would have been ignored? In fact, the decision to remain or to leave is in essence a binary choice, and that choice was made by the people of the United Kingdom in the referendum of 2016. In particular for the reasons advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, with whose speech I entirely agreed, that decision must be respected and implemented.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the result of his negotiations. He has achieved what I believe to be a good deal—a deal that many thought impossible—and he deserves full credit for that. The merits and alleged demerits of the deal have been extensively disseminated over the airwaves and in print over the past few days and in your Lordships’ House this morning. I do not propose to weary your Lordships by repeating them: I want to make one simple additional point.
The cry of those who oppose this deal—I exclude the opposition from the Brexit Party, which verges on the eccentric—and which we have heard this morning, is that Brexit, including the form of Brexit in this deal, will damage our economy. That argument, which we have heard many times, is based on forecasts that may well prove mistaken. I think it was the great economist John Kenneth Galbraith who said that economic forecasting was invented only to give astrology a bad name.
I think everyone would agree that our economic performance has been held back over the past three years by the uncertainty over our future that has bedevilled the period which has passed since the referendum. Although it is impossible to predict the precise outcome of any rejection of this deal today, it is absolutely clear that almost all possible outcomes of that course of action will increase the uncertainty and the economic difficulties.
I say almost “all possible outcomes”, because I suppose one would be that we Brexit without a deal of any kind. That would not necessarily increase the uncertainty, but it is obviously not an outcome desired by those critics of the deal whose arguments I seek to address. All other outcomes would, beyond dispute, increase the uncertainty. An extension would, by definition, increase the uncertainty. A second referendum would increase the uncertainty. A general election to determine this issue would increase the uncertainty.
Yet these are the outcomes urged on us by those who complain that this deal would cause economic damage. I beseech them to consider and reflect. If they are democrats, they must respect the result of the referendum. If they are realists, they must recognise the damage to our economy that would be caused by the prolonged uncertainty that rejection of this deal would bring about. If they have the interests of our country at heart—and I know they do—they must see that this deal presents a unique opportunity to resolve this most intractable issue, to move on and to bring our country together again. I commend the Prime Minister’s deal to your Lordships’ House.