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My Lords, we are here on a Saturday morning, holding an emergency debate on Brexit, for the first time since the Falklands War—which really was an emergency—and we are doing so under false pretences. There is no such time-sensitive national emergency over Brexit, only an attempt by the Prime Minister to bounce this deal through Parliament without proper time for scrutiny and reflection rather than to do the sensible thing and ask the EU for a little more time. There is a mandated approach in the Benn Act, but this is more like the practice of a banana republic than it is of the mother of parliaments. I have yet to hear a serious argument in favour of the deal which has been struck other than that it exists and that it is better than nothing. I have listened to and take very much to heart what the Convenor has said about listening to the other arguments, but I have heard no advocacy for this deal of a serious kind.
That is perhaps not surprising because for the last two weeks, this Government, like their predecessors in the final weeks before the March deadline, have been following a strategy of, “Any deal is better than no deal”. Huge amounts of baggage have been thrown overboard on the final stage of the journey. No part of the Government’s early October text has emerged unscathed, yet it is still being said that this is a good deal when it is quite evidently worse even than Mrs May’s deal, which quite a few Members of the Government rejected.
The arrangements for Northern Ireland trade are of unbelievable bureaucratic complexity. The hated Irish backstop has been turned into a “frontstop”. All this has been done quite unnecessarily, as the approach recommended by your Lordships’ House on the Trade Bill of remaining in a customs union with the EU would have solved the whole thing at a stroke. Then let us take the provisions for a level playing field between us and the EU, which will be absolutely crucial to the quality of any trade agreement that we negotiate post Brexit. By a devious sleight of hand, the commitment to a level playing field on labour laws, the environment and much else has been switched from the legally binding withdrawal treaty to the totally aspirational and non-binding political declaration. That is not of much comfort to those who actually depend on those rights. As a lifelong supporter of the union of the UK, I say that the damage that this Government and their predecessor have inflicted and continue to inflict on the union is painful. Can anyone seriously contest that remaining in the EU would reverse that damage and strengthen the union in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?
Those are just a few reasons why I hope that the honourable gentlemen in the other place will vote against the Government’s deal. If this is such a wonderful deal, why on earth do they hesitate to put it to the people in a referendum so that they can have a final say? That is surely the best and most effective way of conducting the end game in this interminable saga, because we now have a clear alternative to remaining in the EU in the form of the Prime Minister’s deal. Let us ask the people what they think of it.