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My Lords, the debate in your Lordships’ House today is a mere sideshow to the real action that is taking place in another place. The other place has a huge decision to make today, and I fervently hope that it will give its approval to the Prime Minister’s deal to take us out of the EU.
If the other place does not do that, the MPs who go through the Not-Content Lobby will be the only ones to blame if we leave the EU without a deal on
Failure today will likely lead to no deal. There is no other deal waiting in the wings. No one can be certain what the EU will do if faced with the rejection of this deal, but there is more than a sporting chance that it will refuse a further extension. It is as fed up with this long-running saga as are the British public.
While I loathed the deal that the former Prime Minister negotiated with the EU, if I had had the privilege of voting in the other place I would have voted for it at the third time of asking in order to honour the result of the referendum—which I remind the House was the largest-ever expression of the will of the people of the UK. But the other place did not do that.
Since then, we have had the energy and determination brought to the task of leaving the EU by our new Prime Minister. I place on record my admiration for the way he has tackled it. He has had a hugely difficult hand to play against the background of both Houses of Parliament determined to thwart him. He had his biggest negotiating card taken away from him by attempts to remove no deal from the negotiating table.
The Prime Minister did not play his hand perfectly. We could have done without the Prorogation mess—although that did show that Parliament had no useful purpose in the extra weeks that the Supreme Court forced us to sit. But we should judge him not by the individual steps along the way but by the end result. The Prime Minister has achieved what practically everybody outside our party—and a fair few within it—said he could not achieve. They said that the EU would not reopen the withdrawal agreement, that the backstop could not be changed, and that the political declaration on the future relationship could not be changed. The Prime Minister proved them wrong on every count.
The new deal remains based on Mrs May’s deal and is far from perfect—but I accept the realities of compromise. Indeed, I am thrilled by the prospect that this deal could see us leave the EU in two weeks’ time. We will then be on a path to a free trade agreement with our neighbours in continental Europe and the prospect of our own trade deals with the rest of the world.
Those who seek an extension, for whatever stated purpose, I invite to look at the recent polling. The huge ComRes survey this week found that 54% of the public just want us to get on and leave. Yesterday’s YouGov survey showed 41% in favour of the deal and only 24% against it.
I hope that the other place today will show wisdom and pragmatism. I hope that this precious opportunity to deliver the result of the referendum and achieve Brexit on the basis of a good enough deal will not be squandered. It will take courage for some Members of the other place to vote with the Prime Minister, but I pray that they will find that courage.