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My Lords, when we first debated the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill—the famous Article 50—on
The British people were asked a clear question in the 2016 referendum, and they gave a decisive answer. Although I voted remain, I respect that answer. Over the intervening three years, I have watched with increasing despair as we have failed to deliver the promise, made so emphatically by the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservative Party, to uphold the decision of the referendum.
In 1992, had the astute voters of Oldham Central and Royton not rejected me in the general election in favour of my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and had I been given the honour of serving in another place, like my noble friend Lady Noakes I, too, would have voted for the withdrawal agreement negotiated by my right honourable friend Theresa May. I did not like parts of it; I was particularly uneasy with the backstop and its potential to keep us in the customs union, effectively keeping us in the EU with no voice and no vote. But we would have been out earlier this year, completing the first stage of the process, and would now be some six months down the line in our free trade negotiations with the European Union.
The EU was always crystal clear: we could not discuss in detail our future trading arrangements, such as open and fair competition and standards, nor our future collaborative relationships, until we had left. Yet so much of what we have been discussing these past two years is about the next stage. We just have to get there, to make that decision of which my noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe so eloquently spoke.
I agree with the powerful speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I, too, acknowledge the sincere and passionate views of those who think differently to me. If we were just having a debate with no consequences, that would be fine. But our actions do have consequences, and I can understand, and indeed have sympathy with, the mounting exasperation and anger among the electorate at the parliamentary manoeuvrings that have prolonged and frustrated the delivery of the referendum result. My noble friend Lord Howard is so right to point to the damage that the delay and uncertainty is causing.
Now, on this historic Saturday—and it is historic—Parliament has before it another chance with a revised withdrawal agreement, which those with superior knowledge said would be impossible to obtain. It removes the backstop and, in the words of one the architects of the Good Friday agreement, my noble friend Lord Trimble, it is,
“fully in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement”.
But, most importantly of all, it fulfils our promise to the British people, which is long overdue.