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My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to participate in this take-note debate where we are looking at the, I think, magnificent agreement on the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union and its matching and finely written political declaration. Much of the last few years, and certainly the recent months and weeks, have focused on our needs and the European Union—that is, what we feel is wrong. Today, I think we should look at the needs of our fellow member states and, from that perspective, at how Britain has been of use and value to the European Union itself. Essentially, it is in the relationship between France and Germany where our input has been most valuable of all. For 43 years, the UK has been the centrepiece of the see-saw that is France and Germany, on which the entirety of the European Union’s peace and security hangs. The question seems to be: how can we continue to do that from outside?
I personally believe profoundly in the value of co-operation, co-ordination and collective action as far as possible. So why should we feel that we might be better out than in? Britain has a unique capability of global partnerships. I do not think it is right for us to continue to work almost always through the narrow prism of the European Union. Indeed, when one is overseas negotiating for the United Kingdom in different ways, it is very clear that those outside the European Union feel that they can hardly find us because we are covered by this enormous cloak, or cloud, of the European Union.
We have to move ahead, and as we do so we have a heavy obligation towards other member states of the European Union. Why move ahead at all? It is an obligation to our own people. We need no stumbling blocks in our pathways when we seek greater prosperity and peace. Perhaps it is worth recalling, then, that the European Union is a highly sophisticated protectorate and we flourish through free trade. Indeed, listening to others, the chief economist of Germany remarked the other day that Britain would be economically far better outside the European Union, because the European Union’s restrictions were becoming tighter and tighter for Britain’s financial and economic future. We will undoubtedly be better out; I am sure that that is true.
Look at money flows, for example. The SWIFT banking system, which I worked on here, emanated from the United States of America, our major global partner. Look at how the European Union—with the best will in the world and with us assisting, but against the USA’s wishes—has been attempting to find another money transfer system to work with Iran; it simply has not proved possible. We are the internationalists and it is absolutely vital that our key strengths are now used more fully.
Of course, we have the magnificent key strength of the English language. We are tremendous innovators—almost better than anyone. The world wide web is just one example. We have the City of London. Our historic position in the Hanseatic League may be the best model for us to develop for the future, because it is absolutely clear that we are leaving the European Union. I believe that the vote will go through today but if it does not, you will see from the statistics from the various surveys that the tidal wave of the British people trying to leave is unstoppable.
The European Union has not yet finished its project and that is another reason why we should do all we can to help. It still has the Baltic states to pull in and a great deal of internal work to do to get some form of co-operation on its enormous corruption. As we settle into our next phase, I hope and believe that we will support the continent of Europe, mainly, but not only, through the European Union.
I had the good fortune—I thank my country for allowing this—to serve in the European Parliament, the parliament of the Council of Europe and the parliament of the Western European Union, as well as in the other place. I can see that ever closer union is crucial to keeping the peace between France and Germany, but not crucial—in fact, antipathetic—to the feelings of the United Kingdom, which is global and international, and always will be.
Therefore, there is a task behind which we can now all pull: to get on with leaving the European Union. There is no more time left. Colleagues, friends, noble Peers and those in the other place, it is time to act.