Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Lord Lilley:

    I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He seems to accept that the European Parliament has the right to veto this agreement, but the British Parliament does not. Why does he take that view?

    Lord Balfe:

    Of course, the European Parliament has that right; it is a co-decision-making body with the Council. It has been represented by Mr Verhofstadt and the agreement will be placed before the European Parliament, which in theory can reject it—as can the British Parliament.

    Lord Lilley:

    As it has.

    Lord Balfe:

    Yes, and it can carry on rejecting it, in which case we will have no deal. However, the European Parliament is a joint decision-making body and it cannot take a decision until there is an agreement in the Council.

    The European Parliament next meets, after the Council, on 25 March. That is a Monday; they will not be there. So the earliest day the European Parliament could agree is the 26th. When you look at the clock, you see that if there is a change, there will be no agreement until the 26th. Then we will be right up against it, but the choice will be fairly clear. Assuming we follow normal conventions and have a Lords debate before the Commons debate, our debate will be on the 26th, and could presumably start as soon as word reaches us from Strasbourg that they have agreed the deal; having a debate would be senseless if they have not. We could have our debate and, on the 27th, the people down the corridor could start theirs. That is the timetable; that is the only one there is if there is an amendment to the deal. I ask the Minister whether he has any other, counter timetable, because that is the realistic timetable.

    I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that there is one point in her Motion which I find difficult, because it is unrealistic. That is the words:

    “before the end of February 2019”.

    If those words could be removed from the resolution, it would be perfectly acceptable. However, it is perfectly impractical to think that anything could be done before that date in February. That is one point that I would like the noble Baroness to consider regarding whether or not we could get a consensus in this House. There is nothing else in the resolution that most of us—other than those who strongly wish to leave without a deal, or with a very attenuated deal—could disagree with. I put that point forward.

    The final point I want to make is this. Of course I deplore Project Fear, which we find constantly; this country will not collapse if we leave the European Union. It will have a difficult time; it will have a pretty torrid time for a pretty short time, but it is still basically a great country that will survive. It is not a country that will go into meltdown, or cease to exist, or where all the lights will go off. It is a country that will survive. However, it will survive as a diminished power in the world. It is a country that will survive outside the one bloc which uses its strengths to make it an important country. We will look back on this in the way that my generation look back on Suez—as a turning point which diminished this country. When we go into these negotiations, if we accept this deal—we will accept something or other—we are, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, going to have five or 10 years of fruitless negotiation. There will be no MEPs or people in the Council of Ministers to represent our views. We will constantly be the supplicant state, we will not have much power and we will have to take what we are given. That is not a good position for us to be in. I do not write off our country; it will survive and prosper, but it will never be as great as it can be as part of the European family.