The Brexit saga is likely to get more traumatic before it gets better, the Chancellor of the University of Gibraltar and crossbench peer Lord Luce has said, adding that deep-seated divisions in the UK Parliament could lead to a stark, binary choice between remaining in the EU or leaving without a deal.
Speaking during a recent visit to Gibraltar, Lord Luce, a former Governor, said the House of Commons and the House of Lords were both “totally divided” on Brexit, adding he did not believe a general election could resolve the impasse.
“In the end – and I don’t want to confess it – but I think it may have to be a referendum,” he told the Chronicle.
“It may have to be a decision between staying in and re-negotiating our role in Europe, or coming out with no deal.”
“And it’s quite possible that we’ll be faced with that.”
Lord Luce, who backed Remain in the referendum, said there was a “total lack of clarity” about Brexit that was made worse by the fact that complex, nuanced issues were being simplified beyond recognition by some politicians and parts of the media.
He complained too about the UK’s “half-hearted” approach to EU membership in the past, adding there was “considerable misunderstanding” by the general public and many parliamentarians as to what the EU was all about.
And against the backdrop of a hotly-contested leadership election in the Conservative party, his forecast for the ensuing months was bleak.
“My prognosis is that we’ll get one of the hardliners of the Tory party as prime minister,” he said.
“And then we’ll have to go through a traumatic period.”
“I’d love to think it will be solved by the 31st of October [deadline set by the EU], and I’m sure that the Government of Gibraltar would like it solved by the 31st of October.”
“Somehow or other, we’ve got to get through this period.”
Although he had backed Remain, Lord Luce believes the Tory party should have supported Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement in order to deliver the outcome of the 2016 referendum without “dangerously disrupting” the UK’s relations with other European nations.
And he was unequivocal in his view that leaving the EU without a deal would be bad for the UK and Gibraltar.
“If we go without a deal, we’re in danger of completely damaging our relations with Germany, France and other countries for years if not decades ahead,” he said.
He was clear too that those British MPs who had pushed for Brexit must carry the responsibility for the current state of play.
He included in that for Prime Minister David Cameron, who took the decision to put the question of EU membership to voters in a referendum.
That, Lord Luce said, meant the UK had “…started from totally the wrong place, so we’re now trapped”, adding that the “poisoning of relations” wrought by the Brexit debate “has been one of the most serious things I’ve come across”.
“I think that those who played the major part in contributing to this have got to carry the can and the responsibility and sort it out themselves, and see if they can carry the nation with them,” he said of the Brexiteers.
Lord Luce reflected too on the fact that many parliamentarians in the UK “are torn” between being ardent Brexiteers but also staunch champions of Gibraltar.
But he said the Gibraltar Government’s strategy of briefing MPs in the Commons and peers in the Lords had ensured a detailed understanding in both Houses of Parliament about the challenges facing this community.
He also praised the close working relationship forged over recent years between the Gibraltar Government and the UK Government.
“When things come to a crunch, this will matter [and] you’ll find people will rally..,” he said.