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The Leader of the Opposition commented on the common agricultural policy, and it is right that far more reform of the CAP is needed. The difficulty is that that must be done by unanimity, so that is a problem, but none the less we did our very best, and we did get significant changes. That was the topic at the previous negotiation, in Berlin. We have achieved more in the reform of the common agricultural policy than the right hon. Gentleman ever did when he was in office.
We have set out why we believe the treaty to be in the interests of this country and in the interests of Europe. The right hon. Gentleman has again stated firmly from the Dispatch Box today that he would block the treaty. Let me explain the full rounded idiocy of the position that the right hon. Gentleman has got himself into. He is saying that he would not have agreed any treaty unless everyone agreed to what he calls his pick-and-choose policy on future legislation. Is it not right that that is Conservative policy? I have asked the right hon. Gentleman this question before, and perhaps I can get an answer now that the European summit is over. Will he name one country that supports the proposal, when all 15 have to support it? Let us have silence, so that he can shout out the answer. The right hon. Gentleman would need the other 14 to agree, but he cannot name one. Let us try this. Will the right hon. Gentleman name one other Conservative party in Europe that supports his proposal?
The right hon. Gentleman is saying that he would go to the Council and say that, unless Britain has a pick-and-choose policy, he would block the treaty. However, he is also saying that he would block flexibility for everyone else. That would be a pretty intelligent policy, would it not? The right hon. Gentleman says that he would have no QMV at all but that, it there were any QMV, he would have a referendum in the UK. By the end of that process, he would have alienated every country in the European Union and every country waiting to come into it. If he had been negotiating, he would have come back today saying either that he had blocked enlargement--which would be a great thing for Britain to have in its history and tradition--or that he had agreed QMV on the court registrar's' pension and was going to hold a referendum on it. I am sorry, but that is the right hon. Gentleman's policy.
Does the right hon. Gentleman want to be taken seriously by anyone in Britain, Europe or elsewhere? The true agenda of a large part of his party--and the Conservative party will stay in this position until the right hon. Gentleman confronts this--is to have this country next door to the exit sign in Europe. That would be a disaster for Britain and Europe. It is wrong, and we shall not do it. We shall win the argument, because that is in the true national interest of Britain.
Mr. Giles Radice (North Durham): We have heard ludicrous hype about the slippery slope to the European superstate, and heard it again this afternoon from the Opposition Front Bench in the most extraordinary statement that I have ever heard in debate on any European statement during my time in the House of Commons. After all that, is it not the case that the Nice summit has produced important, but limited, changes that will prepare the European Union for enlargement, which is both a vital national interest and vital for the future of Europe? Is it not also the case that, once again, we have demonstrated clearly that it is possible to achieve British national objectives while at the same time making a positive contribution to Europe and its future? Does that not show that British membership of the European Union pays if it is exercised in a constructive way?
The Prime Minister: It is true that we have secured our interests in a way that has not left Britain isolated or marginalised, which would not be in our interest. We have to return to negotiations with other countries to get things that advance our own interests--[Interruption.] I shall make one point to those Opposition Members who are shouting at me. There was a time when the Conservative party played a constructive part in Europe. During the Single European Act preparations, it did an immense amount to improve Europe and the way that Europe worked. It is therefore important that we have enough confidence in our own ability to win those arguments, to go into Europe, and to advance British national interests.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): For Opposition Members who wanted the Nice summit to succeed, it is with a sense of relief, but not rapture, that we look at the outcome. It is good that an outcome was achieved; the alternative would have been a disentanglement of Europe. The Government should be complimented on maintaining the British veto in areas on which Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed previously.
With regard to Conservative Members' responses, does the Prime Minister agree that there is a distinct sense in the Chamber that the Tory fox on Europe has been well and truly shot as a result of the agreement? Does he concur with Chris Patten that, to use his word, it would be "barking" to deny the people of Britain a referendum on a single currency while imposing one in respect of the treaty of Nice? That position is completely illogical.
Mr. Kennedy: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, the accessor countries will gain admission to the European Union 14 years after the collapse of the Berlin wall . That is an intolerable time to take to enable the developed, integrated countries of Europe to open their doors to the supplicant accessor countries. Does the Prime Minister agree that more needs to be done to speed up the process of European decision making?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman says that the changes were modest. That is true in some senses, but this was an historic summit in the sense that it cleared the obstacles to enlargement. Fifteen countries were arguing their own national interests. For anyone sitting through the negotiations, the idea that national interest is not alive and well in Europe would have been a strange thought.
It is important to realise what has been achieved. All those obstacles to enlargement have been cleared, and, as for the time at which the countries enter the European Union, the reason why no specific date is given to each country--[Hon. Members: "Why?"] I am about to explain why. There is an accession process, whereby the countries must meet particular economic objectives in order to enter. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are shouting that such countries have to meet too many objectives, but I remind them that their leader has just committed himself to blocking the treaty. It is necessary to recognise that those countries will have to meet certain requirements. That is why we cannot give them a precise date, but we hope that they will be there by 2004. Partly at our insistence, they will take part in the next intergovernmental conference in 2004.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The leader of the Liberal party has honestly recognised a national success that was achieved because we are no longer on the margins, but are seen by our European partners as a full team player. Is it not sad that the Leader of the Opposition cannot recognise such a success and cannot bring himself to say anything positive about the European Union?
Now that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has had a change of shirt and is less exhausted, will he tell us how the applicant countries have responded to the Nice treaty? What would be their response if the ratification process in this Parliament were blocked?
The Prime Minister: Essentially, those countries were delighted that the obstacles in the way of enlargement, institutionally, have been cleared. They obviously strongly support that--it is hugely important for those countries, often in terms of their own democracy. For them, the idea that they can see a future in the European Union is a spur to economic reform and to making the necessary changes. They would be absolutely horrified--as, indeed, several of them said at the press conference that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary held in