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6.32 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): When I arrived at the House in the early hours of the morning, I saw a splendid-looking John Bull character carrying a placard—it made a great change from the other demonstration that is taking place outside—that said, "No surrender, stuff the Euro, rule Britannia". I would have said that those were entirely my own sentiments if my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) had not been sitting within striking distance of me.

We have had a good debate, although it is a shame that there were not more Members in the Chamber to participate and listen. I salute the Foreign Secretary for setting a good example to his fellow Ministers on how to treat this place. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) said, we appreciate the fact that the right hon. Gentleman attends the House assiduously and makes himself available to participate in debates rather than coming only to lecture us.

I also single out the two members of the Convention: the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). I am sure that the whole House is indebted to them for the extraordinarily hard work that they have put in over the past two years on such an important project. My right hon. Friend has been assiduous and incredibly well focused, and I salute him personally for expressing his arguments so clearly and forcefully.

At the risk of imperilling the political career of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, I think that she has been courageous enough to admit that she has seen the light. All of us will have been horrified, although not entirely surprised, to learn about her discovery that those on the Convention who did not support deeper integration were sidelined, because that speaks poorly of the Convention itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has been a consistent critic of the accretion of power by the European institutions, and I believe that the whole House owes him a debt of gratitude for his constancy in that respect. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who, I am sorry to see, is no longer in his place, was a brave man to refer in this week of all weeks to football played with a round ball. As one of those who was at Heathrow terminal 4 in the early hours of the morning when our victorious team returned home from Australia, I thought reference to the game with the round ball was particularly inappropriate. But he is a cheeky chappie and we all love him anyway.

This has been a broad-ranging debate. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who we know cannot be in his place because he has had to return to Edinburgh, made a typically gracious contribution. There was much in what he said with which I could agree, although I think that the whole House was interested to learn that Liberal Democrat Members of the other place are not expected to be bound by party policy. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington), whose interest is in development issues, spoke fluently and

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enthusiastically about the work of the Department for International Development.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made a significant point about the importance that we in this country attach to the connection between a Member of Parliament and his or her electorate, and the serious responsibility and accountability issues that flow therefrom. He drew the analogy with the European Union, where not only has such accountability already been lost to a large degree, but there is a great risk that even more will be lost. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) rounded off the debate by saying that, basically, he was in favour of everything—but he is a former Member of the European Parliament, so we might have expected that.

That brings me back to my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, who, in opening the debate for the Opposition, entertained us as is his custom to a well-informed and thoughtful tour d'horizon of European issues.

Mr. MacShane: Was that French?

Mr. Howarth: It was indeed. I speak French and German, which slightly undermines those who have accused me of being a little Englander.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk drew attention to the Government's woeful failure to protect Britain's essential national interests in the European Union, and he touched on defence—a subject on which, the House will not be surprised to learn, I intend to concentrate, because we face a serious predicament in defence policy that has in large measure been caused by the Government's inability to placate both the US Administration and our EU partners.

As has been acknowledged throughout this afternoon's debate, it is NATO that, since its inception in 1948, has provided for European security. Throughout the cold war, it tied together European and north American security. It provided a counterweight to Soviet power in the east, and without NATO, history might have proved quite different. Today, NATO continues to be relevant to the security environment shaped by the events of 11 September 2001. It remains the only guarantor of European security and the best way to address the capabilities gap between Europe and the United States.

Developments within the EU threaten the primacy of NATO. The European security and defence policy began with unnecessary duplication, and is now beginning to threaten the future of the NATO alliance. We agree that Europe needs to assume a greater role in providing for its own security: currently, only Britain and France spend anything like the amount that needs to be spent on defence. We support the push to increase European defence spending from its current low base of 2 per cent. of GDP and to develop a greater European defence role, but we believe that that increased role for European countries in defence is best achieved through NATO.

NATO already has the planning and command structures in place. It already has the resources, capabilities and experience. European defence would best be achieved through NATO, which brings the advantage of involving north American allies and non-

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EU European countries. NATO has developed links deep into eastern Europe through the partnership for peace. It is therefore best placed to provide regional security in future. However, as I said earlier, it is under threat.

As we speak, there is a struggle between those who recognise that NATO should continue to be the cornerstone of European security and those who are obsessed with the creation of an autonomous EU defence capability which, in the words of the Anglo-French declaration at Le Touquet on 4 February this year, can match

Some people on the continent want to challenge what they regard as the domination of the United States. Unable to do so on their own, they are trying desperately to drag other EU states with them to create an alternative pole to the United States. As Romano Prodi said at the end of March:

Jacques Chirac said as long ago as 1999 that the European Union

I emphasise the word "autonomous".

There is a serious danger that Britain's national interests will be betrayed if the Government try to assure the United States that we are four-square behind NATO and, at the same time, seek to assure our EU partners that we are at the heart of Europe. However, that is the typical stance of "Mr. Facing Both Ways", our Prime Minister. I remind the House that he famously told The Sun how much he loved the pound, but now tells us that in principle that he is favour of ditching the pound as soon as the five economic tests are met—meaning as soon as the opinion polls indicate that the Government might win a referendum. As long ago as February 2001, the US President said that the Prime Minister had assured him

The President said that the Prime Minister had also assured him


The Prime Minister repeated those assurances to the President earlier this year. Indeed, an agreement was hammered out under the Berlin-plus arrangements whereby NATO's extensive planning and force generation structures would be made available to the EU in the event of NATO declining to become involved in a military operation. By that means, the EU would have all the cost advantages of having existing structures available to it while avoiding duplication or the risk of establishing a competing institution. Yet, as we know, in September, the Prime Minister finally signed up to structured co-operation with France and Germany, agreeing to an EU planning cell outside NATO, thus flatly contradicting the assurances that he gave President Bush.

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It is hardly surprising that US Secretary of State Colin Powell has expressed his anger. Last Thursday, he said at NATO that the US cannot accept independent EU structures that duplicate existing NATO capabilities. He is not alone in that belief:

So said not a US neo-con but Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary-General, at a Royal United Services Institute conference in London last Monday. To remove all doubt, yesterday morning, he told listeners of the "Today" programme:

He is right, but it is significant that as he leaves his post, he thought it essential to emphasise the vital importance of not undermining NATO.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire said, the Government risk decoupling the United States from NATO. We will be told that the change is simply a modest one, and does not have the significance that we attach to it. However, I draw the attention of the House to a succession of statements from European leaders that reveal the agenda behind the European security and defence policy. The German Foreign Affairs Minister, Joschka Fischer, described the Anglo-French St. Malo communiqué of 1998 as

Romano Prodi said earlier this year that Europe should abandon the NATO alliance if it wants to have a meaningful say in world affairs.

We need to take note of those clear statements about how European leaders see the role of EU defence in building a greater united states of Europe. Why do we pretend that their motives are different, when they make no secret of their integrationist ambitions? There has been much mention in our debate of the European constitution. As we know, it would, for the first time, include key elements of defence policy in an EU treaty, thus incorporating them at a fundamental level in the new European structure. It is clear that one of the effects will be that the treaty is subject to the European Court of Justice. It creates a judicial identity for the EU.

Everything in the treaty is up for grabs, even though article I-40 speaks of

and states:

Although the article goes on to state that the policy of the Union

it is hard to see how the existing treaty commitments of member states will survive the progressive acquisition of the attributes of statehood by the EU.

The defence of the whole of Europe, including the UK, has been assured this past half-century by NATO. Those driving the development of an EU defence

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identity are concerned not with enhancing capabilities, but with investing the EU with the trappings of a nation state. They have a Parliament, a supreme court, an anthem, a flag and a currency. Add a common foreign and defence policy and a constitution, and the jigsaw is complete.

This weekend, the final drafting session on the proposed constitution takes place. Just a few weeks ago, Ministers dismissed our warnings by saying that the proposal was simply a tidying-up operation. Now the Government have been forced to accept our judgment and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, they are threatening to withhold their consent, but I suspect that that is sabre-rattling rather than any realistic attempt to renegotiate, let alone to walk away from the constitution if they feel that it cannot be justified.

The constitution will result in energy policy, asylum policy, criminal procedure and a raft of other policy decisions being removed from Westminster. We are, as my right hon. Friend said, importing a written constitution into our laws, and importing non-legislative Acts issued by people who are not accountable.

It was reported yesterday that support for the EU project has fallen below 50 per cent. across Europe, even in France, and that it is down to 28 per cent. in the UK. We say that this sovereign Parliament has no right to surrender a vast range of powers that we hold in trust for the British people, without their express consent. In the name of the British people, we demand a referendum now.

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