Previous SectionIndexHome Page

David Winnick: The differences about Iraq will last a long time, as I said, but does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not accept that what was done in Kosovo and Afghanistan was justified and that, with all its setbacks, military action nevertheless did away with ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and dealt a blow in overthrowing a gangster regime in Afghanistan that all hon. Members surely wanted to be destroyed?

Mr. Clarke: I have been a supporter of every military action engaged in by every British Government of any kind since I have been a Member, until we reached the invasion of Iraq. I was a supporter of what we did in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although I had some doubts about it at the time. I was certainly a supporter of what we did in Kosovo, although the legality of such action should be improved, as was said by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). I was a supporter of the invasion of Afghanistan because we were attacking the place where the people who had organised the 9/11disaster were located. However, we are not out of the woods in any of those cases. If we think that just the military action produces an answer, let us remember that it has not done so in any of those cases.

We are all talking about our continued involvement in Bosnia, which is no nearer being a completely viable independent state than when we arrived. The state of affairs in Kosovo is fairly dire, and people are only being saved from murder by the fact that we continue to have troops there, partly because we went into Kosovo in alliance with the Kosovo Liberation Army, who we knew were rather dodgy people to be allied with before we went in, but we were reluctant to commit troops on the ground and they had troops who were willing to go.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 153
We went into Afghanistan in alliance with the Northern Alliance, which was well known to have some connections with the drugs trade. We are now presiding over a democratically elected regime, but the democratically elected people still have a hint of warlordism about them. There is no proper control in parts of the country, and we have made the country a haven for the production of opium, which is in part flowing through Bosnia, no doubt, to this country.

We have a record of intervening; we do not have a record of political triumph in the places that may have been occupied as a result. Although all those cases were justified, the invasion of Iraq was neither justified nor legal. We have created an even bigger mess in Iraq, and it will take a very long time to get out.

I have given my tentative thoughts, which anyone's thoughts are bound to be, on what will happen in Iraq next, but hardly anyone discusses that on either side of the Atlantic, and the Government's contribution to thoughts about what will happen next in Iraq are about the most limited that I usually hear on the subject. My biggest regret on post-war Iraq—where we are now—is what it tells us about the state of the American alliance and the British role in it. I am strong supporter of the Atlantic alliance, which must be at the heart of our foreign policy. I believe that, in return for our adherence to the Atlantic alliance, we expect to have some influence on the policy, events and conduct of affairs because we make a valuable contribution.

So far as I can see, the fact is that the British Government have had next to no influence of any kind since the occupation of Iraq was completed. I cannot believe that any very serious attention has been paid to the contribution of our Prime Minister. We are there as apparently willing supporters and we provide extremely valuable troops, who are doing an outstanding job in impossible circumstances, but I detect no input of British diplomatic experience, British political skill or any particularly British contribution to the political evolution of that country.

What that tells us about the Atlantic alliance—this brings me to the other subjects that I will touch on more briefly—is that an Atlantic alliance that is just dependent on an American arm and a British arm, so far as we are concerned, is not sufficient. The Atlantic alliance is a US-European alliance, and if we wish to have influence in future, there is absolutely no doubt that, unless we have closer foreign policy and security co-operation between the members of the European Union, so that there can be a coherent European voice and contribution to the Atlantic alliance, we simply will not have the influence on the world's superpower that we would wish.

That takes me on to the other subject in the Queen's Speech that I want to touch on. I welcome the fact that a Bill has appeared to allow us to legislate to ratify the new constitutional treaty and to pave the way for the referendum that will eventually decide the matter. Fairly well founded leaks suggest that there was a huge argument in the Government about whether they wished to put the Bill into the programme at all. So far, the leaks have not been good enough—they soon will be, given the way that this Government brief the press—to let us know how they intend to handle the issue now that they have put it in the legislative programme. Will the Bill have its Second Reading before Christmas and will
24 Nov 2004 : Column 154
there be a serious attempt to put it into law, or will we just have a day's debate sometime after Christmas with the whole thing falling in the May election? I imagine that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will argue that whenever they next get the chance to meet in the same country and the same room and get on to talking about it.

I hope that, once the Bill is introduced, we will get on to deciding on it and giving it parliamentary approval before the election is held. We can then move on, as everybody in the House claims to want to do, to a referendum that will endorse or not endorse what Parliament has decided. I realise that it is pointless, but I wish to put on record my total hostility to referendums of all kinds in a parliamentary democracy. I have against my record the fact that I was persuaded—I very much regret it—to agree to a referendum on the single currency. In a competitive field, I think that it is one of the worst mistakes, if not the worst mistake, that I have ever made in politics.

David Cairns: Come, come.

Mr. Clarke: This is not the opportunity to think of better claims.

The Prime Minister's decision to call a referendum was one of the weakest decisions that he has ever made. He publicly made it clear that he was totally hostile to the whole idea of holding a referendum on the issue. He was persuaded to hold one, and I fear that it will be a lottery. However, the debate might be improved if Parliament has at least debated the issue and decided that, in the normal course of events, it would have ratified the treaty.

I will support the new treaty. If we ever get to the referendum, I will no doubt campaign for a yes vote. It is a matter of huge importance so, if we are to have a debate here and a referendum, I trust that people will realise the crucial importance that the treaty has in giving this country a satisfactory role at all.

I always expected—I thought everybody did—that we would have a new constitutional treaty if we could successfully complete the enlargement of the European Union. Its enlargement is one of the most historic events we have experienced in recent times. The EU remains a political undertaking even though the politics have somewhat changed. It started with the intention of making sure that the old European wars never reoccurred and that we never went to war with each other again. Thank God, those wars are now a long way behind us. The EU is now creating, however, a democratic, liberal political cohesion across the whole continent. That is a huge achievement.

Someone has already said that fascist Spain was made democratic and liberal by being brought into the EU, and a similar process occurred in Portugal after Salazar and in Greece after the colonels. The cold war is over and eight former totalitarian states, plus the two Mediterranean ones, are now being brought from totalitarian rule into a liberal democracy on a European agenda. Even the debates about Ukraine, which form the background to this debate, are in part about the division in Ukraine and whether the election has actually been won by liberal, parliamentary, pro-western democrats who look to the EU as their
24 Nov 2004 : Column 155
aspiration to try to create the foundation for the state that they want. All that is a huge achievement for the EU and underlines the wisdom of our involvement in it as it tackles all the issues well beyond the capacity of the individual nation state to solve itself. When nation states pool their sovereignty with each other in the common interest, they can help to create a whole new polity across the continent of Europe.

The EU has moved from 15 to 25 member states, and the old constitutional treaties never worked very well for 15. That means that we need to make the great leap forward to make sure that we have a workable constitution for the new enlarged European Union.

The treaty would be welcomed by British politicians on all sides if only they adhered to the sentiments that most of them used to express until about five or 10 years ago. The treaty makes it clearer than ever before that the Union is a union of nation states. I was never federalist, and I think that this is the end of federalist ambitions in the Union. More power is put in the hands of the Council of Ministers and the Governments of the nation states, who are the principal gainers from what is set out. The treaty makes clearer than ever before the division between European competence, covering those areas in which one nation state on its own cannot achieve as much as it can by acting in co-operation with others, and purely national competence, which remains within the sovereignty of each parliament.

I find the debate in this country rather bewildering. Some 25 nation states have just agreed on the new constitution, but there is the suggestion that we should perhaps take this moment to step away from this and say to the other 24 that we might start renegotiating other issues involving the repatriation of powers going back to the original foundation of the Union. That strikes me as a somewhat uncertain undertaking that is unlikely to achieve success.

Those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are Eurosceptic find themselves with some curious allies. One or two leading members of my party went out of their way to say how much they agreed with Robert Kilroy-Silk. They could not understand why he was causing so much disruption shortly after the European elections. More embarrassingly, they find themselves in alliance with the more breakaway factions of the French socialists, who have decided to go hostile in their referendum for totally different reasons.

I met Mr. Laurent Fabius recently and asked him why he was causing so much difficulty. He is an extremely distinguished French socialist and makes me look like a Eurosceptic. He is a very pro-European French former Prime Minister, and he told me that the treaty was not European enough. Indeed, in France, it is known as "la britannique", because it puts in place a form of the EU that has been long argued for by the British and the Scandinavians and is now argued for by the new central and eastern European members. As someone has already said, it marks the end of any dreams of Franco-German hegemony or of a federalist superstate that anybody once harboured. I hope that we will make progress, have a proper and sensible debate, produce a workable solution and settle our destiny in Europe for
24 Nov 2004 : Column 156
all times. I think that I have made it clear that I will vote in favour of the Bill if and when the Government ever have the courage to bring it to the Floor of the House.

I end on a note of discomfort with a Government who, it seems, have failed to give us any sensible lead in Iraq and certainly, to a pro-European, any sensible lead on Europe over the past few years. It is an irony that the most pro-European Prime Minister that this country has had since Edward Heath has, through fear, indecision and hedging about, so totally mismanaged the European issue from the moment he took office. I hope that he does not continue to do so. If we are to settle the constitutional problem and our role in Europe so that we can start to build a proper relationship in the north Atlantic alliance, people of other parties and members of the Labour party other than the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister should take a hand both in the House and in the referendum. I trust that we shall reach a satisfactory outcome.

I conclude as I started. The subjects of Iraq and Europe have been tucked away in the Queen's Speech, because the Government did not want to slip them in and do not want to talk about them sensibly at all. Between now and next May, we are to be subjected to a whole lot of second-rate rubbish that tries to pretend to the public that it is all necessary to save them from the wave of crime and the wave of terrorist attacks to which Conservatives and Liberal Democrats might otherwise leave them vulnerable. That is not worthy of the great events with which we are struggling. I deeply hope that, come next May, somebody with more purpose is put in charge of events in this country and abroad.

2.50 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page