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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for giving me advance sight of his statement.

In respect of the middle east process, we support the emphasis in the declaration on accelerating implementation of the road map. On Iran, is the Prime Minister confident that this time the Iranian Government will honour the undertakings that they have given on their nuclear programme?

The communiqué refers to the importance of the millennium development goals. Cannot the European Union itself make a substantial contribution to the alleviation of international poverty by further reforming the common agricultural policy, allowing developing countries greater access to European markets and making the European Union's aid programme dramatically more effective and focused on the poorest countries in the world?

I endorse what the Prime Minister has said on Ukraine, and I welcome the successful conclusion of negotiations on the membership of Romania and Bulgaria and the date for opening negotiations with Croatia.
 
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The communiqué also refers to the EU budget. With such rapid changes taking place in the size of the EU, is it not essential that strict limits are now set on its budget? Will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will veto any EU budget above the limit of 1 per cent. of Europe's gross income?

The European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the accounts for the past 10 years, and the former chief accountant of the EU, Marta Andreasen, says that the auditors cannot clear 95 per cent. of the budget and that the system does not allow them to say whether the money is being spent well or fraudulently. What action are the British Government taking to remedy that completely unacceptable state of affairs?

The summit was dominated by discussions on Turkey. I welcome the agreement that was reached on the membership negotiations and the prospect of Turkey providing an invaluable bridge between the rest of Europe and the Islamic world. Does that not lay to rest any claim that the European Union, or the west as a whole, is in any way anti-Islamic in nature? And should it not be seen as a very positive development for that reason alone? The Prime Minister was quite right to pay tribute to Prime Minister Erdogan for the reforms that have been introduced under his leadership and for the progress that has been made. I very much hope that those negotiations will reach a successful conclusion and that Turkey will, in due course, become a full member of the EU.

Does the Prime Minister agree with all those who have said that Turkish membership of the European Union is incompatible with the constitution? Those people include the chairman of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee and the godfather of the constitution himself, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who said:

Does that not reinforce our view that the constitution is out of date before it is even ratified? Are reports true that the Prime Minister himself accepted that in a private meeting with Chancellor Schröder? Does he agree with his own Minister for Europe, who, with the ink barely dry on the constitution, now says that the

Earlier this year, the Minister for Europe signed a document calling for new EU taxes, a common immigration policy, a single welfare system and the surrender of Britain's seat on the UN Security Council. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister ought to know about that. Is that what the Minister for Europe meant when he said that the constitution would not be the last word? Is that the view of the Government? If not, why is the Minister for Europe still in the Government?

Will the Prime Minister tell the House the latest position on the Bill to ratify the constitution and allow for the referendum? It was promised four weeks ago in the Queen's Speech, but there is no sign of it—perhaps he will tell us why. Why does not the Prime Minister have the courage to start the debate that he says that he wants? Why does he not set a date next year for the referendum, so that the British people can have their say
 
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and so that we can give a lead to Europe, instead of following others? Will he now tell the House what he plans to do if the constitution is rejected?

Is not the fact of the matter that the constitution is a block on the kind of reform that an enlarged Europe needs? Was not the Prime Minister's own former economics adviser right—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Labour Members laugh, but the Prime Minister selected his economic adviser and presumably listened to him for many years—when he said that

that the constitution will

and that the only reason why the issue of bringing more power from Brussels to Britain was not on the agenda was that

The Prime Minister mentioned the British presidency of the EU in the second half of next year. Is not that an ideal opportunity for Britain to put the case for reform in Europe—the case for a Europe that gets out of the way of business, so that wealth and jobs can be created? Is not the UK presidency an ideal opportunity to put the case for a modern, flexible Europe: a Europe that is ready for the challenges of the 21st century; a Europe that transfers powers back from Brussels to the nation state; and a Europe based on co-operation and not on coercion? Is it not more vital than ever that, by the time of the EU presidency, Britain has a Government with the courage and conviction to put the case for the kind of Europe that the British people want to see?

The Prime Minister: First, let me deal with the issues that occupied us at the Council. In relation to the middle east peace process, we agree that it is important that we move that forward. I am confident that Iran will honour its obligations. I hope very much that it will; if it does not, we must be prepared to take further action. The leadership role that we have been able to exercise with France and Germany has been important at least in getting a bigger measure of co-operation than we have had for many years.

On the millennium development goals, I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about further reform of the common agricultural policy, access to EU markets and the aid programme. All that will have to be negotiated with our partners; that is why it is important that we retain some friends and influence in Europe.

In relation to the EU budget, we are leading the fight to ensure that there is a limit of 1 per cent. That is our position. Again, we continue to work with other countries on the issues raised by the Court of Auditors.

In respect of Turkey, of course I agree that it is very clear that it should not be a question of an anti-Islamic EU; I think that that myth has been laid to rest by these successful negotiations in Europe.

Let me come to the issues that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised on the EU constitution. First, Turkey is fully in favour of the constitution. I am sorry to have to disappoint him about that. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing is actually against Turkey coming into the
 
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European Union. He is entitled to take that position. Fortunately, however, Europe has decided that Turkey should come into the European Union.

As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position on the constitution, I have to tell him that as far as I am aware every other Government in Europe is in favour of it. He has no support for his position from any other Government, be it a conservative Government, a social democratic Government or a liberal Government. Has he got any ally in any Government on his position? Absolutely not. So when he talks about how we should use our influence in Europe, the fact of the matter is that he would completely marginalise this country in the European Union.

Of course, his real desire is not to oppose the constitution, but to renegotiate the existing terms of membership. That is right, is it not? That is the official position of the Conservative party today. It is true that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who was brought back into the shadow Cabinet, says that that would be "easy", but the former Conservative party chairman dismisses it as "virtual reality" and the former Conservative Prime Minister as "absurd". The last Conservative Chancellor said that it would

The last Conservative Foreign Secretary described it as

Let me read what was recently written by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) about the claim by the Leader of the Opposition that anyone not carrying out Conservative commitments would have to resign. He said:

That is the reality. Unless something is renegotiated by agreement, it is not renegotiation. That is why, to be frank, at least the United Kingdom Independence party has an honest position on this. It wants to get Britain out of Europe because it recognises that renegotiation on those terms is not possible. The truth is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot point to a single ally for his renegotiation—not one. [Interruption.] Well, we have tried this before. Who are the allies? Who are the European countries that are allied to him? Can we hear it? Right—silence. He has to get all the other 24, then 26, then 27 to agree. It is a fantasy policy. It is dishonest as a policy, because it says that one can do something that everyone knows cannot be done. He may say that it is supported by the British people, but I doubt it in the end. I think that the British people will understand that getting this country out of Europe is a mistake—that it would isolate us unnecessarily and do damage to our business and industry. That is why I believe that the Conservative party continues, on this issue and others, to be unelectable.


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