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Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that if this vision of the decentralised European Union that he would like to see were to come about, that would in itself need a new constitutional treaty, the agreement of all 25 Governments, and the agreement of the people of all 25 states by referendum or whatever means? Does he further accept that there is not the remotest chance of that happening, and that the ultimate position therefore is that the Conservatives will either have to accept membership of a European Union that they do not really like or seek to withdraw from it?
Dr. Fox: There we have a perfect example of the inevitability that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was talking about earlier"It is inevitable, therefore we are powerless to do anything about it; it is inevitable, therefore we should not try; it is inevitable, therefore we must take what we are given." What sort of attitude is that for any Government of the United Kingdom to have? We should set out what we believe to be in Britain's national interest and fight for itwithout which, incidentally, there would be no rebate for the current Government to be defending at the present time.
Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): May I suggest to my hon. Friend that in every piece of European legislation to be enacted in this country we have to amend the European Communities Act 1972? It is always one way, however. There is no reason why we should not amend that Act to bring back powers to this country, for example on fisheries policy, without coming out of the European Union.
Dr. Fox: It is a great shame that the debate on Europe is always reduced to an oversimplified debate based on, "You have to be in or you have to be out." That is the argument beloved of the Government when they put forward the inevitability of our having to swallow everything that we are given because the alternative is to leave the European Union. That is a fundamentally dishonest way of portraying the debate on Europe. My hon. Friend is absolutely correctthere are other ways in which we could achieve the results that we want, and it is time that this country, in a reasonably mature way, started that debate. We have nothing to be afraid of, because if we fail, the consequences are grim not only for the United Kingdom but for Europe as a whole. That is the issue to which I shall turn in a moment.
We cannot accept this constitution either in whole or in part. We think that it is bad for Britain and bad for Europe. Yet less than half an hour ago in this House, the Prime Minister described it as "a perfectly sensible way forward."
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We know that many in the European institutions still seem intent on ignoring the democratic will of voters and trying to resurrect their creature. Only two weeks ago, the present holder of the EU presidency said:
"There is no question of any constitutional treaty going through without the express consent of the British people . . . Regardless of how other members vote, we will have a referendum on the subject".[Offiical Report, 21 June 2004; Vol. 422, c. 1090.]
When he returns from the summit, the Prime Minister must come to this House and either tell us that the ratification process is over or reintroduce the legislation and hold a referendum in this country as soon as possible.
Mr. Jenkin: I am listening to my hon. Friend very carefully and with great interest, because I think he is presaging a major shift in the policy of our party towards the European Union in the aftermath of the referendums.
Could he deal with the comment that the Leader of the House made from a sedentary position, which he may not have heard, to the effect that if we were somehow to legislate unilaterally to retrieve certain powers, we would instantly have to leave the European Union? Would my hon. Friend explain to him that it is most unlikely that the other member states would instantly wish to expel us and that they might want to negotiate about it?
Dr. Fox: As you, Mr. Speaker, might have said, the Leader of the House is in his place and will have heard what my hon. Friend has said. No doubt when his colleagues have worked out the point he is trying to make we will hear it again from the Labour Benches.
The death of the European constitution provides us with a moment to stop and think again about the direction in which Europe is heading. Referring to the four big treaty negotiations since 1985, Sir Stephen Wall, a former ambassador to the EU, said:
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): May I return the hon. Gentleman to the amendment that he has put before the House? Is he aware that nobody would be more delighted if that were carried than President Chirac of France? President Chirac himself has not made it clear whether France will not now ratify the treaty, and he would just love to be let off the hook by being able to say, "There's no point in ratifying because Britain has said it will not." Opposition Front Benchers are not noted for their affection for France. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why he thinks it smart to let France out of the corner that it has painted itself into and at the same time make Britain unpopular with all the countries that have ratified?
This may come as something of a shock to the culture of new Labour, but the reason why the French did not ratify is that the French people said no.
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When we start putting high politics and diplomatic etiquette above the democratic will of the people of Europe, we are in a very sorry state. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has fallen into the trap of trying to play games with what is a very clear rejection of this treaty, in democratic referendums, by the people of France and the people of the Netherlands. Either we accept the democratic will of the people or we do not.
As we embark on this debate, it is worth remembering how we got to this point and making an assessment of the balance sheet of the Common Market, the European Community and, now, the European Union. I readily admit that many in this House will remember the 1975 referendum more vividly than I do. I remember it primarily because my parents campaigned strongly on opposite sides. My father supported the yes campaign. Like many others at the time, he did not want to see his children involved in a European war and believed that membership would bring greater trade and prosperity. My mother supported the no campaign. She believed membership would be a straitjacket and went against the grain of British historical experience. They typified the divisions up and down the countrydivisions that still exist today.
Dr. Fox: The Leader of the House says, "In the Conservative party." These divisions run very deeply right through all parties. The right hon. Gentleman may want to trivialise the debate, but I am sure that when he hears the speeches of Members sitting behind him he will have his illusions shattered.
Those who take a very positive view of the European experience claim that peace and stability, higher standards of living and a better understanding of our neighbours' cultures have been the primary benefits. They point out that EU member states have had an almost unprecedented period of peace and stability since the end of world war two. They say that membership has also had the effect of encouraging aspirant members in less stable parts of Europe to settle their differences and that the EU helped to bring about the end of the cold war. They believe that EC laws have resulted in higher standards in many areas such as employment and the environment, and that the ability to access European funds has transformed the economies of countries such as Ireland and Spain.
Those who take a more sceptical view would claim that Germany as a stable democracy is not a threat to European security, and that the cold war was won by the military might of NATO, combined with the political strength of British and American leaders at a time when many European Governments had succumbed to the unilateralist tendency, as had the Labour party. They claim that loss of sovereignty has been too high a price to pay: more majority voting; the loss of the national veto, and the encroachment of the EU on matters such as human rights, health care and foreign and security policy. They point to the cost of being in the EU, the amount of legislation from Brussels and the over-regulation, fraud and corruption. They believe that, if allowed to continue unchecked, interference in national customsperhaps best typified in Britain by the "metric martyrs" casewill persist. They say that the common
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agricultural policy, which roughly doubles food prices here, is unfair to developing countries, and corrupt, absurd and completely discredited. It could also be argued that closer links to other European citizens have been achieved through travel and the greater interface between students, artists and scientists. None of them require an institution to make them happy.
What are the facts? Civitas recently examined the cost of membership, in a report that I recommend to all hon. Members. The study suggested that the largest cost comes from EU red tape. Regulations implemented since 1999 cost British business £6.3 billion a year. The total cost of all EU regulations is at least £20 billion a year. The CAP costs the UK approximately £9 billion a year, while the net cost of payments to Brussels totals around £4.3 billion a year.
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