|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con):
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), and to be back winding up another debate on European policy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said, these debates can be somewhat ritualistic, but he was also right to say that things are very different now. Our debates have become more interesting.
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1341
Some excellent speeches have been made, including fine maiden speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) and for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the hon. Members for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), for North Shropshire and for Stratford-on-Avon, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) all called for a very new direction to be taken in the EU. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells put it, a new Europe is trying to be born.
I want to take this opportunity to welcome to his new post the Minister of Europe, although I shall miss his predecessor, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), with whom I had many enjoyable exchanges over recent months. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) to the debate. I suspect that he is only visiting for this one occasion, but I hope that he enjoys it and does not find it too damaging.
The Minister for Europe opened the debate by talking a great deal about the Conservative party's policies, but he was less forthcoming about where the Government stand. I have enjoyed this debate so much that I am greatly looking forward to the next opportunity to discuss these matters. That will arise immediately before next week's European Council meeting, but it will be even harder then for the Minister to say nothing without looking absurd.
The people of France and the Netherlands have struck a massive blow for democracy in the past few days. They expressed with great clarity and eloquence the seething anger felt by people across Britain and Europe at Governments who seem increasingly remote and deaf to their concerns. The referendums in those two countries are a clear signal that the age of deference in politics is over, and that people will no longer tolerate political elites ruling without regard for popular opinion.
Those referendums also sent the clear signal that people are interested more in real solutions than in grand constitutional projects. The test for the Governments of Europe will be how quickly they grasp that new reality, or whether they continue to regard the people with disdain while arrogantly pursuing the same old agenda. So far, the signs are not good.
Giscard d'Estaing, one of the constitution's architects, has said that ratification would "obviously" continue, even if France voted no. At today's Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister, on being challenged about the Foreign Secretary's statement on Monday, gave the remarkable response that the statement was clear enough to him, and that that was all that counted. That says it all about this Prime Minister, and about the present Government's attitude. How very revealing that was.
I do not for a moment want to call the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) a member of the political elite, but he too thinks that the life support will be switched off. However, even he thinks that there is no reason for a fundamental change of direction in the EU.
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1342
Some politicians are preparing to carry on as though nothing has happened. They want to go back to the European project and continue the ratification of an unwanted constitution, either as a whole or by cherry-picking a bit at a time.
"There is no question of reintroducing the Constitutional treaty by the back door . . . You've got to recognise that some suggest that common sense changes could be introduced at the edges. That denies the reality that this treaty was extremely hard fought over by the 25 members all seeking to advance their national interests. What seems to be common sense in one country, as we've seen over the last couple of days, is judged to be extremely contentious in another. This is a Constitutional treaty which was an extremely interlocked document reflecting the hard negotiations that took place over a number of years."
"If the Commission or the Council were themselves to suggest that we should introduce these things by other means, it would be absurd to put such proposals to a referendum. We ought to agree to them straight away." [Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 995.]
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is one of the people who has said that the reform process in the European Union is important to make it more efficient, less wasteful and better able to deal with a membership of 25 nations. Surely he is not suggesting that the whole process should suddenly stop, just because France and the Netherlands have voted against the constitution. What will happen when Romania and Bulgaria join? Surely we need to ensure that the EU operates efficiently and effectively.
Mr. Brady: I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman has attended enough of these debates over the past few months to know that our position is clear. We want a more flexible European Union. We believe that we can have an efficient EU with 25, 27 or more members as long as it does less and does it better. We do believe that the constitution must stop now, because that is what the people in France and the Netherlands have demanded. We also believe that we need a more flexible, less regulated and less centralised Europe, and that is something towards which the Government should work.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells made a powerful contribution from the perspective of a former member of the Convention. He debunked the myth that the voting system proposed in the constitution would increase Britain's control over majority voting. Many hon. Members have made it clear that matters cannot continue as they were. The status quo is not a viable option, contrary to the views of the hon. Gentleman.
"Europe has a special responsibility to rise to the challenge and, starting today, make new commitments on economic reform. This is no time for complacency or consolidation but for pushing forward boldly with liberalisation. This year, the eurozone's growth rate will be half that of the US and Japan."
"Only by rejecting the old trade-bloc Europeinward-looking, inflexible and scleroticand wholeheartedly embracing a global Europereforming, flexible, outward-looking and competitivewill the EU respond to the new challenges of globalisation."
I could have written the same thing myself. There is wide acceptance that economic reform is essential, but it is only when Europe abandons the constitution and the grandiose dreams of a political Europe that the economic reforms can really take place.
Well, it is only a week away. We hope that when we have our debate prior to the meeting of the Council next week we will have a clear statement of the Government's negotiating position and what it will press for at the Council.
Some have a clearer view than the Foreign Secretary, including the hon. Member for Rotherham, who accepted immediately after the Dutch vote that the constitution was dead. They also include Lord Kerr, one of the draftsmen of the constitution who spoke so well in the other place on Monday. He said:
"A no is a no. An American might add that two noes are a real 'no no'. I do not for a moment dispute that there is no point whatever in proceeding with a ratification process in this country. Indeed, I cannot understand the motive underlying pressure from Paris, Brussels and Luxembourg for a macabre ritual dance of ratification and referenda to proceed. I see no point in it."[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 June 2005; Vol. 672, c. 679.]
Indeed, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) whose wise comments on the subject I quote regularly, as she knows, wrote an article that was published in The Birmingham Post a few days ago. She said:
"The Constitution was an overambitious attempt to consolidate an outdated political and economic vision of Europe. Our mandate was to bring Europe closer to its peopleand we ended up alienating them even more . . . It's no good saying that the Constitution was rejected because it was not understood. Opinion polls in France showed that the more the French discussed it, the less they liked it. The same happened last year in Sweden when they voted against joining the euro, despite the campaign having been backed by the political parties, business and the media".
Ministers appear unable to accept the truth, or at least to do so in public, but they will have to reveal their hand when they come to the House next week. I hope that then they will understand that, in their no vote on the EU constitution, the people of France and the Netherlands struck a blow for all of us who are fed up with Governments who do not listen, politicians who are out of touch and bureaucracies that are unaccountable. The political elites of Europe are currently in a state of shock. They cannot carry on as before, ignoring the will of the people.
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1344
As Britain prepares to assume the EU presidency, there is an unprecedented opportunity to provide Europe with real leadership, with a new vision that is right for the 21st century. The over-centralised, over-regulated and inward-looking EU that was enshrined in the constitution should be sent to the guillotine. A diverse EU of 25 nations, or more, must have the flexibility to allow each to fulfil its destiny and to respond to the democratic will of its own people. The British Government should have the courage to seize this extraordinary moment in the affairs of Europe and set a new and different course.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|