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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.
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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.

The Prime Minister of Luxembourg said:

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.
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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.

The Minister for Europe appeared to rule that out on 2 June. He said on the "Today" programme:

He was very clear about that, just a few days ago. However, on Monday, the Foreign Secretary seemed much less certain when he said:

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.

We already know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer shares our assessment of the profound economic problems facing the EU. As he wrote in the Financial Times on 10 September 2004,

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He continued:

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.

The Foreign Secretary on Monday, however, could not even tell us where the Government will stand at the Council next week. He said:

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:

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:

A wise assessment. If only the hon. Lady could communicate it to her colleagues on the Treasury Bench and get them to understand the reality of the situation.

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.
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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.

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