It is also true to say, though, that this change in Europe will not be achieved unless we recognise that, in my judgment, people support the concept of the European Union. What they do not support is its present reality, but that is a very different thing from saying that we should break the whole thing up.
In the light of what the Prime Minister has said, does he also recall that it is highly improbable that William Pitt would have signed the constitutional treaty, but that Churchill said that we should be "associated but not absorbed"? Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to take up the message that Churchill issued and then say that he would agree to co-operate with those of us who have just set up the European reform forum to look at all the existing treaties and then find the way forward? This is an historic opportunity. Will the Prime Minister help us to co-operate in finding the way forward in the interests of this country?
The Prime Minister: I think that William Pitt went about things in quite a military way, as I seem to recall, and I do not think that we are quite at that point. The only difficulty with Winston Churchill on the subject of Europe is that quotes of his that support virtually most positions on Europe can be found. The basic point is that, yes, we can make a real difference over the next six months of our presidency, but I repeat that we will only do so if we are arguing from a mainstream position in Europe.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab):
As I will be in Warsaw this weekend, may I welcome the Prime Minister's generous statements about helping eastern Europe and contrast them with the rather mean approach of the Leader of the Opposition when he said that we should pay even less to Europe to help poorer countries? Is the Prime Minister aware that 19 out of the 25 member states are now governed by sister parties of the Conservative party? The report in The Times today saying that leading Conservatives have set up their latest no campaign to renegotiate the treaties and pull us out of Europe is thus deeply alarming? While Britain should be extending its influence in Europe, the Conservative party wants us out of the European Union.
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The Prime Minister: That is why this is important. If we were to start talking about renegotiating the existing terms, it would be disastrous for our ability to gain any leverage in the debate at all. That is why it is sensible for us to work with other political parties and Governments in Europe from a pro-European position.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Does the Prime Minister accept that, right through his premiership, he has lectured us that the difference between him and his predecessors is that he will always put this country at the heart of Europe? Amid all the smoke, confusion, chaos, re-enactments of the battle of Waterloo and all that stuff, can he tell us exactly what now differentiates his position, in terms of attitude and style, from that of John Major 10 years ago?
The Prime Minister: I can tell the hon. Gentleman exactly. In the latter part of the last Government, I am afraid that Britain was completely isolated in the European Union, but it is not isolated today. Britain has allies both on the nature of the reforms that we want to achieve and on the budget debate. If, as I assume, he is saying that we should have accepted that deal last Friday
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May I congratulate the Prime Minister on fighting so hard to preserve the British rebate? I realise that a period of reflection is important, but will he pledge to continue pushing forward the reform agenda? That relates to not only the CAP, but the Lisbon scorecard and the Tampere and Hague programmes, which, if implemented, will bring real benefits to millions of people throughout the European Union.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we were making real strides forward on economic reform, dealing with organised crime and drug and people trafficking, and issues to do with terrorism, and if we were ensuring that we had the right defence capabilities in Europe, the people of Europe would see us addressing their concerns and worries. He is absolutely right that that is the way to make the case.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con):
I suppose that the events of the past few days have turned us all into Eurosceptics, but the question is how we now react. In Paris last week, it was clear that many French business people recognised that the French social model was not the basis for Europe. Indeed, as one commissioner said, it would endanger us to the point at which we could become a suburb of Shanghai. On a more general point, during the next six months, will the Prime Minister try to ensure that the European Union has the right allocation of resources so that we can
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continue to do our job of trying to stabilise Europe? One country that has not been mentioned that must be in our sights is Croatia. If it thought that there was no chance of coming closer to the European Union, there could be further instability in the Balkans.
The Prime Minister: It is for precisely that reason that we need to push forward with enlargement. The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is right, but the Eurosceptic position, which is to say that Europe should be merely a free trade area, is certainly not the position of the Government. That is not my position and I do not believe that it is his, either. Our position is that there should be a social dimension to Europe. I believe that very strongly, but it must be a social dimension for today's world. If we had a proper social dimension in Europe today, we would be spending the European budget on things such as research and development, technology, skills, innovation and support for small businesses. If we did that, we would of course get enormous support from people in Europe.
I do not accept at all, and I know the hon. Gentleman does not really either, that a Eurosceptic position of saying, "Let's move Europe to a free trade area," is one that we endorsewe do not. I know that our position over the past few days has been characterised in certain countries as arguing for that, but that is just nonsense. As I said at the Council when someone tried to say that our position was that we just wanted a market Europe, we do not simply want a Europe that is a free market. We want a strong social dimension and I want a strong foreign policy and defence dimension to Europe. I believe in those things for Europe, but we can get a better deal for Europe, never mind Britain, in today's world than the one that we have.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): In supporting my right hon. Friend, I put it to him that we should not lose sight of the achievements of the European Union. Does he agree that the accession of the eastern European states is a major advance and that making a success of enlargement should be a key priority in the years ahead?
The Prime Minister: Yes, my right hon. Friend is right. What is more, it is important to realise that the new accession countries are not in favour of a Europe that is simply a free trade area. If we put our argument in the wrong wayif we conduct the debate in the wrong waywe will lose their support when we need it.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP):
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the controversy raging over the Common Market and the common agricultural policy is a smokescreen to cover up the real issue, which is the rejection of the European constitution? Will he assure the House and the people of this United Kingdom that there will be no renegotiation of the rebate because a pistol from Europe has been put to his head or our head and that he will only go forward for that which is best for Britain, because what is best for Britain will be best for Europe? Will he assure the farming community that what they have been promised will come to them and that, if anybody has to be de-CAPed, it is not British farmers, but French ones?
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