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I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but it is almost as though the political class—that informal alliance of politicians, journalists and academics—is somehow conspiring to ensure that the natural Eurosceptic instinct of the British people is contained. It is almost as though they hope that, with enough silence, the British people will lose their antipathy to
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the European project and will allow it to be achieved by default. If they believe that, they will be disappointed, because I do not think that the British people will so easily be turned round. However, if we are not careful, that conspiracy of silence will allow us in the House to be misled.

Ms Gisela Stuart: I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is the danger of a conspiracy of silence and I would not wish such an accusation to be made of Conservative Members. I hope that he will tell us what the Conservatives will actually do. I keep listening to them analysing the problem, but I have no sense of what they would actually do.

Mr. Ancram: The hon. Lady may well hear, as my speech progresses, what I think should be done. I no longer speak from the Front Bench, but she may recognise some echoes of what I said before, when I did speak from it.

What is really irritating about the silence is that it comes at a time when the opportunity to influence the future development of Europe has never been greater. I use an analogy that I have used before, but for the last 30 years the development of what is known in Europe as the project has often been described as a single-track train journey towards a country called Europe. We were told that if we were not on the train, we were somehow out of the game. That was the argument put to us. Those who have sought to stand in the way of the train—I see some in their places today—found themselves well and truly bulldozed. The treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, Nice and the second treaty of Rome all drove forward in one direction only. That was the train moving forward. It seemed unstoppable, indivertible and irresistible. Those who argued otherwise and sought another way for Europe were parodied by people in Brussels as prejudiced politicians whistling in the wind.

Then, suddenly, the wind dropped. Suddenly, the train ground to a halt, not because Brussels lost heart or saw the light, but simply because the peoples of France and Holland looked towards the country of Europe and said no—as, indeed, we would have done in this country, had we been allowed our referendum. That allowed, for the first time in my political lifetime, a real chance to reopen the debate on the future structure of Europe, to explore different structures, to look at different shapes and different tracks.

What I call the Europhiles could no longer argue that the issue was settled and non-negotiable, that the acquis could not be revisited, that the pass was sold. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in last year’s speech to the European Parliament, effectively accepted and positively proclaimed that the post-referendum era provided a new opportunity for reform. We had the chance at long last not only to press for but to achieve progress on the renegotiation of the treaties as the price for agreeing a sustainable European Union for the future. We had the chance, in my view, to retrieve some areas of sovereignty that we should never have surrendered in the first place as the bottom line for building a more flexible Europe that could absorb and manage EU enlargement.


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I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) talk last week about the work that needed to be done to complete the single market, on which we all felt strongly that the benefits of the EU for the peoples of Europe would depend. He also spoke about co-operation on energy and pollution. We all know that positive measures can be taken and built on to allow the EU to serve its people. Equally, however, I am looking for us to use this opportunity to go further and look for fundamental treaty reform, which we were told was impossible because the train was running. Now that the train has stopped, why cannot we begin to examine it in detail again? Instead of grasping that opportunity, we are now in danger of seeing it squandered.

Mr. Davidson: I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we are in grave danger of misleading ourselves if we use the wrong comparison. I refer particularly to his train analogy, which implies that there is a single object that is moving in a single direction and that if it is stopped, it can be rolled backwards. Is it not a far better analogy to think about water flowing down a hill? If it is blocked at one particular point, it will find a way round and continue to flow. Simply because the train of the constitution has been blocked, it does not mean that the flow of legislation and the drive to centralisation has been halted. Those who believe that everything has led to a diminution of centralisation have made an enormous mistake.

Mr. Ancram: I used the train as an analogy only because it was presented to me by those who promoted the EU and political union as the end of the track. What I am saying is that if they were right in the past, which we can argue about, they can no longer use that argument because the momentum has gone. What I am saying is that at last we have a real chance to kill this wretched constitution and ensure that it cannot be revived. We have a real chance to press for a more flexible and less regulated Europe within which the primacy of the nation states, which has been undermined in recent years, can be reasserted. We can now create a Europe of nations rather than a nation called Europe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) may not agree with the idea of a Europe of nations. He would probably talk about an association of nations, but I think that we would both agree that a healthy Europe—a Europe that will be able to take on expansion, a Europe that will be able to serve people in the future—is one with which people are able to identify through their own nation states. That is the closest way to get that identification, particularly as Europe gets bigger, and we now have the chance to roll back some of the issues on which the nation state has been undermined and to recreate that supremacy again.

I am frustrated about the efforts towards comprehensive and fundamental reform—while the constitution lies inactive—because this country has done nothing to advance a workable alternative and
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nothing to retrieve the wrongly surrendered areas of sovereignty. I will mention some of them, as I have before.

I happen to think that it was wrong to sign up to the social chapter. There are areas of sovereignty under that that we need to get back. I think that it was wrong that we lost control of our fisheries. I have travelled the country to visit fishing communities only to find that they no longer exist because we got that policy so badly wrong and signed away our ability to look after our fishermen. I come from a farming community and represent it in my constituency, and there are many areas of sovereignty in that respect that we gave away, which meant that we have not served the British farmer. Yes, there are many areas in which we can work hard to try to persuade our colleagues in Europe that, in exchange for a sustainable and workable Europe, changes have to be made.

What worries me is that whenever I advance that view, I am told that it is not worth trying because I will not get anywhere. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston has said that to me on occasion, but let me tell her something: if we do not try, we will never get there. There is now an opportunity to try that has never existed before.

Mr. Cash: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we were told repeatedly that we would not have a referendum? Were we not told repeatedly that we would not be able to secure a no vote in a referendum—yet that happened in other countries? Is it not really down to our having to exercise our political will? That is how we will take the opportunity that he advocates.

Mr. Ancram: I agree with my hon. Friend. My experience in politics is that if one does not try, one never achieves. I want to use this opportunity to try, because I believe that there is a chance of success, but somehow there is a timidity in this country—a desire to shy away from that.

Those on the other side of the argument have not been so timid. Faced with the referendum blows, they have determinedly set about reviving the constitution; they are quite open about it. Whatever the Foreign Secretary says, Brussels is working feverishly by means of regulations and directives and through the European Court of Justice to introduce significant elements of the constitution through the back door. What the Foreign Secretary said about external policy and what would be discussed at the coming summit sounded awfully like the common foreign policy about which we argued on the constitution. If we are not careful, all those little bits will be brought back—not openly, but quietly and surreptitiously through the back door.

Some are doing that through the front door. Chancellor Merkel, President Chirac and Romano Prodi of Italy have openly joined other leaders in saying that they want to seek ways to reverse the two referendums and to put the constitution back on its single track. They are not dissembling, so why should we pretend that it is not happening? Yet we do; what was our reaction again today on the question of the future structure of Europe? Silence. It is almost as
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though we are shocked to find ourselves in a position to lead Europe in a better and different direction. It is almost as though we have no confidence in our ability to secure change.

What a moment to lose our nerve—when people in Europe are beginning at last to question the inevitability of a federalist destiny, which one finds when talking to people in France, Germany, Holland and other places too, and when many of the new members of the European Union, alarmed at what they see as the anti-American sentiment of so much of old Europe, are waiting for a new lead and a new direction. They are astonished by our inaction.

International success is about opportunities taken, about the courage to take risks, about conviction and determination. My fear is that the supporters of the European project show all those in abundance. For our part, never has such a golden opportunity to do so as well been so pathetically missed.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to have a particular view with which, obviously, I disagree. Do not all of us fear that it was national protectionism that drove a lot of the arguments on the referendum and that failed to deliver the Lisbon agenda and the very things that we wanted, such as a single market and an economically dynamic Europe? Surely he recognises that in the UK people are using that train of thought in order to talk about pulling out of any federal or economic unity. This is not about going forward but about going back.

Mr. Ancram: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. At the Council in Laaken, the leaders of the EU suddenly woke up to the fact that what was wrong with Europe was that it had lost touch with its citizens, and it said to the European Commissioners, “Go away and find a way of reconnecting.” I say, while aware of the presence of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, that the Convention could have done that, but as she has admitted, it totally failed to do so and went in the opposite direction. In my view, that link can be recreated only through national states and the democratic processes within them.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is not the fundamental problem that the leaders of the main European countries want “ever closer union”, as specified in the original treaty, but the people of this country and most of Europe do not?

Mr. Ancram: There is a strong element of truth in that. We must be careful not to attribute to those leaders the feelings of their people. As I go round Europe, I find that people are not seeking ever closer union—they do not understand what it means. What they want is a Europe that actually makes their lives better.

To be honest, I do not think that the Government are interested in pursuing fundamental reform. I believe that the federalist path suits their command philosophy, which falls in rather nicely with the centralisation that will be created if that path is taken. The Liberal Democrats have never made any secret of
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their desire to be part of a united states of Europe, so they will not be too unhappy with that prospect. The Conservatives are now the only party that can fight to prevent the stalled European train from building up a head of steam again, but we need to do much more than we are doing. We must not only be active at home; we need to go out to the new accession countries. I have visited them all and I am told, “As long as the constitution is there, we will accept it because that is what we signed up for, but if it is no longer there, we want to be part of the process of developing a future structure for Europe.” Those countries are looking to us to lead. The Conservatives are the only party in this House that can provide that leadership, and I look to my Front-Bench colleagues to do so.

3.41 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I am happy to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), even though I did not get a chance to ask him how the Conservatives will provide that great leadership outside the European People’s party. However, I leave that problem to them to solve.

When preparing my speech, I went through all the possible jokes about the constitution, becoming more and more desperate. In the end, I decided on what Bertolt Brecht said in 1953 after an unsuccessful election in the then East Germany: “Would it therefore not be better to dismiss the people and elect a new one?” That is what is going on in Europe in relation to the constitution.

Rather than rehearse the old arguments, I want to put to Ministers three reasons why the constitution did not address certain faultlines, and why, even if it were possible to revise the document, reintroducing it would not be in the interests of Europe in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, but first I should like to make a small confession of my most significant error during the negotiations. Just before the end of the process, French colleagues, in particular, were strongly in favour of inserting a clause stating that a country that failed to ratify the constitution within two years would be asked to leave the European Union. I fought against that provision because the French and others favoured it only because they were absolutely convinced that it would be Britain that said no in a referendum. With hindsight, I think it would have been rather amusing to see what happened with France and Holland if the clause had been inserted.

My three main points can be summarised as: buns and babies, big ones and little ones, and ins and outs. Buns and babies was a phrase that Giuliano Amato, one of the vice-chairmen of the Convention, used in its latter stages. He kept telling us that we had to make up our minds whether we wanted to create buns or babies in the constitution. Some people wanted buns—something that was defined and that could not grow or change in nature. At one stage, the Germans were keen on the idea that the constitution should clearly delineate the powers of the Commission and member states and could not be altered. Those who were in favour of babies, particularly the Liberal Democrats, wanted organic law—something that would allow within itself the creation of new powers.

The constitution does not answer that question. It does not define powers, but it allows an element of
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organic development. The debate across Europe on whether the constitution should be a defining document has not been resolved. It remains one of the big faultlines, as we see in the statement that the Foreign Secretary made to the Foreign Affairs Committee. My right hon. Friend said that the Council would discuss the provisions of article 42 of the treaty of the European Union, known as the passerelle, whereby decisions are transferred from requiring unanimity to requiring a qualified majority. That is a classic organic law mechanism, and it is still available. I am not suggesting that the proposal is wrong—it is probably necessary in a union of 30—but it has not been debated and there is no accountability.

Michael Connarty: I share my hon. Friend’s disquiet about the use of the passerelle clause in some circumstances and believe that it should be resisted, but does she accept that it is not a new feature of the constitution, as it was part of a much earlier treaty signed by the Conservative Government?

Ms Stuart: I agree, but that does not negate the need to take a position. European Union debates are always stifled by the fact there are certain points that one is not allowed to debate or discuss. Just because something was agreed 20 years ago does not make it right for ever. I am not suggesting that the passerelle clause is wrong in itself. However, the way in which we have approached the constitution does not address the question of whether or not we want an organic system.

Secondly, the institutional structure of the constitution remains stuck in the system of the early days, when there were three big countries and three small ones. Disproportionate powers were given to Luxembourg, which is the size of Birmingham, yet has four MEPs and its own commissioner. That arrangement was fine when membership consisted of three big and three small countries but, depending on the way in which one classifies Poland and Spain, there are now 19 small countries and six big ones. Ten days ago, The Times published an interesting map showing that 18 independent states have been created in Europe since 1991. It projects that there will be another 17 or 18 such states by 2020-25. The number of small countries in the EU with disproportionate rights has grown, so the problem has become more serious. Do we wish to give each of those countries its own commissioner? France, Germany and Britain have one commissioner each, but the western Balkans could have six, seven or eight. We will cap the size of the European Parliament, but we will give each new state four representatives. The constitution does not even begin to address that serious faultline.

Keith Vaz: As usual, my hon. Friend’s arguments on Europe are eloquent, but has she not made the case for a constitution and firm rules and regulations to deal with the Europe of 25 instead of the Europe of six?

Ms Stuart: I have always said that we must separate the desire for a constitution, which is a political statement, from the need for a proper rule book, which would allow for further expansion. Negotiations on the
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constitution, whether we regard it as a treaty or a rule book, will not deal with those problems, so we may as well start again.

Thirdly, the ins and outs of the eurozone are less of a problem for the United Kingdom than they are for the rest of Europe. I will not spend much time on the issue, but history shows that certain requirements had to be fulfilled before the dollar became an effective single currency. The four freedoms are important, but far deeper political integration is required, as well as much greater transfers of resources between countries in the eurozone. The 0.6 per cent. that we spend on regional aid does not even begin to address the problem. In the USA, about 35 per cent. of taxes are redistributed from the centre, making the dollar an effective single currency. Countries in the eurozone must address that problem because, once again, the constitution does not offer any answers or solutions. At the same time, however, we agreed without any debate the need for a permanent head of eurozone Finance Ministers. The UK must engage with the issue—it is not a question of whether or not we join the euro—so that we are not left out of important developments in the EU.

I urge Ministers to be bold for once. Whether we like the language or not, and whether the constitution is dead or not, they should say plainly that that document will not help us in the next 30 or 50 years, and it is bad for Europe. They should put their cards on the table and have done with it. Instead, they are engaged in displacement therapy. They go on talking about the constitution to avoid talking about the things that really matter.

Like Opposition Members, I care deeply about the career prospects of our Minister for Europe and I want him to move up again. I share the view that we should have a proper debate. One of the most effective ways of making European decisions explicit and letting members of the public know what we have decided would be to create a Cabinet post that deals with European matters. The post should be taken out of the Foreign Office. It is extraordinary that all the domestic policies agreed in Brussels remain within the Foreign Office. I know why that happens—it is because of the European federation of Foreign Secretaries, who guard that arrangement because it is part of their power structure. Other countries have struggled with the same problem.

If we had a politician who had to appear at the Dispatch Box at regular intervals at Question Time, reply to written questions and answer for all the domestic policies—health, education, trade and industry and so on—which had been negotiated at Brussels level, the nature of the debate would change tremendously. The most significant political post in European politics is our permanent representative in Brussels—UKREP. How many people can name our UKREP? Not many, but the kind of deals being done there are of great political significance and should be answered for. Would any Member like to intervene and give the name of the UK representative? [Hon. Members: “Tell us.”] It occurred to me that I am no longer sure who it is. I was asking for help.


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