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Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con):
I do not want to get into a competition with my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham
(Mr. Hands), who made a very good speechbut I feel that I have an even stronger claim to being socially and continentally minded. He informed the House about the languages that he spoke; I speak five European languages fluently, I have lived in Sweden, France and Poland for a total of nine years, and I have a Polish grandfather, now deceased, and a totally unpronounceable foreign surname. Despite that continental pedigree, however, I feel increasingly alienated by further EU integration.
Rightly, a great deal has been said in the debate about the constitution, and it is vital that we should now have a referendum. I am the chairman of the national campaign for a referendum, which has cross-party support. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) is here, because he is a key part of that organisation. In The Times newspaper today, there is a full-page article from an organisation called Speak Out asking members of the public to ask their Member of Parliament to lobby on the need for a referendum. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that he will have a new kind of Government and that he will be a Prime Minister who listens to the people. It seems, however, that he will listen to the people, but not on the issue of a referendum on the European Union.
So much has changed since 1972 when we entered the then EEC. As I mentioned to the Foreign Secretary, there are millions of people like me who, because of when they were born, have not been consulted on the process of further European integration. I was three years of age when the referendum took place, so I did not have the opportunity to cast my vote.
Everyone talks about the importance of the European project gathering pace and moving forward, but no one mentions the potentially huge backlash that we will face in 20 or 30 years time if we continue to ignore people and to refuse to allow them to have referendums, and if we suddenly find ourselves in a European state. People will start to rebel against that, and it might be excessive to say so, but there could be serious social tensions as a result.
Shropshire is having a huge public consultation on proposals for a unitary authority at the moment. People are being consulted through referendums on an issue as parochial as the way in which our local councils are run. The Government also gave a referendum to the people of the north-east on the regional assembly, yet they are not prepared to give the British people a referendum on the vital issue of the new constitution. The Foreign Secretary likes to call it an amending treaty, but it is nevertheless a constitution that will impinge on our sovereignty.
The problem with the European Union is its size. It has 27 countries with huge differences in culture and focus. The constitution is trying to nibble its way towards the one-size-fits-all concept; it wants all of us to be in a one-size-fits-all straitjacket. When I was in business, as many Conservative Members have been, I
worked for a telecommunications company for many years, and my job was to try to create a pan-European strategy so that we could better service our international customers. That was extremely difficult to manage, because when I tried to get those in other European countries to comply with a common pan-European strategy, they were not interested. The French wanted to do their own thing, as did the Swedes and the Germans. It is difficult to force such proposals through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), in a typically excellent speech, mentioned the fact that Lithuania passed the constitution before it had even been published. Today, in anticipation of this debate, I met the Estonian ambassador and three Estonian MPs. I tried as hard as possible to convince them, on the House of Commons Terrace, to be more Eurosceptic, and to be against the constitution. I failed miserably. The Estonians are very keen on the constitution, and 85 per cent. of Estonian citizens want a constitution.
I spoke with Marko Mihkelson, the chairman of the EU affairs committee in the Estonian Parliament, who made some relevant comments. He said that Estonia, as a relatively small country, had been a member for only three years, had had serious tensions on its border with Russia, was concerned about gas supplies, and did not want to rock the boat. That is fineI understand and respect that position. But it is not the position in which our countrya hugely important military and economic powerfinds itself. We should be able to challenge the concept of a constitution and have more sovereignty devolved down to us.
John Bercow: My hon. Friend is making a series of heartfelt criticisms of the European Union, and I respect and understand that, clearly. But will he tell the House why the membership of the Union, notwithstanding all its weaknesses, has increased in recent years to 27?
Daniel Kawczynski: As always, my hon. Friend asks a pertinent question. The reason is that for many countries, joining the EU is the thing to do. Were I a Maltese or Lithuanian citizen, I would want the umbrella, or comfort blanket, of the European Union. I see that there are Whips in the Chamber, so let me say that I do not want this country to leave the European Unionperish the thought. However, I do not want our sovereignty to be gradually eked away, either. That is a fundamental difference.
I said to the Estonians that a time would come when the European Union would ultimately focus on other issues. I, the hon. Member for Luton, North and others from all political parties across Europe will want to bring the European Union back to what it was originally designed asa trading bloc. I told the Estonians to look at all the important blocs around the worldwe need to operate in blocs, because of the World Trade Organisation and other issuesin the Pacific, Asia and the Americas. All those vitally important blocs in this globally competitive world focus on international trade, and on trading and working together to maximise their input in the world.
We do not find Paraguay and Argentina, or Vietnam and Laos, talking about federalist matters. They are simply not interested. They want to focus on trade.
I am conscious of time, so I shall get on to my main point. Sovereignty in terms of the constitution is important, but I want to talk about another aspect, which has not been picked up onour ability to protect our borders. There has been a huge flow of African migrants to Europe over the last few years. Many boats have arrived in the Canary islands from Mauretania. That is a threat to our sovereignty because we are not able to police our common European Union frontiers, but it is also a human tragedy because of what has happened to those poor illegal immigrants.
I attempted to form an all-party parliamentary group on Mauretania so that we could interact more with that country over its tremendous problems in trying to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Now that Mauretania has democracy for the first time, I hope that the Minister and the Government will start to work with that country to ensure that it is helped not just to police the flow of illegal immigrants to Europe, but to gain jobs and prosperity so that people do not feel the need to migrate.
If both the present Government and their predecessor had been more active in the European Union in trying to work with our neighbours, we could have made the policing of those borders more effective. The problem is that we in Britain are always semi-detached, and never play our part as we ought to. If we did play our part, that would do more to achieve what my hon. Friend wants than almost anything else.
Illegal immigrants are now coming not just from Mauretania, but via Libya to Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. Malta, our common fraternal ally, is struggling to cope. It is a tiny island in the Mediterranean, and the refugee centres are full to the brim with illegal immigrants. I have spoken to many Maltese members of Parliament who are very angry and disappointed. They feel let down by the European Union, and by Britain. They feel that Britain has an inherent responsibility to help them, but I believe that we are doing absolutely nothing to help Malta.
Mr. Hoon: If the problem in the European Union were a lack of consensus, would the hon. Gentleman approve of measures to deal with precisely that problem if they were agreed by qualified majority voting?
I know the Minister will support me when I speak of the terrible tragedy and fiasco of African migrants stranded on a tuna-netting platform in the Mediterranean. There was a dispute between Italy, Libya and Malta over who should save those people standing on a fishing platform in the middle of the sea. It was an appalling situation. We should be focusing and working together
on issues like that, not on intricate specific constitutional matters that detract from the matters on which our constituents want us to focus.
There are countries in the European Union, notably Romania, Greece and Russia, that are also concerned about full independence for Kosovo. I was very upset and annoyed when the American President went to Albania and said that Kosovo should gain independence straight away. It is not the business of the President of America to dictate the intricate independent machinations of countries in Europe. Neither I nor anyone else in the Chamber would dream of telling the Americans how to run their affairs in their own back yard, and we do not expect the President or his Administration to tell us what should be happening in the European Union.
The best speech today was without doubt that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. He called for a referendum. I think that we sometimes make our greatest mistakes when we choose not to listen to senior, experienced citizens, particularly those like my hon. Friend who have so much experience.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): It is a pleasure to participate in this debate, which has been engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining. It is also a delight to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who has shown that he is our Conservative Phileas Fogg, as he has wandered around Europe so much and gained so much experience. I did not realise that he also speaks five languages. He towers over us in so many ways.
The debate is on European affairs but we have focused on the European summit, as that will take place shortly, and in particular on what might be on its agenda. We have agreed that the idea of a constitution will certainly be there, and the background to that has been thoroughly discussed. In 2004, all the European Union countries were asked to participate in a referendum, and our Government pledged that we would have one, but everything came to a grinding halt when Holland and France voted no. Therefore, the great plan for a European constitution ground to a halt.
What did we do? Instead of seizing the initiative, we began a two-year period of reflection, for some of which we held the EU presidency. The big EU bus was parked right outside No. 10 Downing street, the keys were handed to us, and what did we do? We twiddled our thumbs, rather than grasping the wheel, revving the engine and driving the bus in the direction we wanted to go. We have missed the opportunity to take the country, and Europe, in a new direction.
Germany has a different approach. Its Vorsprung durch Technik attitude has meant that it has not been idle while holding the EU presidency. It has done some homework, and its intentions for the summit are clear. Angela Merkel said recently:
I absolutely want this constitutional treaty. . .we need a constitution to have a Europe that has the power to act.
We should consider what the new constitution will lead to. There will be a permanent President of the European Council, a permanent EU Foreign Minister and the EUs own diplomatic service, and there will also be action to give legal force to the charter of fundamental rights, which could allow the European Court of Justice to rule on matters such as strikes. There will also be a new system of weighted voting for member states and the abolition of national vetoes over police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. If that is not enough, there will also be the ability to sign treaties. All in all, there would be quite a change, and a major step towards a federal state of Europe. We need an opportunity not only to debate that, but to vote on it.
The situation is ironic, because the last time we had a debate on a constitution, the UK, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Poland postponed their referendums following the results in France and Holland. Only two of the 27 EU countries ratified the constitution via a full referendum: Spain and Luxembourg. Sixteen out of 27 nations did not offer their citizens the chance to vote. The people of Europe have not had an opportunity to participate fully in this debate. That is wrong.
Mr. Gummer: Why have some Members, who have lived all their lives in a parliamentary system under which MPs are elected to Parliament to make decisions such as the one we are debating, suddenly decided that the foreign attitude of holding referendums, which we in Britain have never had before, should be adopted? I have always voted against referendums on any basis. We are Members of Parliament; we are elected to represent our constituents and we should vote on these issues, just as we should vote on whether to go to war or not.
Mr. Ellwood: My right hon. Friend makes a powerful argument. We could debate what matters are worthy of a referendum and what matters should be designated to be debated in Parliament. I believe that a precedent has been set, in that there was a referendum on our joining the European Community. That fundamental change was worthy of a referendum. That is my view, and the position that I shall state.
My hon. Friend is, I think, mistaken. We entered the European Union by a vote of this House, which I was proud to take part in; indeed, it was the proudest day of my life in this House and the most
important thing that we did. We entered the EU because this House decided to do so. It was the Labour party that tried to use the referendum to cover its own divisions. That is precisely what always happens with referendums.
Mr. Ellwood: We can wander back in history, but the point is that there was a referendum on remaining in the European Community. I am saying that we deserve a referendum now. That is the position of this party, and the one that we should move forward with.
We certainly deserve representation and an opportunity to vote. The Germans have pre-empted the summit by saying that the constitution will help on issues such as climate change and illegal immigration, and that those are better tackled when the approach is co-ordinated from Brussels, rather than dealt with by sovereign nations. That is perhaps an example of the shift in the balance of power between sovereign nations and Brussels. I agree that there should be co-ordination of policythat is sensiblebut implementation must be conducted and monitored locally, reflecting existing laws, attitudes and priorities, which can differ greatly from country to country. Where power lies is absolutely critical.
Mr. Shepherd: The intervention that my hon. Friend took from my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was very curious. My right hon. Friend was a member of Mr. Majors Government, and part of the single currency deal was to have a referendumshould the issue ariseso he, as a member of that Government, would have supported such an approach.
Mr. Ellwood: I am grateful for that intervention. I fear that it might be wise for the three of us to discuss this issue outside the Chamber, where we can have a good debate on it. I will remain focused on what I am trying to say.
What the EU does and what it should not do is at the heart of our discussion today. The European Community, to which we originally signed up, was a trading base designed to stand up to the might of Japan, the USA and others. In terms of what the EU can do today to unify 27 countries that are so different in many ways, there is a threshold. A trading platform, yes; political master of 27 nations, no. The European Parliament can of course improve its track record in many ways, without trying to expand what it does.
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