Previous Section Index Home Page

On social security, we have secured an effective veto power on any proposals for important change. We can insist on taking any proposal to the European Council and, because it will be decided by unanimity, we have a veto where we—Britain—determine that a proposal
22 Oct 2007 : Column 21
would impact on important aspects of our social security system, including its scope, cost or financial structure. In justice and home affairs, the amending treaty gives us the right not to participate; in social security, it gives us the right to insist on unanimity.

Many qualified majority voting measures, for example, rules for the euro or special state aids for Germany, do not affect the United Kingdom. The remaining areas of QMV agreed in June are decisions on emergency humanitarian aid to third countries—manifestly in Britain’s interest—and energy market liberalisation, again in our interest. Others are technical or procedural and simply relate to the efficient functioning of the Union, for example, the internal rules for appointing the Committee of the Regions, judges and the Economic and Social Committee.

While there is a two-and-a-half-year presidency of the Council, the President of the Council has been appointed as the servant of the leaders of the national Governments—and the purpose is to strengthen the Council of national Governments in relation to other EU institutions.

The new treaty also expressly provides that national security is the sole responsibility of member states. The declaration to the treaty makes it clear that while the European Union, like the UN and the International Monetary Fund, can sign international agreements, this does not, and cannot, authorise the Union in any way to legislate or act beyond the powers conferred on it by member states in the treaties.

As a result of our negotiation, we are agreed that the new text will make it clear that national Parliaments have the right, but are not obliged, to contribute to the work of the Union. Under the amending treaty, national Parliaments have a new right to force the EU to reconsider proposals if a third of Parliaments feel that the issue is better dealt with at member state level. And symbols of statehood that were the characteristic of the rejected constitutional treaty—European flags, anthems or mottos—have been abandoned in the treaty.

As I have already made clear, the Government will only agree the amending treaty in December if, in the final text, all the UK protections that I have outlined are included in the detail we have negotiated. Parliament will have the opportunity to debate this amending treaty in detail and decide whether to ratify it. The Government will recommend that there is sufficient time for debate on the Floor of the House so that the Bill is examined in the fullest of detail and all points of view can be heard— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Penning, I must ask you to behave— [ Interruption. ] Order. Let me deal with it. It is not the first time that the Opposition have called on Ministers to come and make statements to the House. The Prime Minister is doing that. If hon. Members do not co-operate with me, I have powers to deal with the matter. I ask the House to listen to what the Prime Minister has to say. Do not shout out questions. If there are questions, I will recognise Members and let them put their questions to the Prime Minister. That is the way that we will do it.
22 Oct 2007 : Column 22

The Prime Minister: In addition, we propose to build further safeguards into the legislation. To ensure that no Government can agree without Parliament’s approval to any change in European rules that could, in any way, alter the constitutional balance of power between Britain and the European Union, we will make a provision in the Bill that any proposal to activate the mechanisms in the treaty that provide for further moves to QMV, but which require unanimity of member states, will have to be subject to a prior vote by this House.

The amending treaty will not be fully implemented until 2014. Indeed, one section does not have full effect until 2017. I can confirm that, not just for this Parliament but also for the next, it is the position of the Government to oppose any further institutional change in the relationship between the EU and its member states. In our view, there is also a growing consensus across Europe that there should be no more institutional change for many years.

The December European Council will also consider a declaration proposed by Britain that Europe moves to a new agenda. The new priorities are a focus on jobs, competitiveness, prosperity, climate change and security, so that Europe can play a far stronger part in the competitive economy of the world and be a leader and success story in the new global order. So because it is right that Europe now focuses not on more institutional change, but on the reforms that are needed to meet the challenges of the global era, we are publishing today our agenda for the new priorities that we as a European Union must adopt—a renewed focus on completing the single market, in which the priority is the liberalisation of the energy and telecommunications sectors; a commitment to free trade and openness, with the priority of ensuring a successful outcome to the world trade talks and promoting better EU-US trade links; tackling climate change and energy security; combating terrorism and organised crime; reducing global poverty; and reforming the European Union budget.

It is by putting in place those changes that we can create a truly outward-looking, globally focused European Union that helps deliver prosperity, opportunity and security for all, with an agenda that is good for Britain and good for Europe, and that allows us to continue to benefit from our membership of the European Union and, by working together, to have a greater influence in the world.

The protections we have negotiated defend the British national interest. We are putting in place new procedures to lock in our protection of these interests. We will oppose any further proposals for institutional change in the European Union this Parliament and the next. We will lead the debate in Europe to move to a new agenda of new priorities that focus on the economic and social needs of our citizens. I commend this statement to the House.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The Prime Minister says that he wants Europe to focus on competitiveness and climate change and is opposed to further institutional change. I have to say that people will ask why he did not say that boldly at the start of the intergovernmental conference, rather than lamely at the end of it.

22 Oct 2007 : Column 23

There is one fundamental question arising from today’s statement. When a party makes a promise in a manifesto, can it be trusted to keep it? The Prime Minister has described the Labour manifesto as an issue of trust. That manifesto promised a referendum on the EU constitution. If this Prime Minister goes back on that promise, how can he expect his promises to be believed in future? In his statement, he did not even mention that R word once. As his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who helped to write the constitution, said:

First of all, let us look at the content of the treaty. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the treaty gets rid of the veto in 60 areas, including in energy, transport and self-employment law? The Prime Minister has given up on the veto but he says that is okay because he has got rid of the motto. Well, I have a motto for him: “Let the people decide”.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that this treaty means an EU President and Foreign Minister and an EU diplomatic service in all but name? Will he confirm that it includes a new ratchet clause that allows even more vetoes to be scrapped without the need for a new intergovernmental conference? The Prime Minister says that there will be no more institutional change for 10 years but he has just agreed a treaty that allows institutional changes to take place every year.

The Prime Minister deploys two main arguments against holding a referendum: first, he says, the treaty is not the same as the constitution and, secondly, he says that Britain is a special case because of our opt-outs and our red lines. Let me take the two arguments in turn: first, the claim that the new treaty is substantially different from the constitution. The Irish Prime Minister says that it is 90 per cent. the same. The Spanish Foreign Minister says that it is 98 per cent. the same. The German Chancellor says:

Why does the Prime Minister think all of them are wrong and he is right?

What is more, is not it the case that even his colleagues do not believe him? His new trade Minister, Lord Jones of Birmingham, days before his appointment said:

The Prime Minister’s colleagues on the Labour-dominated European Scrutiny Committee say that the EU treaty is “substantially equivalent” to the constitution, even for Britain. They say that pretending otherwise, as the Prime Minister keeps doing, is “likely to be misleading”.

Next, the Prime Minister says that even if it is a constitution for other countries it is not for Britain because of our opt-outs and our red lines. Will he confirm that the red lines do not include the EU President, the single legal personality, the vetoes or the ratchet clause? That is why his hon. Friend who helped to draft the constitution described the red lines as “red herrings”.

22 Oct 2007 : Column 24

Even the areas covered by the red lines are falling apart; take the red line on tax. The Government told the BBC that it was a bit of a con and “purely presentational” because tax was never going to be part of the treaty anyway. Is not it the case that the red line on foreign policy is only in a declaration? It is not legally binding and legal advice to the European Scrutiny Committee says that it may turn out to be “meaningless”.

With the red line on the charter of fundamental rights, the former Prime Minister promised us an opt-out. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Minister for Europe had to write to the Scrutiny Committee to explain that it was not an opt-out after all, but just a clarification? That actually matters. The Prison Officers Association has already announced that it will take the Government to court so that it can have the right to strike that is set out in the charter of fundamental rights.

The red line on criminal justice has also been torn apart by the European Scrutiny Committee. The Chairman of the Committee said:

the red lines—

So much for the red lines, but even if they were totally robust and watertight it would not affect the case for a referendum, because they are the same red lines as the Prime Minister’s predecessor set out for the constitution. Then, as now, the Government claimed that the charter would not affect UK law. Then, as now, the Government claimed that we were protected from measures on foreign policy, tax and criminal law and then, as now, they claimed that there was no great constitutional change at stake. So why promise a referendum then, but not now? Is not the answer perfectly clear?

The last Prime Minister, standing at the Dispatch Box, said,

whereas this Prime Minister says, let battle be avoided wherever possible, especially if people are to have their say. That is why he is not having a referendum. He does not think he would win it. Why does he continue to treat people like fools by pretending otherwise? Why does he continue to put forward arguments that do not even convince his own colleagues?

This is the Prime Minister who stood outside Downing street four months ago promising to restore trust in politics, but now he is betraying people’s trust. He promised to listen, but he refuses to give people the chance to speak. He promised to honour his manifesto, but he is breaking one of the most important manifesto commitments of all. He says that this issue will be settled by Parliament, so perhaps he could start his response by answering a simple question: when Parliament votes on whether to hold a referendum, will he allow his side a free vote? He has absolutely no democratic mandate to sign this treaty without a referendum. If he breaks his trust with the British people, they will rightly say, “How can we ever trust him on anything else again?”

22 Oct 2007 : Column 25

The Prime Minister: I will answer every point in detail, but I notice that the right hon. Gentleman mentions nothing about the long-term agenda for Europe—not one thing. Is it not remarkable that, after six years of debate about institutions, not one Government in the rest of Europe—not one of the 27—support his opposition to the amending treaty? Is it not remarkable that only one Government—Ireland—who are constitutionally obliged to do so, think that the issues justify a referendum now? Is it not also remarkable that, in his own shadow Cabinet, those members who were there in 1992 all voted against a referendum on a more far-reaching treaty in Maastricht?

As for the individual questions that the right hon. Gentleman put to me, the first was on the passerelles—as for those that he raised, I have to tell him that they were legislated for in the Single European Act by Lady Thatcher. The implementation of passerelles requires unanimity, and sometimes I think that he does not listen to me, because I said directly that, in the House of Commons, Members of Parliament would have a vote on whether to implement any of the passerelles.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that foreign policy remains an intergovernmental matter and the decisions remain to be made by unanimity. Those are the two building blocks of the common foreign and security policy: the decisions are intergovernmental and taken by unanimity. That means that Britain has the right to decide. The right hon. Gentleman raised that issue in terms of justice and home affairs, but the fact is that we have an opt-in on all the important issues that have to be decided—an opt-in that has been negotiated by us, including in relation to Schengen measures, where we can opt out if we choose to do so. The fact of the matter is that, on this issue too, Britain will decide.

On social security, because we have a veto on any further new decision, it is Britain that will decide. As for the charter of rights, I think that the right hon. Gentleman should read the protocol, which means that there are no rights in British law as a result of that charter. It is exactly for that reason that the CBI has issued a statement saying that it supports our interpretation of it.

I am afraid to say that, because the Leader of the Opposition is not prepared to look at the long-term agenda for Europe, people will rightly draw the one conclusion that is drawn from the behaviour of Conservative Members: not only are they against the amending treaty, but they wish to renegotiate the membership of the European Union; they wish to withdraw from employment and social legislation; and not only that, they have a decision to make on whether, when the treaty is ratified, they will support a referendum even after the ratification, which means that they have to renegotiate with all the other 26 members on our membership of the European Union. For a country where 62 per cent. of our trade lies with Europe, I have to say that the years of economic uncertainty and instability that would result from such renegotiation would, in my view, be unacceptable to British business and unacceptable to the British people.

The House should also know, in conclusion, what friends the Conservative party has in Europe. The Conservatives said that they would form the Movement
22 Oct 2007 : Column 26
for European Reform. They said that other countries would join, and they announced at a press conference that the Czech party had joined and then that the Bulgarian party had joined. Then, only a few days ago, the European People’s party announced that the Bulgarians had already withdrawn from the Movement for European Reform. Then, the right hon. Gentleman has got his last remaining friends, whom he calls his closest allies in Europe—the Czech Civic Democrats—but his only allies in Europe support the amending treaty. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Once again, we cannot have shouting.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman’s only remaining friends in Europe, the Czech Civic Democrats, support the amending treaty and are against a referendum, and the Czech Prime Minister has said,

in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman has no friends in Europe, and he has no support from any Government; he will have to change his policy. We will defend the national interest.

Hon. Members: More, more!

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Vincent Cable.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I welcome the statement. We believe that the treaty is necessary. It is in the British national interest that the European Union should work efficiently and effectively, but there remains the issue of legitimacy. We believe that there should be a referendum. The public should decide whether Britain should remain a committed member of the European Union. A great deal has changed since the Harold Wilson referendum in 1975. There has been a pooling of sovereignty through Mrs. Thatcher’s Single European Act, John Major’s Maastricht treaty, Tony Blair’s Amsterdam and Nice treaties, and now this treaty. The time has come for consultation with the British public on the cumulative effect of those treaties, because there is anxiety about national sovereignty, and that has to be addressed through public debate.

We cannot continue with the approach perfected by the Conservative party, which, when in office, supported European integration without referendums, but which, when in opposition, supports the worst features of anti-European populism.

Next Section Index Home Page