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essential points...reappear word for word in the new project. Not a comma has changed!
The Prime Ministers argument has simply collapsed. Does he not see that it is this sort of approach that makes him look shifty and untrustworthy? Does he not see that far from getting him out of his troubles, denying people a referendum is digging him in deeper? This treaty obviously is the constitution. It contains an EU President, a Foreign Minister and an EU diplomatic service, and it gets rid of the veto in 60 areas and contains a new ratchet clause which allows even more vetoes to be scrapped without a new intergovernmental conference. When I put that point to the Prime Minister last October, he claimed the measure was already there in the Single European Act. It was not. The new clause for the first time allows virtually any veto to be scrapped in any area. That measure was not in the Single European Act, nor in any treaty before this one. Once again, the Prime Minister is treating people like fools.
So the Prime Minister has not been straight about the constitution, and that was only made worse by his frankly bizarre performance in Lisbon last week. Was he going or was he not going? Was he going to sign the treaty or was he not going to sign the treaty? Were the cameras going to record it or not? He could not summon up the courage to decide.
Is this not all a pattern for this Prime Minister? We get troop withdrawals that have already happened, the election that never was, and now the signing ceremony that would not take place. There was not a word in the statement about actually signing the treaty. I expect that Macavity hopes we have forgotten about it already. Did not a senior diplomat get it right when he said of the Prime Ministers dithering that
hes ended up with the worst of all worlds...If he wants to send a Euro-signal that hes indecisive, hes just sent it?
As for the Foreign Secretary, in all the past centuries of British Foreign Secretaries representing this country overseas, has there ever been a more ludicrous moment than this Foreign Secretary being so isolated and alone that the only person whose hand he could find to shake was the usher who had handed him the pen? Is it not the case that European leaders now see the Prime Minister in the same light as do the British people: not as the strong leader he posed as in July, but as a Prime Minister who has turned out to be weak, ditheringsecond-rate would be a bonus with himand not straight with people? Does he not recognise that the best chance he has got to redeem himself is to hold that referendum he promised?
The Prime Minister: In the spirit of Christmas, let us find where we do agree. We agree on Kosovo, where our aim, too, is supervised independence, the arrest of the Serbian criminals, and to ensure that there is a proper civilian as well as military presence from both the EU and NATO on the ground. We agree on Iran: obviously, the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that because the issue is enriched uranium, sanctions are necessary. We agree on Darfur, and I thank him for mentioning that as it gives me the chance to say that we are ready to step up both sanctions and activity in relation to Darfur if we do not get the co-operation of the Government there.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, we also agree on Burma. However, I am surprised that when we are debating the issues that arose from the European Counciland I rather suspect he wrote his contribution before he looked at its conclusionshe does not mention the declaration on globalisation, the commitment to economic reform, what we have done on the environment together, and what we continue to do on the financial stability issues, none of which he seems to think important, because the only issue that obsesses the Conservative party is the European amending treaty. I have to ask him this question, then: if the Conservative party thinks that a referendum is so important, does it agree that even after ratification there would be a referendum? Some of the party think that there should be, but others think there should not. Will he tell us what his position is, because until he does so we will rightly say that he is all slogans and absolutely no substance?
When it comes to the wording in the Bill that I have laid before the House today, I should correct the right hon. Gentleman. On passerelles, there will be a parliamentary vote on whether there should be any move from unanimity to qualified majority voting, and the Government will not be able to sign up to a passerelle change without the approval of the House of Commons. However, I have to tell him on the referendum issue that
not one other countryexcept the Irish Republic, which is constitutionally bound to have a referendumis proposing to have that referendum. The Dutch and the Danish have rejected it. The right hon. Gentleman has only two supporters in the European Union as he tries to find a new group. The Bulgarian party has now deserted him, and the Czech party has said only in the last few days that it wants to sign the treaty. It is not a constitutional treaty in their view, and if they did not sign the treaty it would lead, they said, to the international isolation of the Czech Republic.
That is the view of the right hon. Gentlemans best ally in Europe; and perhaps I should repeat to him what the chairman of his democracy commission has said about this matterthat a European referendum would be crackpot, dotty and frankly absurd. Is it not about time that the Conservatives faced up to the big issues in Europe; that they accepted they we are trying to move Europe to a new agenda; that they joined that new agenda, which is about the environment, the economy and security; and that they stopped their obsession with the issues of the past?
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I too welcome the statement, particularly the Prime Ministers comments on Kosovo, Iran and Burma, and his support for economic reform and free trade. I start by referring to the meetings that he did not attend, before getting on to the one that he did. He was absolutely right not to attend the EU-Africa summit. The European Union has a travel ban on Mugabe, and the Prime Minister was absolutely right to take a principled stand on that. The only doubt that I am left with is why, given his strong position on human rights, he did not take a comparably strong position on the King of Saudi Arabia. I suspect that Mr. Mugabe will be wondering whether the only way to get on the right side of the Prime Ministers principled view of foreign policy is to have some oil.
The other meeting that the Prime Minister did not attend, of course, was the signing ceremony, and I am puzzled about the reasons for that. Either he could not organise his diary, which would be incompetent, or he could not make the effort, which would be discourteous. Alternatively, he was trying to send the conflicting signal that he did not like the treaty that he had agreed to. Whether it was duplicity, incompetence or discourtesy, it reflected badly not just on him but on the country as a whole.
There is one way for the Prime Minister to redeem himself, which is to call a referendum: not, of course, on the narrow issue of the treaty, but on the broader question of whether Britain should remain a full member of the European Unionan issue on which nobody under the age of 50 has yet had an opportunity to vote. Perhaps I might remind the Prime Minister of what happened when we had a vote in the House of Commons on 14 November. His party and mine were unitedon opposite sides of the argument. The Conservatives voted 149 against the referendum and six in favour, with 31 abstaining. If high principle does not appeal to him, perhaps low politics will, and he will come round to the idea of a referendum.
On the specifics of the Prime Ministers statement, he was right to draw attention to the progress made on Kyoto and climate change, but can he clarify exactly what this means for the commitments of the United
Kingdom? I tackled him at Prime Ministers questions a few weeks ago on the UK commitment to a 20 per cent. renewables use by 2020, and he replied by saying that that was not a commitment for the UK, but for the European Union as a whole. Somewhat earlier, on 1 March, his Foreign Secretary, who was then the Environment Secretary, said quite explicitly that this was a commitment for the United Kingdom specifically. Can the Prime Minister clarify: is that the Governments view, or was his statement in Parliament the correct view?
On Kosovo, the Prime Minister is absolutely right to stress the danger of this situation. Several countries in the area could be sucked into itSerbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosniaand we could well be faced with flights of refugees, as we have had in the past. The UK may well be called upon to play a role in a peacekeeping capacity.
The question I have for him is: what is the ability of the British Government to play a role in a peacekeeping capacity when British armed forces are so overstretched? Is not the answer to this dilemma to withdraw the remaining few thousand troops in Basra, who are impotent in the face of the militias running amok there?
Finally, may I ask the Prime Minister about the commitment of Finance Ministers and Prime Ministers to support additional liquidity in the world economy? There is a simple point: if £30 billion cannot save one small regional bank in Britain, what is the prospect of £50 billion saving the world economy?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is making his appearance here as the acting leader of the Liberal party; it will elect a new leader tomorrow. I see that three former leaders of the Liberal party are with us today. He says that he has a new position on the referendumbut some members of his party want a referendum on the amending treaty, whereas others do not. So what has his party done? It has retreated to the position of 35 years ago whereby the party will have a referendum on whether we should be in the European Union at all. I suggest to him that that issue was resolved in 1975; it is in no need of being resolved again in this country.
I turn to the hon. Gentlemans points about the specifics of the discussions. On Zimbabwe, it is right that we are agreed that it was wrong for Britain to be present at prime ministerial or Foreign Secretary level at the EU-Africa conference. However, if there is a change in Administration in Zimbabwe and in the respect for human rights, we stand ready to do what we can to help rebuild that country.
On Kosovo, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need a military and civilian presence, but I do not agree with him that Britain cannot play its part with the small but important numbers that we are putting in both in civilian and military presence.
On the renewables issue, I think the hon. Gentleman knows what our position is: I made it clear in the House of Commons. The EU is committed to a 20 per cent. renewables target. Discussion is taking place around the EU about what individual contributions will be made by the member states. We await the outcome of that discussion, and we will then receive a target that we will implement. This is the right way forward, and I
hope that all parties in the House of Commons will provide support for dealing with renewables.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the European financial situation in the face of global turbulence. I hope that we will see co-operation across Europe to deal with what have been very difficult problems arising from events in America, where there has already been central bank co-operation. We are prepared to argue for more co-operation, which is why I have invited Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy to London to discuss the paper that we have already put forward for reform of the international financial institutions.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister agree that the Portuguese presidency deserves enormous credit for all the achievements during its six months, and that the outcome of this meeting in Brussels, too, is a reflection of a lot of the preparatory work that it has done? He made reference to Kosovo. Did any discussion take place about a co-ordinated EU and United States recognition of an independent Kosovo, so that no precipitate and unwieldy approach to these matters is taken over the next two months and we get the smoothest possible international agreement of recognition at the same time?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a big interest in these matters as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. As far as Kosovo is concerned, we should applaud the restraint that has been shown so far by both sides. A meeting will take place at the UNRussia will also be involved thereto see whether we can reach agreement. If we cannot do so, the EU will debate its presence in Kosovo in the next few weeks. The final decisions will be made by the Foreign Ministers. Our position is that we would then move to supervised independence of Kosovo, but we await the discussions that are taking place in the United Nations.
My hon. Friend is also right to praise the Portuguese presidency: it was responsible for getting the final decisions on the amending treaty; it organised the EU-Brazil summit and the EU-Africa summit; it has moved ahead with action on Kosovo; and it put forward the declaration on globalisation, which sets a new agenda for the European Union for future years. So, I have nothing but praise for the Portuguese presidency.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): The Prime Minister says that he prides himself on letting Parliament have its say. Given that he has now made it clear that he and his Front Benchers will not stand by their commitment to have a referendum on the treaty, does he acknowledge that many of his Back Benchers stood on a manifesto commitment to do so? Should an amendment to hold a referendum be tabled during proceedings on the treaty, would he allow his Back Benchers a free vote, so that they could stand by their commitment?
The Prime Minister:
That is not the way forward, because the constitutional treaty was abandoned. The first line of the Brussels declaration last summer was that the constitutional concept had been abandoned. In particular, Britain won all the red lines that we set out before we went to the Brussels summit. It is for the
Conservatives now to tell us whether they are in favour of a referendum in principle, in which case they will support it even after ratificationor are they simply opportunist, in saying that they want a referendum now?
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): As a member of the Liaison Committee, I can tell the Prime Minister that the Committee was grateful for, and appreciated, his attendance last Thursday. The whole House should appreciate the respect that he has shown Parliament.
In relation to the signing of the amending treaty, has the Prime Minister remarked on the confluence of the events in Lisbon and in Bali, where the entire European Union spoke as one? Is not that an example of how the Union can work together in the interests of all the people of the Union, and will not the amending treaty advance that cause in the future?
The Prime Minister: As I said in my statement, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will make a statement to the House tomorrow about the success at Bali, in which, to his credit, he was directly involved in persuading the rest of the world to sign an agreement that moves the environmental negotiations forward and makes us believe that a post-2012 agreement similar to Kyoto will involve all countries, not just some. I agree with my hon. Friend that the environmental issues that are being addressed make the case for co-operation across the European Union. It is precisely because the EU was prepared to agree a common position that it had such influence in Bali. By working together, we can achieve more than if we work in isolation, and the Conservativesif they seriously believe in the importance of environmental co-operationshould accept the lesson that we should co-operate across Europe in bringing forward proposals for a better environment.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Prime Ministers idea of Christmas on this matter is about as cheerful as Jacob Marleys. Why is he in breach of the resolution of the House of Commons of November 1998, in respect of the European Scrutiny Committees refusal to clear the IGC opinion on the treaty? Will he, therefore, in accordance with that resolutionand given his much vaunted enthusiasm in his Governance of Britain Green Paper for giving full account to Parliamentappear before the Committee and explain why he thinks that this treaty is not substantially equivalent to the constitutional treaty?
The Prime Minister: We are not in breach of the 1998 decision. This was a report on the IGC process, not on the treaty itself. Therefore I do not accept the presumption in the hon. Gentlemans question.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op):
The Council is right to be concerned about the position in Iran. The rhetoric coming from Tehran is dreadful, and equalled perhaps only by the wilder sources in Washington. However, does my right hon. Friend understand that the present sanctions are not hurting the big British, American and European companies in Iran, who are sourcing their goods
through the Gulf countries, but smaller businesses and people in Iran? That is being used by Ahmadinejad to wind up the Iranian people against the west. Will my right hon. Friend use his best efforts to ensure that diplomacy is the way forward, including contact with the bodies in Tehran?
The Prime Minister: It is diplomacy that we want to be the way forward, but we have to face up to the fact that in enriching uranium with no civil nuclear power process at work, the Iranian Government are in breach of the non-proliferation treaty and of all the commitments that they have made to the international community. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that the sanctions are purely on small businesses. We are prepared to move forward oil and gas sanctions, and sanctions in the financial community, and it is those that will have an impact on the Iranian economy.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): On Kosovo, I am very glad that the Prime Minister has recognised that the best future is independence in Europe. That is something that the Scottish National party wholeheartedly supports. Independence is the appropriate status for all normal countries within the European Union.
Moving on to the EU reform treaty, the Prime Minister has chosen to overlook the concerns of the Scottish Government regarding the exclusive competence of fisheries, which he has signed up to. Therefore, will he take this opportunity to inform the House what advantages his signing up to this measure will bring?
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Ministers announcement that he is publishing the Bill that will amend the European Communities Act. He also said that this will give Parliament an opportunity to debate it and make a decision. In the light of that, does he not think that it is either extraordinarily presumptuous and arrogant or incredibly dismissive of the role of national Parliaments that the Commission has seen fit to appoint the first EU ambassador to deal with Africa well before the treaty establishes the diplomatic service?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend will be part of the debate on the amending treaty when it comes before the House of Commons, but in the light of the EU-Africa summit, I should have thought that people would want closer contact between the African Union and the European Union.
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