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20 Feb 2008 : Column 448

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend’s description of the situation. Does he agree that there is no downside? If there is no consensus, the United Kingdom will go alone to the United Nations, as would happen if there were no treaty or arrangements. If there is consensus, the United Kingdom will go with 26 allies—in its pocket, as it were, via the high representative—to the United Nations.

Mr. Henderson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If there is a common position, the United Kingdom or any other of the 27 can decide how loquacious to be in reinforcing that position at whatever United Nations committee it happens to be. If there is no such position—that will happen on occasions; it would have happened in the original debates on Iraq, for instance—the United Kingdom will have the same access to the United Nations as at the moment. If the Opposition’s amendments are more than probing ones, their arguments will have to be better than those put forward by their Front Benchers.

Mr. Redwood: Why do we need the complication of a possible right of audience at the United Nations for a representative of the EU? If there was a common position, surely the French and British representatives, who have seats, could pray that in aid as part of their case if we thought that that would help.

Mr. Henderson: I do not understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point. The European position will be stated if there is one. If any nation wanted to reinforce it, they could do so. If there were no European position, any nation that wished to express a view could do so. That is the framework.

Mr. Redwood: The point is that that would not have to be done three times. Doing it twice would be quite enough—we would already have two representatives around the table.

Mr. Henderson: The right hon. Gentleman and I go back a long way on these matters. He knows about some of the issues. I would have thought that he would recognise that if there is a common European position it will be more influential in UN committees if it is put forward as such, and not by the French or British or whoever happened to have the presidency in a 27-unit cycle. In the larger committees, the position would be far more effective coming from the European presidency—normally from the president himself. That would not prevent any other nation making a point if it wished to. If there were no common position, any nation wishing to make a point could do so. We cannot get away from that; that is the position of the UN. It will not change its constitution to accommodate the EU or its member nations. The Conservatives need to have another look at the issue.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) raised a point in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes); he said that it was better to have a British than a European position. That is a matter of horses for courses. In some circumstances—for example, the situation in the Congo or Chad in respect of external affairs—it is better for Britain to express its view alone, knowing that it does not have to have a lead-nation role, but that it can still very much influence the direction of the EU. In other situations, however,
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Britain would have a direct role. For instance, because of our history we have a closer and deeper interest in the diplomatic discussions on Zimbabwe than some other European Union countries. It is a matter of considering the issues and dealing with them as they come forward.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: The amendments bear on the common foreign and security policy, which I have always supported as an aspect of the European Union; it is very much in British interests that it should develop further. So I look at the amendments and ask whether they will enable us to make better progress than we have made already in developing a common foreign and security policy on issues for which it is in British interests to do so. Those are issues on which our interests coincide with those of other member states and on which we can reach unanimous positions on matters of great importance to us all. In the earlier debate, Members referred to our relationships with the Russian Federation. I can think of no more important area where the European Union should make faster progress towards having a coherent common foreign policy that enables us to establish good, but proper, relationships with the very important superpower that is almost a near neighbour of ours to the east.

The structure on which the amendments bear is fairly long-standing. There is no great substantial change in this treaty from the Maastricht treaty, which we debated at considerable length in the past. Unfortunately, I was divided then from some of the colleagues who are present now, who still do not agree with me. A lot of these arguments are extremely familiar. At that time, we debated amendments claiming that the proposals would be the end of British foreign policy, that we would be handing over to a new European superpower, that we would lose all our power to represent ourselves abroad, and so on. None of that ever happened. Unfortunately, since the Thatcher Government led on the whole idea of a common foreign and security policy and the Major Government supported that, we have not gone far enough in the direction towards what we need—a union of nation states collectively being able effectively to put into practice representations on their mutual behalf in the areas that matter to them.

I agree with, and will not repeat at length, the arguments in favour of a single presidency for a period and an end to the rotating presidency. I am surprised that my party has tabled amendments challenging the idea of the new presidency. The Conservative party was always unanimous on the question of enlarging the Union—apart from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood); I am sorry that I have attributed to him a moment of deviation from his very firm position on these matters. Certainly, the official policy was all in favour of enlargement. Indeed, most of us view it as a triumph that the Union has succeeded in enlarging and taking democratic and liberal values across into central and eastern Europe. I always gained the impression that it was assumed that once we had enlargement, certain treaty amendments would be required, including getting rid of the rotating presidency. I will not labour the argument, but the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) was entirely correct in what he said.


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There are two arguments about the presidency that must be refuted: first, that it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) suggested, a tremendously powerful position that could eventually, over time, rival the presidency of the United States as a position in world affairs. I have to tell my hon. Friend that I do not see how that can be seriously argued while keeping a straight face. One thing that is retained in this treaty is the idea of unanimity in forming foreign policy—unanimity, that is, of Ministers in the Council of Ministers, each of whom comes from their democratically elected Government in each member state and is individually answerable to his Parliament and the electorate to whom his Government answer. The president will represent the Union once a common policy has been arrived at, and only then. The president of the European Council of Ministers—that is the best way of describing him, rather than the president of Europe—will not be the commander-in-chief of the forces of Europe. When we discuss later amendments, we will no doubt hear the old Maastricht stuff about European armies and so on, which have always been phantoms. The president will not have any policy-making power—that will reside with the Ministers drawn from the member states, and his duty is to represent a common position when they have arrived at it.

Secondly, it is argued that the presidency will somehow threaten our position in the United Nations. Again, I will not labour the arguments that have already been made, other than to say that we are continuing a practice that has already become well established, and that has not yet happened. The fact that the president of the Council can sometimes go to address the United Nations does not mean that the United Kingdom will lose its place on the UN Security Council, any more than the French will. I strongly believe that the British should retain their position on the Security Council for as long as possible. We are a very valuable influence there, and it is obviously in our interest that we stay there.

We have had difficulty in maintaining that presence in modern times because the permanent members of the present Security Council were the victorious allies in the second world war. As the world steadily changes, that situation is getting quite difficult to defend. It is not the best defence of the British position to say that we will rely on that historical case, or even to bar the quite harmless practice, which has become quite well established, of the president of the European Council addressing the Security Council when there is a common position.

6 pm

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, with his usual sensitivity to the political world of Europe, says that the other 25 countries should put up with being represented by either the British or the French. He asks why there is a need for the European president to be able to turn up and put their views. Quite apart from the generally undiplomatic nature of that suggestion, such an approach is not the best way of defending the United Kingdom’s seat on the UN Security Council in the longer term. With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, such near xenophobia about the desire of other powerful countries to be able to put forward a collective European view in the UN will simply arouse more pressure for reform, and most
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proposals for reform suggest that there should not be so many European countries individually represented on the Security Council. I resist that view, but we have to be sensible and flexible, and we should not raise such extraordinary fears about what has been a successful practice since Maastricht.

I know that others want to go on to the subject of the European army, so I shall conclude by relating something to my hon. Friends in a way that is in order. These debates, which I have attended quite regularly, largely seem to involve an extraordinary series of exchanges about what the treaty means. In my opinion, although I respect the views of my colleagues, there has been an attempt to extract from the wording of the treaty extraordinary meanings that I simply cannot see there. It is exactly like Maastricht. Everybody said that similar things would happen after Maastricht. We debated it at interminable length then because we were not confined by such a dreadful timetable as we are now—despite our best efforts to get one. All those fears were raised, none of them were realised, and now everyone is coming back to say exactly the same thing.

Mr. Cash: My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the Maastricht treaty and to the meanings that people gave to the words in that treaty, and are giving to the words in this one. Can I get rid of a canard, one way or another? I think that he once said that he did not actually read the Maastricht treaty. I have the greatest difficulty in understanding how he could put a meaning on words that he had not read.

Mr. Clarke: I knew more about the Maastricht treaty than most of the Maastricht—

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means: Order. I really do think that we ought now to return to the subject matter under discussion, which includes external representation.

Mr. Clarke: I am sorry, Mrs. Heal. I shall therefore not rehearse my claim that I understood the Maastricht treaty and knew more about it than the Maastricht rebels at the time. I shall leave that for another occasion. The canard has been repeated, and will one day be properly put to rest.

If today’s debate includes assertions about the president of the European Council of Ministers becoming like the President of the United States, our loss of our seat on the Security Council, a loss of our ability to have an independent foreign policy, and—in a few moments—our Army being subordinated to a European army, I cannot see how a referendum can be sensibly conducted. My opposition to a referendum is the same as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). The effect of this process on the public is bewildering. People say that they do not understand the treaty, and having listened to this debate, I am hardly surprised. There is not even the faintest agreement among Members about what the treaty means.

I am afraid my response to the amendments is that they raise fanciful fears, no doubt genuinely held by my right hon. and right hon. Friends, that are based on an interpretation of the language of the treaty that it simply will not bear. For that reason, I continue to hold
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the views I did when we debated Maastricht. I will vote against any of the amendments that are pressed, and I will try to persuade my constituents that the fears raised in support of the amendments are delusions. The experience of our membership of the European Union so far, particularly since Maastricht, has shown that they were delusions then and they are delusions now. They do not reflect the way that anyone sensible in the EU, in any member state, intends to travel in future.

Rob Marris: Like many others, I want to discuss amendments Nos. 258 and 1. I do not know whether those who tabled amendment No. 258 intended it to be a probing amendment or whether they wish to press it to a Division, but they have overblown the consolidated text resulting from the treaty. Article 15(6) states:

Those in the Chamber could hear the inflexion of my voice, so for the benefit of Hansard, I point out that I stressed the word “common”. The president of the European Council will be involved in the common foreign and security policy and

Other hon. Members may interpret that wording differently, but to me, ensuring the external representation does not mean being the external representative. That interpretation is confirmed when the article goes on to refer specifically to the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy.

The president of the European Council will be elected by the European Council, which can finish the term of office before the end of the two and a half years in

I am not sure what “impediment” means, but in lay terms, I think it means that someone who is naughty or falls out with their mates will be voted out by the Heads of State and Heads of Government of the 27 member states in those circumstances. The president of the European Council is therefore on some sort of leash, albeit that it depends on the interpretation of “impediment or serious misconduct”.

The president will not make foreign and security policy for the European Union; the European Council will do that, and it will be a common foreign and security policy. I stand to be corrected, but I understand that that would be done by unanimity; that is where the word “common” comes in. If the United Kingdom took a fundamentally different position on an issue of interest to the European Union, such as on Zimbabwe, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) mentioned, there would be no common foreign policy and the UK could properly pursue its own path.

Mr. Bone: I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but what would happen if the United Kingdom were in a minority of one in its view of a foreign matter? What would the high representative do? Would he do nothing and simply sit around in his office?


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Rob Marris: Strictly speaking, the high representative would have to do that. In practice, he or she would make matters clear to his or her interlocutors. I do not expect the European Union to fall out over Zimbabwe, but let us take it as an example. If 26 member states took one position and the UK took another, the high representative would have to say, “My hands are tied. I am the high representative for a common foreign policy and, as I’ve indicated to you, my interlocutor, there is no common foreign policy because one member state doesn’t agree with the others.” That is what a common foreign policy means. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, in such circumstances, standing up for what we believe in as a single country would not put the UK in a weaker position than we would have occupied if we had never joined the Common Market and then the European Union.

Before we joined the Common Market on those terms—we were, of course, in the European Free Trade Association, but in foreign policy we were alone—if we were in a minority of one on what would otherwise be a common foreign policy of the European Union, we would again be on our own, so we would not be in a weaker position. However, we would potentially be in a much stronger position if 27 member states were taking their lead from the United Kingdom on, for example, Zimbabwe, which is a more likely scenario, but not a definite one, because of our history with that country and our knowledge of it, as has been mentioned. On the one hand, we might be alone, which is not a weaker position than we would have been in, were we not involved. On the other hand, the upside is that we could be in a considerably stronger position. That seems to me a pretty good each-way bet.

Mr. Harper: There is a slight inconsistency between the hon. Gentleman’s position and that of the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Chairman was arguing that the development of having a president who served a term would improve the external representation of the European Union’s common policy, but the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the president would be constrained in the policy that they represented and would have to follow narrowly the instructions of the European Council. However, I am at a loss to see why a president serving for a period of two and a half years would be any more capable of representing that narrowly constrained common policy than the Prime Minister, President or Foreign Minister of one of our European partners.

Rob Marris: The president of the European Council will not be representing that policy—that is the point that I am trying to make. The president of the European Council’s role is to

I see no inconsistency between my position and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), and no doubt he will intervene on me if he thinks that there is one. What I was referring to, in the vernacular, is an each-way bet—sometimes we will be alone, sometimes we will be stronger. That is good.

I entirely agree with the comments that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made about the United Kingdom’s position at the United
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Nations. Historically, we are in a somewhat anomalous position, whereby our country is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, but has a round population of 60 million, albeit with a fantastic history and the goods and bads of the British empire. At the other end of the spectrum is India, which has a population of 1.1 billion, but is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Mr. Redwood: The point about membership of the Security Council is that it is held by the major military powers of the world that are prepared to commit men, women and treasure to United Nations expeditions when force is needed to back up policy. We have more than earned our keep around the table. We are assured that there will be no European army, so how could there be a European Union seat?

Rob Marris: I do not want to get diverted too far down that path, but the right hon. Gentleman is not quite right. The five permanent Security Council members are in fact the original declared nuclear powers. That is where it comes from.

Canada, for example—a country of which I am a citizen and for which I have a great deal of affection—was one of the victors in the second world war. It has a long and proud history of contributing to UN security forces throughout the world; indeed, it argues with some justification that it has the proudest history, in terms of proportional contributions. In fact, the Canadian losses in Afghanistan per capita are far higher than the United Kingdom’s. However, Canada is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council and, as far I know, neither Mike Pearson nor anyone else ever suggested that it should be. However, as I was saying, we are in the strange and historically anomalous position of having two countries of 60 million people—the United Kingdom and France—that are permanent members of the Security Council, whereas India, which has a population of 1.1 billion or whatever it is today, is not a permanent member. Membership comes from history, and, quite understandably, that history is being questioned, not least by countries such as India.

If we wish the United Kingdom to remain a member of the UN Security Council, as I am sure all hon. Members would wish, we have to look at how we interact with it. The changes brought about by the treaty include reinforcing the way in which the United Kingdom, as a member of the European Union and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, interacts with the United Nations, at both the General Assembly and the Security Council level. The treaty and the changes that it would effect are helpful, in respect of preserving this country’s position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Paragraph 2 of article 34, on page 25 of the consolidated text, says:


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