determined to continue with the ratification process.
The British view is that Parliament should decide. We are due to complete parliamentary scrutiny in another place today. It is not just a matter of democratic principle. If we halt ratification, the UK will be leaving itself in limbo, unable to state its position clearly. To be fair to the Liberal Democrats on the issue, both in this House and the other place, they have realised that to choose limbo would be a crazy way to seek influence in the EU.
I am glad that the Foreign Secretary is talking about Mondays statement, because on re-reading it I found that one of its most interesting aspects was that there was no mention of any activity by our Prime Minister. At a time when we might show some leadership in Europe, it is remarkable that the Prime Minister appears to have done absolutely nothing since the Irish
referendum result. At a time when the President of France is in Prague, meeting central European leaders who have problems with the treaty, could the Foreign Secretary say something about what our Prime Minister has been doing?
David Miliband: I am sorry, but that is a ridiculous point because the Prime Minister is the only leader in Europe who has actually met the Irish Prime Minister to discuss the matter. It is a completely absurd point.
Mr. Jenkin: The Foreign Secretary keeps repeating this line that the Irish no vote cannot be allowed to determine the position of the other member states. Of course the Irish vote does determine the fate of the treaty. Why is it in the interests of the European Union for other member states and the United Kingdom to continue with the process of ratification unless it is a political manoeuvre to put pressure on the Irish people to change their minds? That can be the only reason. It is a political ploy to validate the parts of the Lisbon treaty that are already being implemented, such as the European Defence Agency, against the wishes of probably the vast majority of the people of Europe.
David Miliband: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman presumes that every country will ratify the treaty. Ratification is a choice for every country to make, and it seems wholly reasonable that we end up with a full picture, of which the United Kingdom is a part.
It is rather hard to understand how there can be any purpose whatsoever in a country continuing with the ratification process if the treaty can come into effect only by unanimity. If I had £5 for every time I heard, in the past 10 years and more, integrationists saying that the high watermark of integration has been reached and that the sea will now recede, I could retire from this House tomorrow and live very comfortably[Hon. Members: Hear, hear!] Sadly, Labour Members will have to put up with me for a lot longer than that.
David Miliband: It is clearly becoming fashionable among those on the Conservative Benches to resign ones seat. I hope that I speak on behalf of all my hon. Friends when I say that I hope that the hon. Gentleman is one of the last in the long line of Opposition Members who are about to consult their electorate.
Mr. Davidson: May I pursue the Foreign Secretary on this point? Does he accept that it is not just a time for reflection for Ireland, but for the other member states as well? This problem is not solely an Irish one; it is a problem of legitimacy for the EU as a whole. Will he guarantee that the lesson the European leaderships learn from what happened in Ireland will not be that they should never again give the people a say on such matters? They should not try to introduce the treaty by stealth. It is worth while for the Foreign Secretary to give an assurance on those two points. I shall repeat this point: the treaty should not be introduced by stealth, piece by piece. There should be no cherry-picking.
David Miliband: However stealthy our efforts, I am sure that they would not escape the eagle eye of my hon. Friend and others. There is no question of implementing the treaty by stealth. He will know of its fate clearly.
David Miliband: There are good examples in the areas of qualified majority voting where Britain is blocked from making changes that are in our interests, whether on overseas development or on other areas. To be fair, the right hon. Gentleman was a regular attendee at our debates on the treaty. If he consults Hansard, he will be clear that there are key areas where, across the House, there was a determination to make progress but the current structures of the EU made that impossible.
Britain needs an effective EU more than ever. We need its clout as the world's biggest single market if we want green-product markets, as with high polluting cars. We need the collective weight of all 27 member states if we are to secure a new global trade deal. If we are to ensure the EU's huge aid budget is used effectively, we need all 27 countries on board.
It was clear from Mondays General Affairs Council that there is little appetite for a return to years of institutional negotiation. Issues such as climate change and energy security, migration and terrorism will not stand still while we wring our hands about the EU's internal structures. This is why the Slovene presidency is right to keep the focus of the European Council meeting firmly on the big global questions of the day, from rising food and oil prices to global poverty. This is why this Government are determined that the UK should be leading and shaping European policy and driving the organisation forward. That will be our strategy at the European Council on Friday and beyond.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con):
The Foreign Secretary has quite rightly covered a wide range of subjects, and it is to be hoped that the European Council will address those subjects. I want to follow him into the detail of many of them in a few moments time. His speech did not quite capture the drama of
what happened at the end of last week; no doubt he was not too interested in capturing that drama. The drama was made by a group that seldom has a chance to speak directly to the corridors of Brusselsthe voters of at least one nation of the EU.
After the French and the Dutch voters so rudely interrupted the passage of the European constitution, there was a mood in the subsequent meetings of Europes Governments that referendums were to be avoided, encouraged by a British Government determined to break the promise that they made at the last general election. That Ireland does not allow referendums to be avoided on issues of such importance is a model on which we can usefully draw here in the future.
Now that the Irish people have been consulted and have delivered their verdict, the truth is that the political preoccupation of this weeks European Council has changed, important as it is that the other subjects that the Foreign Secretary has mentioned must be discussed. It ought to be a time for a clear lead from the British Government on that subject. There was indeed a lead when France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution in 2005. The Labour Cabinet of three years ago seized ratification of the constitution at that timesomething the current Cabinet seem to have neither the leadership nor the decisiveness to do.
The people of Ireland have been rightly praised for their commitment to participation in the democratic process with a very high turnout, for their courage in facing down the consequences with which they were threatened and for persevering in their judgment that the treaty was not in their best interests and would bring about a degree of integration in which they did not want to participate. I continue that praise of them today.
I will of course return to that subject in more detail, but the Foreign Secretary mentioned, quite rightly, the importance of oil prices, which indeed should be addressed at the summit, and of climate change. As he knows, there is near-unanimity in the House in support of the agreement made in the EU last yearan agreement which of course did not require any additional powers to bring it about or to pursue it. On food priceshe mentioned reform of the common agricultural policythe problem exposes even more clearly what an error it was to give away £7 billion of the British rebate without a clear commitment to reform of the CAP, as happened under the Government two years ago.
Mr. Redwood: Did my right hon. Friend catch from the Foreign SecretaryI certainly did notany answer to the offer from the Saudis that they would pump more oil if western Governments would cut their tax? When on a litre of petrol 70p goes to the Government and 45p to the oil producer, it would seem only fair that the Government should contribute as well as the oil producer.
Mr. Hague: I did not catch any response from the Foreign Secretary to that. My right hon. Friend has made a fair point but, if he will forgive me, I want to press the Foreign Secretary on one or two other subjects that he did mention, and on which I and the House would welcome some further enlightenment or response.
The Foreign Secretary quite rightly mentioned the situation with Iran, and that he chaired the meeting of the E3 plus 3 Foreign Ministers at the beginning of
May. We welcome the initiative taken to strengthen both the incentives and the sanctions, and the delivery of those incentives to Iran. But I want to ask Ministers about sanctions on Iran, given the possibly alarming sequence of events since the Prime Ministers statement at his news conference with President Bush on Monday this week. The Prime Minister announced with a degree of confidence:
Today, Britain will urge Europe and Europe will agree to take further sanctions against Iran...We will take action today that will freeze the overseas assets of the biggest bank in Iran, the Melli bank. And secondly action will start today for a new phase of sanctions on oil and gas.
It does now seem that these steps were not agreed and this action was not taken. Furthermore, according to press reports, Javier Solana explicitly denied that any such agreement had been reached. The Financial Times today quotes a US diplomat who said that the Prime Minister
was wrong. He made an incorrect statement. The problem is that the US delegation and the US press believed him. On the scale of diplomatic blunders, one delegation member put it as a seven out of 10. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesmen quoted in the Iranian press today have said: The European officials have rejected Browns statements and have announced that there is no new decision for intensifying sanctions against Iran.
Bank Melli is working in exactly the same way today as it worked yesterday. It can use its assets in whatever way it likes. (Indeed, one imagines they will now be moving a lot of them to Dubai.) Its offices in London are open.
There may be some explanation of this of which the House is unaware, but this is one of the most important issues facing the world; there ought to be proper co-ordination of the statements of the British Prime Minister with the actions of the rest of the European Union and the statements of the EU high representative. If the Foreign Secretary or the Minister for Europe wishes to intervene to give any further explanation of this now, I would very much welcome that. As things stand, the Prime Minister committed this country to a course of action that has not been taken, and did so on Monday in a way that seems to have disillusioned the US, annoyed other Europeans and given a propaganda coup to the Iranian Government. If that is the case, it takes the conduct of our nations affairs to a whole new level of blundering incompetence, and we expect an explanation from the Government.
Mr. Cash: My right hon. Friend is making an extremely important point, but will he consider that part of the problem is the fact that we have the high representative who, effectively, can go around the world speaking on behalf of Europe? Nobody really knows what he is being told, on what terms he says things or how he is to conduct the affairs of Europe as a whole. Is it not far more important that we should ensure that the foreign policy of this country is in fact conducted through our own Foreign Secretary?
That is a slightly different debate, if my hon. Friend will forgive me. Of course there is a wholly legitimate debate about the control of foreign policy,
but my particular point is that, given the existence of the EU high representative and his responsibilities, it is enormously disturbing in one of the most sensitive situations in the world, relating to the future control of nuclear weapons, for the British Prime Minister to say something on Monday, and then for Javier Solana, the EU high representative, to be quoted in the next days newspapers as denying that any such agreement has been reached, and for the Iranian Government to be able to make capital out of it. I know that the Foreign Secretary is looking mystified, but I hope that he will accept that that is a wholly legitimate thing for the Opposition to ask about in the House.
Mr. Chaytor: I am not familiar with the details, but surely the conclusion that we can draw is exactly the opposite from that drawn by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash): this case reinforces the need for a common European voice in foreign policy.
Mr. Hague: Without an adequate explanation, the conclusion that we can draw is that the Prime Minister does not know what he is doing. He was prepared to make an announcement with President Bush, but the Americans are now extremely angry that it did not turn out to mean what it said. However, I would certainly welcome an explanation from the Foreign Secretary.
David Miliband: I am very happy to give an explanation that completely rebuts the central allegation that the right hon. Gentleman is making. There is political agreement across the European Union on the measures that we have set out. The allegation is that Javier Solana saidI think that the right hon. Gentleman said that this was in a newspaper reportthat there had been no discussion of the announcement on Monday. I certainly spoke about it; other Foreign Ministers spoke about it. There are now technical implementing measures being taken, to ensure that it comes into effect in an appropriate way. The right hon. Gentleman and I are, I think I am right in saying, both in support of the dual-track policy of incentives and sanctions. The difference between us is that he wants to attack the Prime Minister and I want to defend him. On the substance of the issue, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the European Union is working cohesively, using the office of the high representative.
Just to go a step further, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Stone that, as well as Javier Solana in Tehran, those represented there included our country, through our political director, and four of the other five countries. Obviously the position of the United States is slightly different in terms of delegations to Iran, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that both the European high representative and the representative of the British Government were in Tehran for the meetings and for the delivery of the package.
Mr. Hague: I am grateful for that, but hon. Members will realise, if they are listening, that that is not an answer to the question that I am raising. I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the policy of incentives and sanctions, and I have no reason whatever to doubt that those representatives were all there together. What I am questioning is the Prime Minister saying on Monday that action would be taken todayMondayto
freeze the overseas assets of the biggest bank in Iran