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As far as I can gather, there is common ground on Britains remaining in the European Union. That is the position of Conservative Members, with the exception of a fewwe have heard from them today, although they have not spoken in this debatewho want Britain to come out of the European Union. I think that it is still Conservative party policy that we remain part of
the European Union. Perhaps the shadow Minister for Europe will remind us of Conservative policy in his winding-up speech. The shadow Minister for Europe and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks should therefore also be part of the roadshowit should be an all-party roadshow; perhaps we can save a seat for the Liberal Democrats, too.
As a united Parliament, we can remind people of the benefits of being in the European Union, and we must not forget to do so. When we forget to do so, those who peddle myths try to convince the British people that they get no benefit from being in the EUso we constantly need to make that case. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe worked extraordinarily hard during the passage of the treaty Bill through the House and I am sure that he is exhausted and would like to go back to Scotland for the weekends to spend time in his constituency and with his family, whom he has no doubt not seen for many months. However, this is an important role for him. He has to be at the summits, but it is also important to talk to the British people about the benefits of Europe.
In this debate, where we have the usual suspects, I have made my usual speech about the necessity for the Government to keep on making the case. To do so would mean that at some time in the future, when we decide to put the European question in one form or another to the British people, they could reach their judgment on the proper information, rather than after a three-week campaign that can easily be defeated by the tabloid media, whichwith one or two notable exceptionsare very opposed to our even being in the European Union. We should not waste the opportunity of the next two or three years before we have to decide on other crucial issues. Let us go out to the British people and tell them how important the European Union has been for this country and how vital is our role in Europe.
Although we could not convince the Germans and the French to do what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham suggested, we are still a hugely influential voice in the European Union. Many of the A8 countries have a great affinity with what Britain has done, because they recognise the role that we played in the enlargement process. We must always be vigilant in ensuring that our key role in the European Union remains, so that we are an influence for good and can advance the British agenda to the rest of Europe.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): During the course of this debate on Europe, no one has so far mentioned Members of the European Parliament, who are obviously an important factor. I start most public meetings in my constituency, whether they are about the EU or other matters, by telling the audience that I will give £100 to anyone who can name all seven MEPs for the west midlands. So far, in three years, I have not lost a penny.
That is the major problem. If the Minister wants to convince people of the cause of the constitution and the European Union, he needs to address how MEPs interact with their constituencies. As chairman of the all-party group for the promotion of first past the post, I think that one of the major problems is that MEPs are elected by proportional representation and represent huge regions,
so they are further away from the electors and therefore less accountable than Members of Parliament. None of the MEPs for the west midlands lives, works or has offices in Shropshire. The Conservatives ones are very good, but the Labour ones never come to Shropshire. Mr. Bushill-Matthews, Mr. Bradbourn and Mr. Harbour are very good MEPs [ Interruption. ] I can name them all. I will not do so now, but I can. The Labour MEPscertainly during my tenure in officehave never been to Shropshire, and that is a shame.
I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the constitution cannot go ahead on 1 January 2009 unless there is an agreement from all 27 countries. That encourages me greatly because, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) has aptly stated, we are rapidly approaching a time when we will have a Conservative Government in this country. The Irish result is therefore important because it will open a window for an incoming Conservative Government in autumn 2009 or spring 2010 to renegotiate this treaty within the European Union.
I applaud the Irish people for the way in which they voted. Through their actions, they have given a chink of light to those of us who want the constitution to be renegotiated. I applaud them for their courage and fortitude, and we must not forget how negative the yes campaign in Dublin was at times. All sorts of scaremongering tactics were used: it was alleged that Ireland would lose out massively, in influence and funding. It was really scary stuff, yet the Irish peoplewho are instinctively pro-Europeandecided not to listen to those siren voices. Very bravely, they said, No, we are not convinced by the European constitution and by its implications for our country. We are not going to support it.
Mark Lazarowicz: For the sake of consistency, the hon. Gentleman should at least concede that members of the no campaign were guilty of stating that voting yes would mean that abortion would have to be legalised in Ireland, or that Ireland would lose its neutrality. Does he accept that elements of the no campaign were guilty of distorting the European treaty?
We in the UK have many heroes who are also trying to do all that they can, and I must pay tribute to Stewart Wheeler, who has done a great deal to force the matter before the courts. I pay tribute as well to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I was extremely heartened to hear today that he is making probing advances about securing a judicial review of the matter in the High Court as a result of the Irish no vote. I applaud him for that: I think that history will be kind to him and to others like him, and that the roles they have played in scrutinising the Government will be remembered.
All countries are equal, under the rules of the treaty and the process of ratifying the constitution. Ireland has said no, and that is just as important as any German rejection of the treaty would be. Therefore, the process of ratification must stop immediately.
On Monday, the Foreign Secretary faced repeated calls to stop ratification. We asked him to respect the views of the Irish people, but he refused point blank to
stop the ratification process. I think that the Governments conduct is deeply damaging and flawed, as they have not acknowledged that one of our closest neighbours and allies has expressed its reservations about the constitution in no uncertain terms. That has not caused even a flicker in our Governments determination to proceed with ratification.
In his statement, the Foreign Secretary said repeatedly that he did not want to bully Ireland, but that is exactly what is happening. Immediately after the Irish no vote, our Prime Minister, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel were no doubt on the phone to one another to see what they should do. Sarkozy went off to Poland to try to put pressure on the Poles, and Merkel did the same with the Czechs. Our own Prime Minister is allowing them to do that, because they want a scenario in which 26 countries are on one side of the fence, and one countryIrelandis on the other. That is classic schoolyard, bully-boy tactics: a large group of countries is saying, Look, you are just one small country, and we are not prepared to have you veto this treaty. I very much regret that.
The constitution is another step in the ongoing and perpetual process of power grab. I feel passionately about that. Just as a locomotives furnace needs coal continuously, so the EU needs to grab more power from individual states. That gives it more power, but it also gives it relevance, which is important. If it were just to sit back and carry on with all its administrative work, it would not hit the headlines or move its aspirations forward. That is why the treaty is yet another attempt to take more power from our own sovereign Parliament, and why it must be challenged.
We have had crumbs of comfort in the past when taking on the federalist agenda of the European Union. I remember fondly two such occasions, although I was not a Member of Parliament at the time. The first was when Margaret Thatcher secured the rebate at Fontainebleau in 1984. I remember cheering her onadmittedly, I was only a child, but I was extremely happy that she managed to secure a rebate for the United Kingdom. The second time I remember being extremely happy was when John Major managed to block the appointment of Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Belgian Prime Minister, to the post of EU President. That gave some comfort although, regrettably, we got the even more federalist Mr. Juncker from Luxembourg instead. At the time, however, it was a crumb of comfort.
We need new leadership in order to be strong in the face of the European Unions federalist agenda. We need to be strong, yet diplomatic, and I believe that our next Prime Minister, Mr. Cameronforgive me; my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)will be exactly that. He will be polite, diplomatic and measured but, unlike the present Prime Minister, he will stand up to the federalist agenda of the European Union, and he will battle and fight for British interests.
My next point goes back to the argument made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) about national interest and influence. I listened to his words extremely carefully and intently, and I have never heard such a poignant, important statement about European Union affairs in this Chamber. Our countrys interests are far more important than the influence that we have
in the European Union, and I am sure that our next Prime Ministerthe present Leader of the Oppositionwill take on board the comments that my right hon. and learned Friend made today.
I should like to make a few points about the Liberal Democrats. During the debate today, we have all had fun scrutinising their extraordinary position. They abstained in the vote in this Chamber on the referendum, yet they voted against the referendum in another place. That is quite extraordinary and deeply flawed behaviour. I intend to say as much as I possibly can to my own electorate in Shrewsbury to highlight the conduct of the Liberal Democrats on this matter, because it is thanks to the Liberal Democrats that the people of Shrewsbury will not get a referendum on this very important issue. I am convinced of that, and I feel passionately about it. Some of my constituents want federalism, and some want to come out of Europe, but they are overwhelmingly united in wanting a referendum. They want the people of this country to have a referendum, and it is the Liberal Democrats who have prevented my constituents in Shrewsbury, and all the men and women of our country, from having the same say as the people of Ireland.
I want the European Union to focus on the issues that are important to my constituents. Last week and the week before, people came to my surgery to talk about petrol prices. I met a delegation of 50 hauliers last week, and they are extremely worried about what is happening to the Shropshire haulage industry. They want the European Union and our own Parliament to focus on that issue.
As chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia, I have met King Abdullah and put our concerns directly to him. I am leading a delegation out to Saudi Arabia again in November, and we will continue to ask the Saudi authorities to increase oil production to ensure that costs come down.
Those are the sorts of issues that my constituents expect the European Union to work on; they want it to try to work, as a powerful, united bloc, with our Saudi allies and other allies from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to help them out. They do not want technical constitutions that are extremely difficult to understand, and that nobody wants.
I saw the Minister for Europe nodding when we talked about reading the constitution. This is how sad I am: I read the EU constitution from cover to cover in French. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, not only because I do not use the language that often nowadays, although I studied French at university, but because it was very difficult. The more I read, even in French, the more alarmed I was. Of course, at that stage the Government had not deemed it necessary to get us an English version.
I am conscious that others want to speak, so I shall wrap up my comments. I feel passionately about working for my constituents on the things that matter to them. As I have said to the Minister, my constituency of Shrewsbury is extremely agricultural. He knows about my interests in the agriculture sector. I am the chairman of the all-party group on dairy farmers. This country is undergoing one of the most extraordinary dairy farming crises imaginable. Ten years ago, 47 cattle were slaughtered
in Shropshire as a result of bovine tuberculosis; the figure now is 1,000 and rising. Interestingly, the French have managed totally to eradicate bovine TB. Less than 0.004 per cent. of herds in France have bovine TB. I intend to table an early-day motion encouraging the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to work in unison with his counterpart in France, so that we can learn from the French experience, and find out what the French have done completely to eradicate bovine TB. I urge the Minister for Europe to focus on those thingsthe things that matter to farmers and hauliers in Shropshireand not constitutions, which are not what my constituents want.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), whom I find engaging, candid and rather open on the subjectmuch more so than some of us who have perhaps battled longer in the field. When Disraeli was asked, in an election campaign, what the Conservative partys theme was, he answered, The constitution. Of course, that part of the 19th century saw Britains long journey towards something that was key to our developmentthe extension of the franchise. The Government should be subject to the popular will. That was the beginning of what we call a democratic agea term that is used in spades. Government should ultimately be obedient to the needs and judgment of the people. That is what we call accountable government. I repeat that, because that is now such an archaic dream or ideal and is seen to be of less significance in the wider world.
Clearly the European Council meeting will in truth be dominated by the result of the Irish referendum. The Sherpas, as I think they are called, may have already sorted out positions on all the great themes that the Foreign Secretary mentioned, so the Council will have a position on some of the issues, and the arguments will be more restricted. Central to any movement within the European Unionthat is how it defines itselfis some sort of resolution of the Irish question, to use another 19th century expression. I am well disposed towards the Irish; I was born in Aberdeen, on the Celtic fringes, and I know that Britain could not be Britain without all the peoples who have been a part of these islands for a very long time. I have a special regard for the outcome determined by the 1.5 million or so people who voted in the referendum.
I was going to analyse the Foreign Secretarys statement, No, we must not bully Ireland. No one has any intention of doing so. The Prime Minister took up the theme today and said that it was not for us to tell the Irish what to do. He said it was for the Irish to tell us, what they want to do.
I notice that the arguments have become conflated. The Prime Minister did not mean the Irish people, because they have spoken, and they have said no. What he meant was the Irish political system or political class. On that extraordinary Friday, we were told that the referendum result would be announced at about midday but, in fact, there was a long delay. I watched Sky Newsthat is an advertisementfor a long time. The first thing we heard was not the Irish returning officer announcing to the Irish people the outcome of the referendum but Mr. Barrosoanother President, only of the European Commission, but a President none the
lesswho was giving a press conference in Brussels, telling the EU, or the citizens of Europe, the result of the Irish referendum. How curious that the first port of call for democratic trust with people should be to tell the European Union.
I suspect that that was all pre-cookedthat is the truth of the matter. Mr. Barroso said that we must respect the outcome. In fact, it was even more ambiguous. Clearly, there was shock: how dare the Irish do that? After all, were they not the beneficiaries of a great deal of money? Was their progress not dependent on the EU? That is partly truethere were large transfers of cash, which continue to be madebut I do not think that the Irish, or the British, are bought just by cash. The revolutionary change in Irelands prospects came about because of the Irish people themselves and the decisions that their Government made, on education and on opening their society. The change has been dramatic. Europea can take some credit for the transfer of money but, ultimately, it was the triumph of the Irish themselves. When they made a decision, the result was pre-empted by the President of the European Commissionwe will have a plethora of presidents under the new constitutionwho announced it first in Brussels, which makes me think that it was an attempt to subvert what the Irish said.
Some 53 per cent. of the Irish electorate voted. We are not remotely near that figure in our European elections, and it is not the case across Europe as a whole. There must be some country where the voting figures are higher, but that shows how disengaged the people [ Interruption. ] With such a Prime Minister, there is almost no alternative. He is perpetually clear in what he wants for Europe, and his electorate is even smaller than the Irish electorate. There is a great anxiety. We have been told by the two former members of the Convention in the Chamberthe hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)that it was meant to bring the people of Europe closer together. The Convention took place a long time ago, and as with much of my time, it will feature when I look back at what I have done in Parliament. The European question has shadowed all my time in Parliament, and it has not been settled.
I was interested to learn that the Foreign Secretary was going to tour Britain. That must be one of the tough decisions to launch somethingI am not sure whatthat, as the Prime Minister tells us, is in the long-term interests of the British people. Does it show us that the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office regard Britain as a foreign country and that it is necessary to tour to tell it about the benefits of EU leadership? I am distressed by the British Governments response to the outcome of the vote in Ireland.
Britain, if it is anything, is about a democratic and accountable form of government. Could it not be that the Irish people, in their own way, have come to a conclusion that many, I think, throughout Europewe know, certainly in the Netherlands and in Francehave come to, namely that the treaty process cedes too much not just of national power but of character? They want to remain Irish, as I want to remain British. The French, who are also anxious, think the same, too, and they voted no. But what we are faced with is popular revolt and Bourbon leadership.
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