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I heard another anecdote from an MEP who stumbled into a meeting in Brussels three or four years ago, and was shocked to find a discussion going on between MEPs and officials about whom they would appoint to the social affairs commission. They were openly saying that they wanted someone who was popular but weak; someone who would not fight the corner of working people and trade unionists very strongly; someone who
was acceptable but not very effective. They chose a small eastern European countryI will not be so unkind as to suggest which oneand a very nice but rather ineffectual man as the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. It was a way of having a token workers representative who was not very powerful. He was not a strong socialist from a large country, but a rather feeble Commissioner from a small eastern European country that was a recent entrant to the EU.
There has been a cynical attempt to shift the European Union in the direction of business and the global corporate worldagainst the interests of working people. That message is getting across. I spoke at a trade union conference yesterday, and the people there clearly thought that was happening.
The forced privatisations of the railway industry are breaking up the large public sector organisations, which are strongly unionised, into many fragmented parts, and weakening the trade unions influence and their power to protect their members inside such industries. That is what is happening in at least a majority of the railway privatisations that are being forced through in Europe. Those privatisations are not about simply selling shares in large organisations, but about fragmenting them. That is the key to the issue, and workers are getting that message.
On the economy, we have heard a number of attempts to suggest that the European Union is successful economically. That is not the case, because its growth has been slower than that in many other parts of the developed world. We in this country are very fortunate: we are able to choose our own economic strategy because we are outside the eurozone, and we have wisely adjusted our exchange rate downwards because we have a massive balance of trade deficit with the rest of the European Union. Clearly, we were structurally in error when we had a high exchange rate. We can also choose our own fiscal, taxation and public spending policiesand quite right, too. Other countries would like to, and in future they may want to.
Some three or four years ago, there was a hint that Italian politicians were talking about the possibility of withdrawing from the eurozone. In the eurozone there was a certain amount of panic at the possibility of such talk being abroad. Last weekend, there was even more talk about the Italians being unable to sell Government bonds. If countries cannot sell their Government bonds, they want to be able to adjust their interest rates.
If a country cannot sell its Government bonds, it has to do something about it. The logical thing to do might be to change interest or exchange rates, but the macroeconomic fundamentals should certainly be adjusted so that it can sell, so that its economy looks stronger, and so that people will buy Government bonds. The situation is very worrying. The tensions and stresses inside the eurozone still exist, and they are likely to get worse because the world is having serious problems with rising oil and food prices and rising inflation. The
next few years are going to be much more difficult economically, and the recent relatively benign conditions will not obtain in a year or two. That will be when the eurozone comes under strain, and member countries will envy what Britain has: its independence on macroeconomic policies.
I look forward to the changes. The eurozone story is not over yet. I hope that the Lisbon treaty story is over, however, because it is finished. It is clearly dead, and if the Czechs confirm what the Irish have said, there will be no question of the treaty coming back. I urge every Member to read the letter in todays Financial Times from Professor Hix, because it was very wise. I have probably spoken for longer than I should, but I am grateful for having had the opportunity.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I am genuinely pleased to have the opportunity to sum up for Her Majestys Opposition, after what has been an important and often very interesting debate. It has been enlivened by a number of good contributions from my right hon. and hon. Friends. They include my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), and my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands), for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).
I also particularly enjoyed the contributions from the Labour Benches by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). I was particularly struck by the remarks of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who confirmed something that Conservative Members have long arguedthat we do not need the treaty of Lisbon to bring about further enlargement of the European Union. It was great to hear that damascene conversion.
We have touched on several important issues, including rising food prices, Russia, Zimbabwe and Iran. On Iran, the points raised by my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary about how the Prime Minister appears to have mismanaged the situation were not adequately answered by the Foreign Secretary. That is a subject that Conservative Members certainly intend to pursue.
I think that the House will not be completely surprised if, given the events in Ireland last Thursday, I concentrate the bulk of my remarks on the referendum and its implications for the Lisbon treaty. I would like personally to congratulate the Irish people on a brave and wise decision in rejecting the treaty of Lisbon in a free and fair national referendum.
It should be remembered that this vote follows on from the rejections of the original European constitution in 2005 by the voters of France and the Netherlands. Given that, as Bertie Ahern, the previous Irish Taoiseach, argued, the two documents are at least 90 per cent. the same, more than 21 million Europeans, and a clear majority in three member states, have voted to reject this over-centralising project. Irelands own Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, admitted after the vote:
I somehow suspect that if many other member states of the EU had to put it before their people, the result would be the same.
It is important to appreciate the scale of the rejection in Ireland. The no camp won by 53.4 per cent. to 46.6 per cent.a clear margin of almost 7 percentage points, and over 100,000 votes. In addition, the turnout, at over 53 per cent., was higher than in Nice 1 and in Nice 2, and involved well over 1.5 million people participating in the ballot. Any attempt to portray the result as in any way unrepresentative or illegitimate does not stand up to close scrutiny.
Mr. Jenkin: Does my hon. Friend agree that a no vote was against the odds given that every broadcasting outlet, every respectable newspaper and every respectable political party was in the yes campaign, as was the Commission, with its money, and business, which was all lined up as well. It was a very one-sided campaign, yet the no vote won.
a substantial no vote on a substantial turnout
It may be that forcing European integration through grand treaties has lost its impetus.
Given the scale of the defeat, Irish politicians, even those who were originally in favour of the treaty, have begun to concede the settled view of their electorate. The Irish Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore, said:
The decision of the Irish electorate has to be fully respected and there can certainly be no question of putting the same Treaty back to another referendum.
the Irish people have made a clear-cut decision on the matter.
It has become almost a Commons tradition over the past few months that whenever we debate Europe we quote from the architect of the original constitution, Mr. Valéry Giscard dEstaing. In order to comply with that emerging tradition, I remind the House of his prediction:
Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly.
The Irish refusal to adopt those proposals nevertheless presents the European Union with a major challenge, in terms not only of Lisbon but of the future credibility of the organisation itself. That point was touched on by several of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The whole anti-democratic nature of the ratification process in this countrythe breaking of the solemn promise on a referendum, the curtailed and rigged debate in the Commons and the knowledge that the Government seem set on trying to press ahead with the treaty regardlesshas not exactly increased support for the European Union and its institutions among the British electorate. If anything, it has done quite the reverse. If the European constitution was plan A and Lisbon was plan B, any attempt to coerce the Irish to vote again, perhaps on some slightly modified basis, for what we might characterise as plan C, is only likely to increase resentment against the EU even further.
In fact, that resentment is already growing. A YouGov poll published only yesterday revealed that by a margin of nearly four to one, British people think that the Lisbon treaty should be dropped, while 65 per cent. of respondents agreed with the proposition that the EU is out of touch with normal people. When even newspapers such as the Financial Times are running editorials entitled Time to put the EU Treaty on ice, the Government ought to take notice and give Lisbon up as a bad job.
In the light of developments, we are entitled to ask exactly what the Governments position is. At the weekend, No. 10 clearly briefed the press that it wanted the treaty killed off. The Sunday Times published a story under the forthright front page headline, No. 10 admits EU Treaty is finished. The Foreign Secretary was at it, too. There was an article in The Sun on Monday entitled, Give EU Treaty The Last Rites, with the sub-heading Its dead, says Miliband. That briefing was made to the press by the Labour party in private, but once we heard the Foreign Secretarys statement on Monday, and read his blogalthough with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) in the Chamber, I have to say to him that if he wants to get into blogging, he has a lot to learn from herit became evident that they were desperately trying to keep the treaty alive behind the scenes. We have a position where the Government, under pressure, have yet again resorted to spin. They tell the press that they want the treaty gone, but they work behind the scenes to do everything they can to save it. When it comes to the future of our country, and indeed our continent, why can Ministers not be straight with the House of Commons just for once?
If the Governments position is confused, it is an absolute model of clarity compared to that of the Liberal Democrats. Trying to pin them down on this issue over the past few months has been like trying to nail jelly to a fencewith a large number of Liberal Democrats sitting on it while one is doing the nailing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) went through a list of their crimes in this regard, and the Liberal Democrat spokesmans speech this afternoon was so full of obfuscations that I feel compelled to repeat some of them.
In the Commons, the Liberals argued against their own manifesto commitment to a referendum on the constitution and in favour of an in-out referendum instead. We were then treated to the sixth-form stunt of an orchestrated walkout because they were not allowed to vote on an in-out referendum, even though that does not appear anywhere in their 2005 general election manifesto. With a few honourable exceptions, they eventually abstained on a referendum on Lisbon in the
Commons, although they supported our amendment to prevent the ratchet clause giving up further national vetoes without an Act of Parliament; we give them credit for that.
When the Bill on the treaty reached the other place, the Liberals were given a chance to vote on an in-out referendumsomething that they had longed for in the Commonsand when it came to that vote, they abstained again. When it came to the alternative option of a vote on the treaty of Lisbon, rather than abstain, as they had in the Commons, they voted against. They voted for the passerelle amendment in the Commons, but voted against it in the Lords. When he was asked to defend his position, the Liberal spokesman said that it was our fault that they had voted that way. This is an entirely new system of politics in this country. The Liberal Democrats can vote any way they want and then blame other parties for their voting record in the Lobby.
What does the Liberal spokesman have to say to his colleagues in this House who had to resign their Front-Bench positions because they had the honour to stand by their manifesto on which they were elected? Indeed, what does he say to those colleagues who wanted to vote for a referendum, but were ordered to abstain by their leader on a three-line Whip, only to see their peers abstain on an in-out referendum in the other place and vote against the treaty of Lisbon a few weeks later? We would like to have questioned the leader of the Liberal Democrats directly on this matter tonightbut unfortunately Baroness Williams of Crosby does not sit in the House of Commons but in the House of Lords. It is perfectly evident that for the last couple of months she, and not the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been running Liberal policy on the treaty.
I hope that that point is not lost on the voters of Henley or on the people of this country. It certainly has not been lost on the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) or the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). In summary, the Liberal position on the treaty of Lisbon has been a calamity from start to finish.
In theory, the purpose of the debate today is to inform the Governments negotiating position at the forthcoming European summit tomorrow and Friday, so let me conclude by offering the Government some frank advice. The treaty of Lisbon can come into force only if ratified by all 27 member states, a point readily conceded by the Foreign Secretary. In Ireland, ratification can take place only via a referendum. It has just had a referendum that produced an emphatic no vote on a record turnout. Rather than trying to bully the brave Irish people into voting again, our Government should admit that they have got this wrong, respect the democratic decision of the Irish peopleand those of France and the Netherlands before themgo back to the drawing board and start again.
I offer a warning. The more EU leaders continue to try to push Lisbon through in the face of democratically expressed public opinion, the weaker their support among the peoples of Europe will become. No means no, and European Governments, including our own, should simply respect that.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy):
I am delighted to wind up at the end of todays fascinating
debate, in which we have had 14 Back-Bench speeches, including from my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), and others to whom I will refer. We also heard from my old sparring partner the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I am delighted to hear from him again, although I missed the part of his speech to do with climate change, the Balkans and many of the other big and challenging issues facing Europe. Perhaps they will be for another speech on another day.
We also heard from two former Ministers for Europe. The spirit of relentless optimism of the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) still haunts my office at the Foreign Office. We heard, too, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). There was a symbolic contrast between the different approaches of the two parties to the issue of Europe. Unfortunately, I will have to disappoint my right hon. Friend. I have to confirm that there are currently no plans whatever to go on a road tour in the UK or Europe with or without the shadow Foreign Secretary and the shadow Minister for Europe jointly in the caravan. I say so simply out of experience. I once spent a month living on a bus with the late and brilliant Donald Dewar. Despite his wonderful company, I resolved at that point that that was an experience never to be repeated. The stories of that are perhaps for another day.
We also heard as usual from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary a thoughtful and all-encompassing speech, addressing so many of the big issues facing Europe that will be discussed at the European Council. We also heard a narrower but, as is normal, humorous speech from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). We were treated again to the image of Liberal Democrat cojones. I hope that this is the last time that I have to sit and listen to that slightly homoerotic speech from the right hon. Gentleman.
I was delighted to hear again from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), whom I have missed over the past few weeks. In the middle of one of his interventions, he rather bizarrely announcedI think it was thisthe death of Dido. Hansard will of course record properly what he said, but his comments, although not often humorous, nevertheless brought a wry smile to the face of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Wells[Hon. Members: Aldridge-Brownhills.]
Mr. Murphy: No, but there is a slight difference. That smile disappeared when my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East described the post of Minister for Europe as the most enjoyable job in Governmentcertainly I used to think that, until last Friday.
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