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In the United Kingdom, the turnout was even more worrying, at 34.3 per cent. Two thirds of the country had something more important to do on the day of the European elections, even though we have made it far easier for them to vote. In the UK, 11 million people voted in the European elections. In 2002, 23 million voted in "Big Brother". More people in Britain are more interested in what happens on "Big Brother" than in the Big Brother state in Brussels, which actually has more say on how they lead their lives.
I am a democrat; therefore, I am concerned about what is happening in the EU and, indeed, in the UK. My hon. Friend mentioned the referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Tony Blair said that we would have one, but, in his dying days as Prime Minister, he said, "By the way, there will not be a referendum." That is one of the greatest denials of democracy that I have seen in this country in the 51 years I have been alive. Everyone knows that the Lisbon treaty is exactly the same as the constitution, apart from one or two words. The French, the Dutch and the Irish said no to it. I am staggered that the French were told that they could not have another vote, and the Dutch "no" was also ignored.
Ireland keeps getting it wrong. I do not know what is wrong with it. It did the same in respect of the Nice treaty, but, fortunately, had another go and got it right that time-as far as Brussels was concerned. If I were Irish, I would feel somewhat aggrieved that my voice in a referendum is being ignored. We hear the great democrats of Europe ask, "Why should one country be able to block this treaty when the other 26 wish it to go ahead?" That is the system. They need unanimity of the 27 countries. They should not try to change the rules simply because one country is deemed to have got it wrong.
I must point out that I used a bit of irony when I intervened on my hon. Friend earlier, just in case someone thinks that I actually believed what I said about three countries getting it wrong and one country getting it right. I actually think that the referendum in Ireland was poignant. I hope that when the Irish are forced to have another referendum-I believe that it will be on 2 October-they will stand firm and vote as they did last time. They will be doing not only themselves but democracy a favour if they say "no" again. My great suspicion is that, if they do, the wonderful, nameless bureaucrats will take the Lisbon treaty to one side, salami-slice it and then introduce it bit by bit through the back door, as if the vote had never mattered. It is appalling that parts of the Lisbon treaty are already being introduced, even though it does not have the unanimous vote that it requires.
As my hon. Friend said, the Czech President, the Poles and, indeed, even the Germans-the treaty is going through their constitutional courts-are clearly showing greater care for democracy than has been shown by several other countries, and certainly by Europe generally.
I feel uneasy, to say the least, that we have an unelected Prime Minister who is trying to push a general election in this country into the long grass so that the Lisbon treaty can be ratified by the 27 countries before Britain has a general election. That is because the Conservative party is committed to having a referendum on it if it has
not been ratified by then. And then, to have another unelected person-Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, who was recently appointed to the House of Lords-say on behalf of the British people that we will support Tony Blair as president of the EU when the position has not yet been created is quite stunning. The lack of democracy in every stage of this is amazing.
As a member of the Council of Europe, I spend some of my time visiting some of the 47 member states to talk about democracy and observe their elections. I tell them how important the rule of law is, yet it seems that it does not really matter for us. I feel incredibly uneasy about that.
We all believed, when the French, the Dutch and the Irish said "no", that the treaty was dead, but the walking corpse has had some life breathed into it, and we may well see it become a reality for the whole of Europe-for all 27 countries. I hope that that will not happen.
The EU is an important institution, but many of my constituents say that it has been transformed into a creature that they did not wish to see. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) said that in the 1975 referendum he voted against, as many did. The vast majority of people whom I speak to did not have an opportunity to vote in that referendum because they had not reached voting age. They have never had a referendum on Europe, yet over the years they have seen it transformed into something akin to a united states of Europe, which is what some, including Hans-Gert Pöttering, wish to see.
Many of those who voted yes in 1975 voted for a Europe of independent sovereign nation states trading together, but with their own sovereign Governments who would conduct the laws that pertained mostly to them from their own countries. However, year by year, treaty by treaty, we have seen this ebb away and we now have a creature that few people, including Ted Heath, would ever have recognised as the organisation that existed when he took us into Europe in 1973. Ted Heath fought the '75 referendum by saying that it was a Europe of trading states, and that that was all it was. Clearly, it has turned into something far more than that.
We have learned the word "subsidiarity", which has come into our parlance, but we are not acting on it. I hope that a future Conservative Government will take subsidiarity to heart and ensure that, in the ongoing set of negotiations that is the European Union, we return vital powers back to the nation states and closer to the people-that is the sort of devolution I believe in-instead of more power being attracted to the centre, which we have already proven is fairly remote from the vast majority of people in the country.
I shall end by talking, as my hon. Friend did, about EU enlargement. The Council of Europe comprises 47 countries, many of which have had problems, such as Georgia, which has faced hostilities on its borders from another Council of Europe country-Russia. Many of those countries would dearly love to join the EU. Fortunately, two of the more recent entrants to the EU, the Czech Republic and Poland, have shown that they are no pushover when it comes to the rights of their countries and their peoples. I, too, want to see Europe expanding. I want a wider Europe, not a deeper one. I want many of the Balkan states neighbouring us to join the EU as soon as possible, including Croatia, which
will hopefully be the next country to join, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. I look forward to countries such as Turkey being able to join at the appropriate time.
It will not be the same Europe. It is almost impossible for us to talk about all the countries that will have joined Europe having the same access to labour markets as is currently the case. When Romania and Bulgaria joined we learned the lesson that we failed to learn when the other 10 countries joined. Whereas France and Germany protected their countries with derogations on people being able to settle and work there, we did not, and-surprise, surprise-several hundred thousand people from those 10 countries settled in the United Kingdom. Many of those people did so positively and have contributed to our economy.
Daniel Kawczynski: Roughly 500,000 Poles are living in the United Kingdom as a result of Poland's membership of the EU. I welcome their contribution, but I have repeatedly asked the Polish Government to invest more in consular and embassy staff to help those citizens, because a lot of them have to ask for support from British Members of Parliament, whereas the responsibility for helping them really should still lie with Poland. The Polish authorities should do more to support them here.
Mr. Evans: That is spoken from the heart by a man who probably gets a disproportionate amount of correspondence from Polish citizens in the UK-they know he is fluent in the Polish language-and who, I suspect, has become a sort of icon for the 500,000 Poles who live in the UK and are looking for help. I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. Poland has to recognise the extra work load created when so many people from their country come to the UK.
More importantly, we welcomed Poland and a number of other countries into the EU to assist them to grow and prosper and to lessen the magnet effect of other EU countries on their people, leading them to leave their own. The French and the Germans got it right, because they ensured that there was a 10-year period during which the cohesion funds going into Poland, for example, would at least have a chance to work. We just said, "Open the doors", and coaches full of young Poles come to Victoria station, up the road, looking for opportunities in the UK. Yes, many of them have now returned to Poland, because they do not regard Britain as the golden place, as in the picture that was painted for them. Still, a considerable number of people have come here. At least we put the derogations in place in respect of Bulgaria and Romania. If we went down the road of accepting the Balkan states and then included Turkey, we would need to have safeguards to ensure that a fair chunk of people from Turkey, for instance, did not uproot themselves and plant themselves in the rest of the EU. That is the great fear in Germany and France, which is why Sarkozy has been making some of his pronouncements.
The next general election will soon be upon us and, if the Lisbon treaty has not been ratified, that will give an enormous opportunity for the British people to have their first say since 1975 on how they wish their country to develop. When the Minister responds to the debate, he has an opportunity to reinforce my suspicion, which is that the real and only reason why the British people
are not having the referendum on the Lisbon treaty is that the Government have done their private polling and know what the result would be. Polls on the Lisbon treaty referendum have said that up to 70 per cent. of the British people would have voted no. Rather than the British people having their democratic say and rejecting the Lisbon treaty, as has happened in three other countries, they have been denied the vote. That is an absolute disgrace.
If the Lisbon treaty is ratified, I will, like my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, press my party to consider giving a post-ratification referendum so that the British people will have their final say on whether they wished to have the Lisbon treaty foisted on them in this undemocratic fashion. If the British people say no, as I suspect they will, that gives us a wonderful bargaining chip with the rest of the EU in future negotiations to get the sort of Europe that is for the benefit of the British people and for generations to come in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate. Although at times the debate so far suggests that hon. Members may be a little bit demob happy, he made some interesting points that I agree with. I strongly agree that Britain should be in the EU. He may be surprised to know that, as Liberal Democrat spokesman on foreign affairs, I believe that the EU should be reformed. I would enjoy a debate with the hon. Gentleman on all the different reforms that we might have. He may be interested to know that I believe that some powers could potentially return, but that would have to be done in renegotiations with our partners. I will come back to that point in a second. I also agree that one problem is that we in this country have gold-plated EU legislation when directives come down to Whitehall. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to many aspects of how European Union law works.
It is incumbent on all Members of Parliament to try to explain why there is so much European law. Parties such as UKIP-I know that the hon. Gentleman opposes its position-try to suggest that Europe is taking over law-making. That is simply not true as one finds when one analyses not the numbers but the type of law. One reason why Europe has passed so many directives recently is that it deals with trade issues in the internal market-the single market. Anyone who is familiar with the history of law development, whether in the European Union, Britain, the United States or any other developed market economy knows that there are more laws, particularly detailed regulations, covering trade and economic issues than almost any other area. It is not surprising in a single market that more laws have been passed at European Union level. That does not mean that Europe is highly regulated-on the contrary.
An example that I often use is the directive on strawberries. Anti-Europeans say that it shows how mad the European Union is to pass a law on strawberries, but before that there was a British law on strawberries, a Danish law on strawberries and a French law on
strawberries. There were 15 or 27 laws on strawberries-on what constitutes a strawberry, and what can be sold by strawberry growers or retailers. Those laws have been stripped away, and there is one law, so that strawberry growers of Kent and elsewhere do not have to have different punnets of strawberries going to Belgium, Holland and France. They can have the same punnets, which is helpful to trade.
European laws have inevitably been numerous because they have dealt with trade, but they have also been deregulatory because there has been a bonfire of member states' laws. That vital fact is rarely stated, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) for providing the opportunity for me to air that argument.
In raising the matter today, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham inevitably focused our attention on the Conservative party's policy on the European Union and what it might be if the Conservatives ever came to power. He and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley talked about their support for a post-ratification referendum if the Lisbon treaty is ratified before that event, and I look forward to the comments of the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois). I am sure that he will make clear the Conservative party's position, so I will not put words into his mouth. I am interested to know whether he will talk about its strategy to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the European Union, and how it has been building influence in Europe in recent weeks to make that more possible.
When framing foreign policy, a Government must consider their relationship with Europe's capitals-Berlin, Rome, Madrid-and particularly with Washington. If the Conservative party believes that it will have more influence in the White House because it has less influence in Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Rome, it must be stark, staring bonkers. The major stake to the heart of the Conservatives' attitude to their whole foreign policy is their inability to put forward a coherent, consistent and credible policy with key Conservative European Governments and parties.
Mr. Davey: It is extremely good. If the hon. Gentleman had joined me at the Democratic convention in Denver he would have seen that there were more Liberal Democrat MPs there than Conservative and Labour MPs put together.
"having so many UK MEPs outside the mainstream groupings is a worry for business."
Daniel Kawczynski: During my speech, I tried not to say anything derogatory about the Liberal Democrats, but the hon. Gentleman has started to criticise the Conservative party. I want to raise two issues. First, why did his party vote against giving the British people a referendum? His party's support for the Government prevented the British people from having that referendum. Not many people realise that. Secondly, why did so few people-only 15 per cent.-vote for his party in the European Union elections?
Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman should be careful about the latter point. He knows that all the major parties saw their vote fall from what was predicted in the polls. On the referendum, he should know-I believe that he attended many of the debates on the Lisbon treaty-that the Liberal Democrats supported a referendum on whether we should be in or out of the European Union, and we had an exchange on that. Our reason was that that was closest to our 2005 manifesto commitment. The constitutional treaty, unlike what members of the Conservative party often say, is not the same as the Lisbon treaty on key constitutional issues.
The constitutional treaty contained the Maastricht treaty, the treaty of Amsterdam, the treaty of Nice, the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act in one document. To vote on that is to vote on the whole European Union. The Lisbon treaty is minor. It is an amending treaty, not a constitutional treaty. It is not about whether one agrees with the whole of the European Union's rules as built up over decades; the constitutional treaty, however, was. A referendum on being in or out of the EU was far closer to our pledge.
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman will know that when the former President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, gave a speech to the Council of Europe he said that the document was virtually the same as the one the French, Dutch and Irish rejected. Indeed, the vast majority of European politicians rather like the Lisbon treaty, and when they talk about it in their own countries they reassure people that it is virtually the same document. Only in the United Kingdom do we carry on with the pretence that somehow the document before us is different.
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