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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con):
It is a joy to follow the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who speaks much common sense on European issues, as
he does on many other matters. I hope that I will not take up the 15 minutes allotted to me today, but I believe this to be a vital issue. I am not sure whether this will be the last debate on Europe before the next general election. I saw the Minister looking somewhat sceptical-and it is always nice to see people looking sceptical in debates on Europe. He seemed sceptical about whether it was our last such debate, and he may be right. Many people have said that they hope that the Minister will stay a long time in the job. I think that the electorate may well be the deciders in that regard; it will certainly not be the Prime Minister. He has to call a general election before June, whatever happens, and whether it is in May or in March, I believe that the Minister is looking at a more restricted duration in the job that he is doing.
Many hon. Members mentioned the Lisbon treaty. What is the current position in that regard? We have an EU President, who is, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a household name, and who controls 3,500 civil servants in the Council Secretariat, creating a new power base, and will now lead on negotiations as if he were a Head of State. We have an EU Foreign Minister-another household name and face-who will have her own diplomatic service, which will, I am sure, grow year on year as the EU has missions all over the world. I should imagine that the lure will be to save a lot of money and roll it all into one EU mission, and then the question will be, "Why do we need all these independent, separate British embassies and high commissions all over the world when we can have just the one with the EU blue flag flying over it?" We then have the single legal personality for the EU, which will enable it to join international organisations in its own right; a self-amending treaty enabling the EU to grant itself more powers without the need for a new treaty; the abolition of national vetoes in 60 new areas, including energy, transport and employment law; and, of course, the new EU diplomatic service.
A lot of hon. Members stand up in this place and say, "We are against a federal united states of Europe." However, we now have a President, a Foreign Minister, an anthem, a flag and a diplomatic mission-how much more do we need before we can say that we have a united states of Europe? That is the very thing that we did not wish to happen, and the very thing that the people of Britain have not been consulted on since 1975. I am sick and tired of people saying to me, "The last time I voted on this in 1975 I voted to join the Common Market." Of course, that is exactly what they voted for-the Common Market. They did not vote to join a united states of Europe with its own President, Foreign Minister and diplomatic corps. We talk about the sovereignty of this place, yet we have signed up to things and signed away rights in the name of the British public without consulting them, and we have done it in their name.
All the changes that have happened are major constitutional changes that were found in the proposed constitution. They are the major changes on which the British people were denied their say when the Government reneged on their promise to hold a referendum. Conservative Members recognise that Lisbon was merely a cut-and-paste version of the constitution. On the BBC's "The Politics Show" on 24 June 2007, just a matter of days before he became Prime Minister, the Prime Minister said:
"The manifesto is what we put to the public. We've got to honour that manifesto. That is an issue of trust for me with the electorate."
I wonder whether he now realises that one of the biggest factors in making him one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers in living memory is that he is unable to be straight with the public on any issue whatsoever. This is more important than what biscuit he likes-it is about the way in which we are governed in this country, and he cannot be straight with the British public.
To make matters worse, the Prime Minister has been totally out-manoeuvred on the European stage. One of the most important jobs in Europe has gone to Michel Barnier as Commissioner for the single market. Yesterday, Sarkozy was quoted as having said:
"Do you know what it means for me to see for the first time in 50 years a French European Commissioner in charge of the internal market, including financial services, including the City?"
It is important to stress that there is now a very important job, the holder of which will dictate what will happen in one of the most successful parts of what goes on in the UK and Europe. One senior banker has said:
"Surrendering control of the City of London to the French in return for some nonentity getting a non-job is one of the biggest fiascos of British diplomacy since Suez. The fact that Sarkozy is now being gleeful makes it worse. The Prime Minister must explain how he will protect the City from EU meddling or lose what remaining credibility he has in the City."
Mr. Harper: It is actually worse than my hon. Friend says, because Commissioner Michel Barnier is responsible not just for financial services but for the internal market. Those who greatly support our membership of the EU talk about getting good opportunities for British businesses to win business across Europe. Given that Michel Barnier is widely reported as having a protectionist past, he does not seem like the sort of person who will go around Europe opening up opportunities for British businesses.
Mr. Evans: Of course I agree. I shall come on to the non-job and the nonentity filling it, who is Cathy Ashton, a lady who has never been elected to anything and is doing rather well for herself. I would not know her if I fell over her-she is not a household name or face, yet she is now doing this job not for Britain but for Europe. A lot has been said about the need to be absolutely certain whether she is doing her job in the interests of the EU, but I suspect that the French, being the French, will very much look at what is in the best interests of France-they always do. I actually have a grudging respect for how the French always look after the French, and they have done so in this matter. We were all supposed to be gleeful about a Brit getting one of the so-called top jobs in Europe, but it did not make me gleeful at all.
We know that the EU does not yet have power over foreign policy, but I am sure that that is a work in progress. I suspect that in 20 years' time, if it does not have its own dedicated foreign policy and armed forces, it will be very disappointed. Foreign policy and defence should remain with sovereign states, and I was disappointed by a story in The Sun this morning headed, "Where the hell are EU?" It mentions the contributions of forces from other EU states to what is going in Afghanistan, which show that we are clearly not all working together. It goes through how many troops countries have there. We know that we have committed 10,000 troops to that war on terrorism, which affects everybody. Germany has committed 4,300, France 3,095, Italy 2,700, Holland
2,100, Poland 1,910, Spain 1,000, Romania 990, the Czech Republic 690, Denmark 690, Belgium 530, Luxembourg eight and Ireland seven. What the heck is going on?
Ms Gisela Stuart: This an extremely serious matter, and we should recognise that our troops fight with the Danes and Estonians, for example, who per capita have taken a bigger hit in the number of dead soldiers and have made a higher contribution. Let us have fun, but not on that subject, please.
Mr. Evans: This is a vital subject, and I am not having fun with it at all. The important point is not just the numbers, it is where those troops are. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to mention the number who have actually fallen, because it indicates what sort of role they are playing when they are out in Afghanistan. We know that there are trouble spots and other areas in which people are less likely to come into danger than a G4S security guard in a factory in London. Some countries attach conditions to the troops that they send, one of which is that it should be a nine-to-five job, and they don't want to come across any trouble, thank you very much. The chance of a body bag coming back is zero.
That prompts me to ask what we mean when we talk about Europe acting together on this vital issue. Spain, for goodness' sake, has been one of the greatest victims of terrorist attacks-not by al-Qaeda as such, but people in that country know what terrorism is, as do people in a number of other countries. The war against terrorism affects us all and we must fight the battle together, in similar numbers and without conditions. That is important, because the 10,000 troops we have given are in the areas where there is most hostility. We know by the number of deaths that have, sadly, taken place that our troops are on the front line, in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, shoulder to shoulder with the United States of America. That is where, I believe, the rest of Europe ought also to be. I would not dictate that there should be a Defence Minister in Europe who says that that must happen, but every Prime Minister of every EU country must look at their responsibilities and obligations regarding that war, and I want to see their countries playing their part in it as we do.
I am very much looking forward to the next general election. I am very sad that the Lisbon treaty has been signed and that the people of this country have been denied the opportunity of a referendum, which they were promised by Tony Blair and the Prime Minister. However, the reality is that we do not have that opportunity-the Lisbon treaty is law and came into force on 1 December.
It is appropriate, without going over old battles and looking at the scars, which have been mentioned, to look to the future and ask what sort of Europe we want to create. I am very much in favour of Turkey, Croatia, which I believe is next in line, and many of the Balkan states, if they wish to join, acceding to the European Union. We should not be a closed club. France and Germany are worried about how Europe is developing. They want a much deeper European Union. We clearly do not, but do we want a European Union that does not close the door on other European countries.
I am a proud member of the Council of Europe, in which there are 47 countries. Why should we turn around and tell Georgia or Ukraine, or indeed Turkey,
that they can never join the European Union? They are all proud members of the Council of Europe. I believe we ought to consider expanding the EU as quickly as possible. Independent conditions should be laid down, and when countries meet them, they should be automatically eligible to join. That should be that-there should no politicking behind closed doors, as happens so much in the EU.
I was looking down the list of the great, famous Europeans who act in our name. Michel Barnier is one of the most famous- [ Interruption. ] I should imagine that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) would not be prepared to take one of those jobs. The list includes Antonio Tajani, Karel De Gucht, Connie Hedegaard, Günther Oettinger, Cecilia Malmström, and so it goes on. Our commissioners are led by José Manuel Barroso, whom people would be very unlikely to recognise if he walked into their local. All those people act in our name as part of this great European creation that has come about since we joined in 1973 and since we last had a referendum in 1975.
It is about time we struck back for this country. We get elected here, unlike Cathy Ashton, and we have a democratic right to speak on behalf of our constituents. The one thing that our electorate enjoy almost more than anything else is the opportunity to get rid of an unpopular Government and remove people they do not like. That is impossible with EU commissioners, all of whom earn considerable sums of money, as do the new President and foreign secretary. The President earns, I think, £350,000, but that might be €350,000-they are virtually the same value these days anyway. Those people, whom nobody would know, but who are governing in our name, earn incredible sums of money.
I look forward to the next general election when we will be able to give the British public an opportunity to put a party-the Conservative party-into power that will wrestle back those powers that have been given away, so that we can dictate how those powers are used. I look forward to the general election, after which we will have a sovereignty Bill, because it will give the people of this country an opportunity to put into power a Government who believe in the sovereignty of this Parliament. The next election will be vital. The Government made one of their gravest mistakes in the handling of the Lisbon treaty and denying people a referendum. It has provided a great opportunity for narrow, xenophobic parties such as the British national party and the UK Independence party to claim that they speak on behalf of the British people. Well, they do not, and I do not believe that either of those parties will have a Member of Parliament after the election. But they have been given a bigger platform by being able to claim that the Prime Minister denied the British people what they had been promised. The biggest error and the most undemocratic thing that the Prime Minister did was to deny that referendum because he knew what the result would be. He denied the British people the opportunity to vote no, and that was a shocking own goal.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on a splendid speech, and I agree with
every word that he said. Unusually, I shall strike a note of optimism about the future in my speech, because the tectonic plates have started to shift. We-apart perhaps from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey)-have moved away from a sort of theological Europeanism towards a more pragmatic tone. There is still a big gulf between those who take a critical position, such as me, and Ministers, but the tone is more pragmatic. Indeed, the Minister for Europe was praising the pick- and-mix approach to the European Union, in which Britain has been a leader, as we have opted out of several areas and taken a more critical stance than others.
I am proud to be a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. We visit other member countries, speak to people there, and our approach influences them. They are surprised to find that we are a robust group of individuals with different views. We put our views trenchantly and strongly, and if something-such as the common agricultural policy-is total nonsense, we say so. That approach is engendering a more pragmatic approach to European matters.
Another reason for optimism is the events of the past couple of weeks. We were fearful that we would have a powerful President of Europe, with a powerful Foreign Minister, and that we would move rapidly towards the supranational European state-a country called Europe-to which the theological Europeans so look forward. But that has changed. The leaders of the European nations, especially Sarkozy and Merkel, have asked themselves whether they really want a European Union with a President who would be the first person whom President Obama would call when he wanted to speak to the Europeans. They would rather he telephoned them. Angela Merkel in particular wants President Obama to call her first, not the President of the European Union. That is one of the reasons why they have promoted that very nice man, Mr. Van Rompuy from Belgium-I am gradually getting used to his name, although it has been a struggle-and Cathy Ashton. She is a very fine woman and I have met her on a couple of occasions, but she is clearly not the forceful Foreign Minister that people had imagined. There is cause for optimism, therefore, a pragmatism and a move away from the idea of a supernatural European state-I mean supranational, although theologians might want the former.
People emphasise to me that there will be no more constitutional change-certainly not towards federalism or a European superstate. The time has come for those who take a critical position to say, "Let's see if we can row back and repatriate some of the powers that have been given to the European Union, particularly in some of the most nonsensical areas, such as the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy."
I welcome what I see as a change of direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, welcomed the downgrading of the European President to a mere committee chairman. That is fine by me. I would like to see a lot of downgrading, including of the European Commission. It should be opened up and made much more transparent. Let us have it all in public. Why not? They can discuss things in public. Alternatively, we could have proper ministerial control, like we have here, with a civil service that does what it is told by Ministers, rather than the other way around. The European Commission, however, has powers to tell Ministers and politicians what to do.
We have seen a drawing back. On a recent visit to a member state, we were told that the French and Dutch referendums, which were lost, were a wake-up call to the Eurofanatics and theological Europeans, some of whom have now drawn back. The pressure to move towards a superstate has been undermined. For example, let us consider the struggles over the Lisbon treaty, which only just got through-it squeaked through in the end with a referendum and the Czech President having his arm twisted so hard that he finally agreed to sign. But it was a close-run thing. I believe that the future direction of travel will involve a rowing back rather than a move towards a superstate.
I want to talk in particular about economics, because the European Union is more about economics than anything else. It has been an attempt to impose a neo-liberal economic model across the European Union as one single European entity. That clearly has not happened. Several major states, including Britain, have chosen not to join the euro, and it is unlikely-I hope-that we will ever join.
Mr. Bone: As usual, the hon. Gentleman is making a sensible speech- [Interruption.] He is making a sensible speech-I disagree with the Minister for Europe. However, is the hon. Gentleman not hugely disappointed that it remains official Government policy to join the euro?
The fact that we were out of the euro and able to depreciate our currency gave a little protection to our industry during this appalling crisis. That showed the wisdom of our Prime Minister in keeping us out of the euro all those years ago. The Swedes have had a similar experience: they sensibly voted not to enter the euro and had a referendum as well.
There are, however, serious economic stresses inside the EU with the arrangement that it attempted to impose. The Greeks are at the sharp end of all this. They look likely to default on their borrowing and are in a very serious economic situation. The EU is unlikely to bail them out because it does not want to create what it calls a moral hazard-if one country gets bailed out, all the others will want to be bailed out. It can help one, if it is the only one, but we know that there are others. If it bails out Greece, why not bail out Ireland and some of the Baltic states? Clearly, therefore, Greece will not be bailed out.
Greece has enormous problems, and the logical thing to do-were I a Greek, I would be saying this-is to withdraw from the euro, recreate its national currency, depreciate it and then reconstruct what has been damaged internally. If that happens, other countries might do the same. I have suggested to Irish politicians-in a friendly way-that that would be a logical thing for them to do.
Ireland's natural partner economy is the United Kingdom, but the Irish have terrible problems because they are stuck in the euro up there. They blame us, saying, "It's your fault because you devalued," but if they had not gone into the euro, they would have been able to do the same thing as others.
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