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Treaty of Lisbon (No. 5)

Volume 472: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2008

Question again proposed.

I must begin with a confession. When I addressed the House on Second Reading, I sought to reassure colleagues who were concerned about the proposed powers of the president of the European Council that they would be exactly the same as those of the current President. In fact, I was wrong: there will be fewer. The President of the European Council currently has a vote, as he is a Head of Government. The new president of the European Council will have no vote in the European Council, so whether we are talking about foreign policy or any other area, the suggestion that the creation of this post will somehow have a new, dramatic and sinister consequence is difficult to substantiate. The individual concerned will not even be able to vote on the matters before the European Council.

The post of high representative is similar. The high representative, like the president of the European Council, will, of course, have influence, but will not be able to vote. Only Foreign Ministers will vote and make the decisions. That must be borne in mind when we try to work out the implications and the overall consequences of the treaty.

The commissioners have no vote when they are in a Council meeting, but I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledges that they have immense power, not only to propose measures but to withdraw them and hold them on the table. No one else has that power.

I am not referring to the commissioners, but to the president of the European Council. If one seeks a comparison, it would be with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who has often been handicapped by the Security Council’s failure to provide the mandate that he wishes and has therefore been unable to deliver policy.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but does not he realise the damage that he does to the case of Conservative Front Benchers, who for six months or more have been telling us about an all-powerful president of Europe and an all-powerful European Foreign Minister? The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Telegraph report that such monsters are approaching. Yet the right hon. and learned Gentleman claims that, like the Wizard of Oz, they may try to pull the levers but not much will happen unless we, as nation states, agree with them. He needs to have that discussion with his Front-Bench colleagues.

I must have that discussion with the right hon. Gentleman, too, because one of the problems that has bedevilled the European Union is that its enthusiasts and its critics resort to hyperbole on almost every possible occasion, thereby damaging both sides of the argument and confusing the British public. That must be borne in mind.

As one tries to work out the claims and counter-claims about the treaty, the British public are entitled to know whether it will fundamentally impede the pursuit of our foreign policy. It is reasonable to ask whether, if the powers had been available in the past 10 years, any of the most fundamental matters on which British policy diverged from that of most of our European colleagues would have been affected. Rightly or wrongly, we went to war over Iraq. Britain would not have been prevented from carrying out that policy if any of the powers had been in force at the time.

Policy on Kosovo divided Europe 10 years ago as it does today, but Britain was not impeded from making its judgment about what the national interest justified. Although we have differences with European colleagues about Afghanistan, our policy would not be impeded if the powers existed. It is important to make that point, or we confuse our electorate, whichever side of the argument we choose to present.

However, my comments are valid only if the Government are frank about not only the European Union’s achievements but its failures on foreign policy. Kosovo is highly relevant in that context. Nine years ago, we had agreement, not on going to war but at least on the objective of restoring autonomy to Kosovo. That was the purpose of European policy. The then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was clear about the matter. He said that, after the war in Kosovo,

“nearly everybody inside Kosovo wants independence and absolutely everybody outside Kosovo does not”.

President Clinton said on behalf of the United States that he believed that “autonomy not independence” was required and that

“independence could actually spur more instability”.

That was effectively the basis on which the United Kingdom went to war.

I therefore find it unimpressive that the Foreign Secretary spoke this week about a common European position, Europe realising its ideals and Europe working positively, when the emergence of Kosovan independence destroyed the whole basis on which this country entered into combat. I want to make a couple of other comments about Kosovo and relate them to whether there should be a common foreign and security policy.

There is a fundamental difference between a single and a common foreign and security policy. We all know that there will not be a single foreign policy for many generations to come, if ever. However, a common foreign policy is different. Let us assume that the European Union did not exist and that we were not constrained in any way by the EU or its institutions. Notwithstanding that, it would be highly desirable for the countries of Europe to try to find common positions if there was genuine and substantive agreement—not artificial agreement—between them. Whether it was on the middle east, Zimbabwe, Iran, Russia or energy policy, it would be highly desirable, from the point of view of the United Kingdom’s national interest, to have allies with whom we could work and present a common position if we were to influence the US, Russia and other parts of the world.

I have no doubt about that, but there are two important caveats if we wish to pursue a common foreign policy. The first is obvious: it must be based on unanimity and not on any form of qualified majority voting, not only because that is undesirable in principle and would conflict with our national sovereignty—vital though those points are—but because it would not work. One cannot force a country to pursue a foreign policy that is contrary to its perception of its national interest. The French, the Germans, the Spanish and the Cypriots will not do it, any more than the UK would do it. That goes without saying.

The second point has not yet been made today and it is important. If the Government rightly want to advance common foreign policy, they must do that only when there is agreement on substance, not simply on form. There has been a tendency, not only under this Government but for many years, to go for the lowest common denominator in Europe so that the European Union can say, “We have a common position.” We end up with documents, statements and policies that do not add up to a row of beans because they constitute an attempt to create a spurious unity. I fear that the Foreign Secretary’s statement yesterday on Kosovo falls in that category.

We all know that Europe is deeply divided about Kosovo. We may disagree about the proportions and how many countries will ultimately recognise Kosovo’s independence. However, today almost half the European Union refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence. A statement was produced, and our Foreign Secretary said,

“What you’ve seen here is clear political leadership from the European Union”.

Would not it have been more sensible for the Foreign Secretary to say, “It is disturbing and sad that Europe is deeply divided on this issue, but we’ve at least established some points of agreement, and we might build on that in the future”? That would correspond to reality. However, instead he fell into the trap that catches people on both sides of the argument: anything European has to be 100 per cent. correct or totally wrong. Consequently, the national interest is not well served.

Is not the problem the fact that the institutional frameworks that have been created for a common foreign and security policy have led to the expectation that there should be agreement when that is unlikely? We thus end up with charade policies.

My hon. Friend may be correct, but the point of aspiring to have statesmen rather than politicians is that they can get beyond that and consider genuine national interest. Whatever the institutional arrangements that may have been created, no one can persuade me—they should not try—that we should require anything other than unanimity on foreign policy. As long as that remains the case, and it must, if we have statesmen governing our affairs, not only in this country but in other European countries, and they want to argue for a common foreign policy on any matter that is important to this country, it should be based on substantive agreement on genuine issues, not on cobbling together some form of words that pretend to a spurious unity.

I am sorry, but I am running out of time and therefore cannot give way to my hon. Friend.

Foreign policy goes to the heart of national sovereignty, which common policy does not preclude. However, common policy must be based on substance, not form. The Government, as well as others, have failed that important and relevant test.

I am grateful to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and I share his view on the hyperbole heard from all parts of the House and outside. He rightly spent time on Kosovo and referred to the situation nine years ago, when he may have been much closer to the scene. However, the situation nine years ago is not the situation now. That is the important point that we have to understand and accept, and which has indeed been accepted, not only by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, but by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in his response.

I agree entirely with the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea on a common foreign policy. It is not possible—it is not in the treaty, nor is it anywhere stated—to have foreign policies based on qualified majority voting. The qualified majority voting principle was introduced in Amsterdam in 1997, on the basis of secondary considerations. The fact that Romania, Spain and Cyprus have not recognised Kosovo shows that it is perfectly right, in respect of unanimity in foreign policy, that each individual state can and does go its own way. I also agree with him on the question of the lowest common denominator. As someone who supports the European Union and has done for many years, I find it sad that it is the lowest common denominator that unites member states.

One subject that has not been mentioned today—I am happy to be the first to get into it—is that it is almost 10 years since 4 December 1998, when the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair met French President Jacques Chirac at St. Malo in what became a defining moment in the development of defence policy. We have had a great debate today, with concerns expressed by the Opposition, on the role of NATO. However, at that summit in 1998 the two leaders resolved the dilemma of the Union’s relationship with NATO, declaring that Union security would rest with NATO.

It has been pointed out that President Sarkozy has made some statements about NATO and France getting closer, which would be beneficial. However, Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Chirac agreed at St. Malo not only that NATO would be the defence of Europe, but that there should be some institutional and practical arrangements, to act militarily where NATO chooses not to act. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) made some interesting points about that when he was here, but did not feel that that could happen under the European Union.

However, it was agreed at St. Malo that there would be—and could be—humanitarian and rescue tasks. They could include peacekeeping operations or crisis management, under principles already laid down in what were known as the Petersberg tasks, to which the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) have referred. The Petersberg tasks were agreed at the Western European Union ministerial meeting in June 1992.

My concern is that the hon. Gentleman is forgetting that there is, effectively, a mutual defence clause in the treaty, which prescribes that where one member state is attacked, the others are obliged to provide it with

“aid and assistance by all…means in their power”.

That takes the St. Malo position much further. Furthermore, just as, for example, the Germans are not doing the right thing in relation to article 5, with respect to what is happening in Afghanistan, so I fear that duplication with NATO will produce exactly the same kind of results that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea mentioned, namely that things will start fragmenting and people will start breaking up the arrangements, which will affect NATO and undermine our overall commitment.

There are 21 member states in the European Union that are also members of NATO. In the situation that the hon. Gentleman described, of one member state not coming to the defence of another that was attacked, if he is saying that that is what we should do, that would not go down well elsewhere. He also widens the debate when he talks about NATO in Afghanistan and the relationship with Germany, which is a separate issue. However, I agree that there ought to be stronger representation of NATO forces in Afghanistan from countries other than ours.

Let me return to my central theme and refer again to the points made by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, who served in the Army, and the comments by Lord Owen about success on the ground. The European Union’s missions over the past few years, to which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred, have included police missions—it must be stressed that they were indeed police missions—in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad. When Chad was mentioned, there was some protest from the Opposition Benches from a sedentary position. Actually, the intervention in Chad, by way of a police mission, was to secure refugee camps. I am sure that the refugees in those camps would not have appreciated the kind of reaction that we have heard in the Chamber today. Also, there have been police missions in Moldova and Ukraine, so the EU has had some positive effect in various parts of the world.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary referred to the work of the group of three Union Foreign Ministers, who have been holding talks with Iran on its nuclear enrichment programme. That, of course, had the support of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. This is another element on which the Union can work together. The point made by the right hon. Gentleman, which is perfectly valid, was that the relationships between the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the United Kingdom come from intergovernmental action. That is perfectly right.

There are still pillars within the EU—and the defence policy and the foreign policy—that allow member states to act together, as we have done in relation to Iran. I have already made the point that Spain, Cyprus and Romania declined to recognise Kosovo on the ground that they are independent states within the Union that have their own foreign policies.

The hon. Gentleman’s example of Iran is not a good one. In fact, it underlines the disunity within Europe on a lot of foreign policy areas. Some EU member states want to extend the sanctions against Iran to financial sanctions while others do not.

That is true, but the point I made about Iran was that the actions taken by the three Ministers were intergovernmental within the Union framework. The question of sanctions on Iran is significant, and the time may come—I hope it comes quickly—when the EU and the United States act in concert, because the situation in Iran in relation to uranium enrichment is extremely important. The Foreign Secretary has already made that point.

I want to make a few final points. The foreign policy of the EU has to have certain pillars, and one is to be an ally of the USA and not to see it as a competitor. A lot has been made of relations with Russia in respect of gas and oil, its reaction to the anti-missile missiles, which are coming into Poland and the Czech Republic, and Kosovo. Those important issues must be dealt with between the EU and Russia, but interdependence with Russia must be a major policy plank of the EU.

The EU must not be afraid to seek influence in the continent of Africa, where we have been a colonial power, but where we must seek to use our influence in the interests of the people of Africa in education and health. We must also use our influence with China, which has a role to play in Africa, so that it, too, understands the well-being of the African people and the need for it to play a part in that.

This amending treaty and this foreign policy are seeking to give clear emphasis as to what the direction of the Union is, how other nation states may see the Union and how they may understand that the Union’s foreign policy is based on the rule of law, justice and democracy. Those are our values and principles, which we want to project into the wider world.

I hope that the time comes when we can have a debate of the kind that the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea referred to, in which we can see the EU in the round, accept its policies in the round and see that the EU is in the interests of the British people. It is not opposed to those interests, and together we can make for a better world.

I take a simple view on European matters: we are asked to adopt a treaty that brings about a constitution—not just for Europe, but for this country—and we were promised in advance a referendum on that treaty, so it is utterly shameful that the Government should now deprive us of that referendum.

It is all perfectly simple stuff. When politicians make promises, they should keep their word. If they do not do so, there is no point in their speaking at all. Worse, that brings into discredit the very process of government. Why should people turn out to vote in elections on the basis of manifestos to which, they believe, the very people who wrote them will pay no attention? This is absolutely shameful.

I also take a simple view on defence matters. First, defence is the most important duty of the Government. I find it hard to understand that a duty so crucial should be funded by slightly more than 2 per cent. of our gross domestic product. I shall return to that point. Secondly, the cornerstone of our defence is NATO. Thirdly, if the EU wants to add to the defence provided by NATO, I have no intrinsic objection to that—provided that it does not thereby weaken NATO in any way.

The Defence Committee is conducting an inquiry on NATO and European defence. I have to warn the House that, although everything else that I have been talking about is very simple, the Lisbon treaty is so far from being simple that I doubt whether we shall be able to conduct a deep forensic analysis of its effect on defence, and if we did, I suspect that it would unbalance our report on the future of NATO. We intend to publish that report shortly in advance of the Bucharest summit.

In evidence to the Committee, the Secretary of State said that the Lisbon treaty would not undermine NATO and that its provisions make it quite clear that NATO remains the foundation of the collective defence of its members. That is very good news indeed. The question is, will it turn out to be true? I welcome that assurance, because it is essential that nothing in the treaty adversely affects the very effective military alliance that is NATO, but I hope that the Minister winding up the debate will repeat that assurance unequivocally to the House.

Clearly, the ambition of many in the EU is to give the EU a stronger defence role, and it is true that, in some respects, the EU might be able to bring something to the party that NATO could not—for example, I believe that intervention in Lebanon was much more appropriate for the European Union than for NATO. What I do not understand, however, is why the European Union is so intent on building up a defence role for itself when it is so reluctant to pay for it, to build its capabilities or to deploy troops to Afghanistan, which many EU members voted for.

One of the main problems that NATO has encountered is the huge disparity in spending between the United States and the European members of NATO. Put simply, Europe does not spend anywhere near enough on defence. As a result of that lack of spending on defence, there is now a huge and growing capability gap between the United States and Europe. If we are to continue to be able to operate with the United States and to be a worthwhile ally, we need to address that as a matter of the highest priority. Any means of bridging the gap and encouraging Europeans to invest more in defence and to develop greater military capabilities can only be welcomed.

We are told that the provisions in the treaty on permanent structured co-operation will enable more effective military capabilities to be developed. Will they? I doubt it. What seems to be lacking in Europe is not structures, but the political will to commit to defence. If the Secretary of State or the Minister who winds up this debate could explain to the House how permanent structured co-operation will work in practice and how those provisions will enhance European military capabilities, I would be delighted.

Perhaps the Minister could also explain his understanding of qualified majority voting on permanent structured co-operation. Some people who take a close interest in these matters—after 21 years in the House of Commons, this is my maiden speech on European affairs—believe that it will deprive the United Kingdom of our veto in defence matters. I do not ask for an assurance on that because I do not know how worth while such an assurance would be. It will play out in the fullness of time.

Finally, on European Union-NATO co-operation, the Government have said that the Lisbon treaty will ensure that the European security and defence policy is NATO-friendly. That is jolly good, but at the moment there is little co-operation between the EU and NATO. In fact, there is little communication between them. That is damaging, inefficient and ridiculous. It does not seem to me that the Lisbon treaty adds anything that will improve co-operation between the EU and NATO.

We are discussing defence and security provisions. In practice, the tests will be these: what difference will the treaty make to the practicalities of European defence? Will it improve the military capabilities of the European countries, which lag so starkly behind the United States? Will it assist with the deployability of European forces? Will it lead to greater co-operation between the EU and NATO? These are the key tests, and I have to say that, on each of them, my own answer is: I doubt it.

For the record, I should like to reaffirm my belief that we ought to have a referendum on this matter, because all three parties have promised that we would. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) was trying to explain why the treaty and the constitution were different, and why that made a difference. In answer, I would simply say that, after 30 years of various treaties and something that may once have been called a constitution, we have seen a considerable shift in our relationship with the European Union. We now have a presumption that the majority of our policies will involve a Community method—that is, that the European Parliament will have a role. For that reason, too, a referendum is appropriate.

It is interesting that so many of the treaty provisions on security and defence are enabling measures, because that makes it difficult to have an informed debate on the issues. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) thought that the objections to the treaty were simply scaremongering. When I was listening to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), I suddenly discovered a new emotion. We all know about the Jeremy Paxman test, when he is talking to a politician and wonders why this fatherless creature is doing certain things to him. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, I found myself wondering why he was making me laugh. He does so not only because he is a very funny speaker, but because he manages to hide the total emptiness behind what the Conservatives are trying to achieve. I have no idea whether they think that the present arrangements on defence and foreign policy are perfect, or whether there is anything in the proposals that they agree with. All I know is that, whenever he gets up to speak, I find him incredibly funny. That serves a purpose, but we should be cautious, because nothing concrete is coming from that side of the House.

Did not the right hon. Gentleman give the game away when he said that he did not want the treaty at all?

Indeed, but there are still questions for the Conservatives to answer.

I want to raise a couple of issues about future capabilities, and about the ability of the treaty to achieve certain things. I have some concerns in that regard. When the Foreign Affairs Committee took evidence, one idea that emerged was to acknowledge that foreign policy was now in a separate pillar, that we recognised the intergovernmental nature of the arrangements and that there were certain provisions for movement towards qualified majority voting. For quite a few of us, however, the provisions stretch it to the limit of what I find just about acceptable. We were promised votes in the House on any further changes, but I do not think that single votes will be sufficient. We all know how any Government can just whip through a single vote. I hope that the Government will make a commitment to introducing primary legislation, as a safeguard, should there be any further movement towards QMV in foreign, security and defence policy.

That brings me to my next issue, which is parliamentary oversight. Let us take as an example the external action service. I again refer hon. Members to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, in which we list a number of questions that have so far gone unanswered. Where is the accountability for the further movements? Will there be parliamentary oversight of those movements? I suspect that there will be European parliamentary oversight, because there is an increased movement towards the European Parliament exercising such oversight, but not oversight by national Parliaments. We need to be careful about what is being done in our name, and to take part in shaping these changes at the time, rather than responding to them afterwards.

This thing is currently called the external action service. It does not have a very catchy name, and before long it will be called what was intended to begin with—the European Union’s diplomatic service—just as the high representative will in time be called the Foreign Minister. To anyone who says that that is scaremongering, I would say that I recall sitting here in 1997 when we created a Scottish Parliament and it was made quite clear that there would be a “Scottish Executive”, not a “Scottish Government”. But what happened when the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) came to power in Scotland? The first thing he did was unscrew the plaques of the Queen from any Scottish buildings and he then started referring to himself as the Scottish Government. It did not take long for the BBC also to refer in its news to the Scottish Government. Language is important, so when a name does not sit easily, we should be careful that it does not become certain other things.

Another aspect of the treaty provisions that worries me tremendously is that we are creating more opportunities for power, but very few opportunities for added responsibility. A number of earlier speakers picked up that theme in relation to defence. We commit ourselves to peacekeeping and military police training, which are very important, but what is singularly lacking—the problem seems to be getting worse—is combat troops. Who within the EU is providing the combat troops? There is no increased commitment in the EU to provide them.

I recall a wonderful moment during a European Convention when an Austrian MEP got up to say that he did not give countries who provide soldiers the right to determine how they should be deployed, in response to which I got up to say, “Precisely those who provide the soldiers have the right to determine how they are deployed.” We need to be much clearer about how those ambitions can be fulfilled. My key point, however, in respect of those positions, is how Parliament relates to them; there must be no move to qualified majority voting without primary legislation. We also need to look into our own procedures for scrutinising the expansion of some of these activities.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). May I suggest to her a third reason for holding a referendum on the constitutional European Union (Amendment) Bill—that people much younger than me and perhaps just slightly younger than her have never had an opportunity to vote on these matters in this country? It is also a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot). Like him, I believe that the defence of the realm is the first priority of any Government, and I would like to pick up one of the themes about defence mentioned at the end of the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

The only real teeth offered by the Lisbon treaty concerning defence are the incorporation of the European Defence Agency—it was, of course, a key part of the European Union constitution—into that treaty. That is reinforced by the administrative measures being developed within the framework of the existing treaties, chipping away at the national interest provisions of the treaty of Rome while at the same time incrementally increasing the scope of procurement directives to cover more and more military expenditure.

Thus, the main thrust of EU military integration is still being directed through the Monnet method, by which I mean slow and steady integration through economic means with the aim of Europeanising defence equipment. The idea is that the use of common equipment, allied to common foreign policy objectives from which common doctrines evolve, will eventually lead to European military forces being drawn together, resulting in due course in total integration.

Also key to that integration process is the European rapid reaction force, which espouses among other things the doctrine of specialisation. The idea is that single nations, and especially smaller nations, need not provide balanced forces—that is, complete functioning formations—but simply components of a larger multinational force, thus fielding truly integrated European forces rather than national forces working together. The thinking behind that stealthy policy objective ensures that, while each member state has military components, only the European Union could actually field a complete, functioning military force.

However, the grit in the oyster is Britain’s insistence on maintaining its own balanced force which, at a certain level, is capable of carrying out self-sustaining operations in a multinational environment, thus defeating the object of integration. Furthermore, because the United Kingdom is fighting a real war alongside the Americans, it is driven by operational imperatives when it comes to the procurement of equipment, rather than by the notional, theoretical equipment profiles recommended in the headline goals specifying the equipment needed for the European rapid reaction force.

After a round of spending in the last decade aimed at “meshing in” with the ERRF, and the last Prime Minister’s European contribution within the St. Malo agreement, the United Kingdom is now diverging from, rather than converging with, EU military structures and ambitions, moving closer to United States forces as it becomes more deeply embedded in Afghan operations. Therefore, practically speaking, UK involvement in EU military integration is at its lowest ebb for some time.

What the Lisbon treaty seeks to do is add to earlier treaties small steps of politically rather than operationally driven integration, but for the Commission that does not go far enough. The very first full-scale attempt at military integration within the European defence community took place in 1950, preceding the treaty of Rome. That inspired the first attempt at a European constitution to bind the European political community, and was set up to control the European army. The raison d’être of the European Union suddenly becomes very clear.

Thus the main conclusion to be drawn is that the original ambitions of the integrationists are not satisfied by the treaty, and that they will have to come back for more. That puts us—and by “us” I mean the people on the opposite side of that argument—in the unsatisfactory position of warning about what can be dismissed as ifs, buts and maybes, rather than attacking hard, concrete proposals. It is all very woolly, nebulous and difficult to grasp: the typical nightmare for those of us who are fighting a project nine tenths of which—as with an iceberg—is hidden from sight.

I will not, because of the time.

What we can be sure of is that the last Prime Minister lost interest in an integrated European Union defence policy, as he developed a separate foreign policy from the European Union that, together with mistakes made by previous Governments, resulted in the loss of billions of pounds—more than £8 billion, according to my calculations—in cancelled, altered or failed projects, and the provision of equipment unsuited to today’s conflicts.

Is it not ironic that the very subject of defence, which could be said to have begun the European Union project, should bring about its eventual downfall? The drift, muddle and confusion over the past few years about where the United Kingdom was going has been brought to a head by the Iraq and Afghan wars, in which, through operational necessity, Britain is heading in a different direction. If our armed forces are to succeed, the United Kingdom must continue to take its own line in regard to military thinking and the procurement of equipment.

In true Monnet fashion, however, while recent events have delayed the advancement of defence integration in the Lisbon treaty, further integration will be implemented in future treaties, for the simple reason that full European integration can never take place while national Governments still hold the competence to control their own armed forces and engage in their own security and foreign policy.

I am content to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton). I shall read it very carefully in Hansard tomorrow, when I am sure I shall manage to understand it.

We have had a very good debate. We heard a remarkable speech from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who, in effect, punctured the bubble of Conservative party rhetoric and the rhetoric of the anti-European tabloids over the past year or so which suggested that we were to have an omnipotent President. We all remember the remarkable speech about the President of the European Union made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) on Second Reading, and there behind him sits an elder statesman from past Conservative years saying that that is all hooey.

I shall not give way, because I have only four minutes in which to speak.

The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea also went on to say that the high representative would not be the overarching controller of European Union foreign policy. He made the important distinction between a common foreign policy, which we should work towards and co-operate within, and almost the impossibility of a single foreign policy. I think that I understood his metaphor correctly—I hope I did, because I wrote that article in the Financial Times in June 2003. It is good to have my words reflected back towards me.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks is one of our most powerful parliamentary speakers. He can make us think and laugh, and he holds every audience in thrall. He has a clear enemy and he goes on and on. Sadly, the President of Cuba has announced his retirement, but the deputy maximum leader will continue condemning Europe and making us laugh despite being, like the maximum leader in Havana, utterly wrong.

The treaty contains something quite different from the constitution, which a former shadow Foreign Secretary declared dead. Every other Government in Europe have declared the two things not to be the same. That is why the pledge offered during the 2005 election is null and void. People may, by all means, make the argument for a referendum—the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) certainly was not making such an argument 10 years ago when he was a Minister and sternly against referendums—but they should do so by being honest and saying that the Conservative party has adopted the position of my former right hon. Friend Mr. Tony Benn that referendums should settle Britain’s international treaty obligations. I do not think that that is the right way forward.

This debate is about defence. I very much agreed when the Chairman of the Defence Committee said that Europe should get its defence act together, but we should be careful before patronising all the other countries of Europe. Many funerals have taken place in the past two or three years as a result of events in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. As has happened in families in this country, men and women have grieved for people who died trying to protect our common security. I wish that there was more commitment, but it will not be secured unless there is engagement in Europe. The trouble for our country, which we are proud to represent, is that we walk with one hand tied behind our backs in Europe, because the Conservative party has entered into the most rejectionist, isolationist position on partnership in Europe of any party in the history of this country and of any other party except the extreme fringe elsewhere in Europe.

Reference has been made to the remarkable article by Caroline Jackson, the Conservative Member of the European Parliament, published in the Financial Times on 18 February. It stated:

“What continental politicians cannot understand is why one of the major parties of Europe should walk out of the broad church of their present group…Conservatives are getting a reputation for bad manners towards their continental allies. Recently, Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP, likened the European Parliament’s German Christian Democrat president to Adolf Hitler…in the Council of Europe, Conservative MPs sit in a politically mixed group, chaired by a Russian MP from Vladimir Putin’s party.”

The shadow Foreign Minister tried to wriggle his way out of that problem by citing my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Had the right hon. Gentleman been with me in Washington on Sunday he would have heard Mr. Edward Lucas of The Economist promoting his new book “The New Cold War”. He denounced the Conservative indifference to co-operation and partnership in Europe, saying that it was a national disgrace that the Conservative party, far from standing up to Russia’s bullying, was colluding to ensure that the Russian henchman of Mr. Putin became President of the Council of Europe. Had the right hon. Gentleman been there, he might have paused to think.

That is the difference. Tonight, I hope that we will again vote to ratify part of the treaty. The Conservative party will remain isolated, and isolated it does nothing but damage to Britain’s national interests.

Meanwhile, back in this universe. Laughter.]

It is easy in debates of this nature to get caught up in detail and to miss the big picture, so let us be clear what we are talking about today. This treaty proposes giving the EU a defence capability that will duplicate many of the functions of NATO. Worse, it will potentially compete with, rather than complement, NATO. Why does that matter? It matters because we believe that NATO, which has been the cornerstone of our defence for 60 years, should continue to have primacy. We believe that the transatlantic bonds with the United States and Canada should not be weakened. It is the Americans and Canadians who are fighting alongside British troops on the front line in Afghanistan while—with a few honourable exceptions, most notably the Dutch—it is not the majority of our EU partners.

So let me set out what we believe to be the instruments of this treaty that could undermine the NATO alliance. Under the Lisbon treaty, there is further duplication of NATO’s article V, with the solidarity clause, and no change to the duplication of NATO structures that already exists with the EU military staff, EU battle groups, the European rapid reaction force, the ATHENA mechanism and certain aspects of the European Defence Agency. There is no mention of NATO’s right of first refusal for all military missions pertaining to European security. There is no mention of NATO’s primacy. There is no change to the discriminatory attitude that the EU takes against non-European Union NATO member states, such as Norway and Turkey. That is especially true regarding the financing of EU military operations and Turkey’s “administrative agreement” with the EDA, which has been continually blocked by Cyprus.

We also have concerns regarding the democratic legitimacy of the ESDP under the Lisbon treaty. The newly created high representative will serve as a vice-president in the Commission and have a right of initiative for proposing military operations. That will bring supranationalism into EU defence planning for the first time. Consequently, foreign and defence policy in the EU will no longer be strictly intergovernmental. An unelected EU president will have a direct role in shaping the military budget for EU military operations by chairing the ATHENA special committee and will have a direct role in approving the new high representative.

The treaty formally creates the European Defence Agency, which will be headed by the high representative, who is also a vice-president of the Commission. That is just the foothold in defence procurement that the Commission has so long desired, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) correctly pointed out.

Even though the EDA exists today as a part of the ESDP, it has never been part of an EU treaty that has been ratified by all member states. Originally in the constitutional treaty, European integrationists decided to go ahead with the creation of the EDA, even though it failed to be ratified in France and the Netherlands. That was an act of contempt for the citizens of Europe. Consequently, the inclusion of the EDA in the Lisbon treaty is an attempt by the EU retrospectively to justify the existence of an organisation that was created despite being originally part of the failed constitutional treaty.

The EDA sets out to develop defence capabilities and to promote armament co-operation between EU members, but what we need is greater armament co-operation with the military forces that we will be fighting alongside on the ground. We need better interoperability with the United States. We need more joint procurement projects with the United States, such as the joint strike fighter.

There is no point participating in joint procurement projects with countries whose defence spending levels are too low to purchase the end products and, in any case, it should be done between sovereign nation states and not on an EU, supranational basis.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the essence of this problem is not a question of isolationism, but the fact that performing independent tasks in a voluntary agreement with other member states requires an alliance? To try to railroad everybody into uniformity and mutual solidarity and to place that in a legal framework is a prescription for disaster and division. It will lead to chaos, as we see in the situation evolving in Afghanistan.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. In today’s debate, several elements have been mentioned that are not themselves problems—such as the EU’s operations as a delivery mechanism of NATO under Berlin-plus, or the example of what has happened in humanitarian missions. None of those is a problem in itself. The problem is the incremental nature of what is happening and the creeping competence of the Commission and the EU structures in all those areas, which gradually erode our ability to be masters of our own destiny. That is what is so unacceptable in the treaty.

The EDA offers the UK no tactical, strategic or technological advantage that NATO, bilateral or multilateral agreements, or the UK defence industrial base do not already provide. The idea of a joint market for defence equipment is all now featuring largely at EU level, with the Commission pushing for a deal that could secure more efficient spending among all the bloc’s member states. Internal market rules are not currently applied to the defence market, allowing member states to exclude defence contracts from EU procurement rules. Moreover, national licensing procedures make the transfer of defence material between countries difficult.

According to the Commission, a common defence market would significantly improve the military capabilities of member states magically without increasing defence expenditures. That is nonsense and it is in the same accounting league as double-hatting troops and pretending that that creates greater capability. All the measure does is to increase Commission competence in an area where it has no business to be, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) pointed out in his excellent speech.

The Government claim to share our affinity for NATO and they claim the treaty will not undermine it, but that is not what they said before. During the 2003 European Convention, the Government were opposed to many aspects of the Treaty that they have now accepted. In fact, permanent structured co-operation and the mutual defence commitment are two sections of the text that the Government wanted completely totally deleted from the treaty.

On the mutual defence clause, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said in 2003:

“Common defence, including as a form of enhanced co-operation, is divisive and a duplication of the guarantees that 19 of the 25”

member states

“of the enlarged EU will enjoy through NATO.”

So why the change of heart? On permanent structured co-operation, the Government said during 2003:

“the UK has made clear that it cannot accept the proposed ESDP reinforced cooperation provisions.”

However, they have now caved in to European pressure and accepted permanent structured co-operation in the Lisbon treaty. It is nothing but integration in defence common policy by stealth.

Our suspicions have been reinforced by the noises coming out of Paris in recent days. The defence spokesman for the UMP—the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party—Pierre Lellouche made it clear that France will push the limits of permanent structured co-operation to the maximum and create a six-nation hard core of EU members who want to further EU defence integration and a common procurement market for defence, and ultimately to establish an EU pillar in NATO. That is absolutely unacceptable.

At the Munich conference on security policy last week, the French Defence Minister Hervé Morin said that NATO was primarily a defence organisation and should not operate as a global policeman. He said that that was the role of the United Nations, and added that the EU must not simply become the civilian arm of NATO. To use new Labour-speak, that is a very clear direction of travel. I expect that, unlike France, the Government will publicly support using permanent structured co-operation in that way only after the treaty’s full ratification. That is no doubt yet another reason why the Prime Minister wants to avoid the public scrutiny of a referendum in this country.

We should welcome France into the integrated command structure, but not with an EU pillar of NATO as a quid pro quo. Integration ought to mean removing NATO duplication and continuing to operate under the Berlin-plus arrangement that has worked so well in the past. Under those conditions, we could easily sort out the potential problems we have with the French position.

With their support for the treaty, as with so many other things, the Government are heading down the wrong path when it comes to Britain’s security. With the threat of global terrorism, problems with energy security and a resurgent Russia the stakes are too high for some of the policy gambles that are being taken today. However, at least the Government have the advantage of clarity, which is more than we can say for the Lib Dems. First, they could not agree to agree. Then they could not agree to disagree. Now they praise constructive abstention, but it may not be unanimous—in other words, they cannot even agree not to have an opinion on the subject. These decisions are far too important for the current Liberal Democrat leader’s frivolous whipping arrangements and lack of authority.

I have spent 15 years in this House of Commons being told that every EU treaty put in front of us was more benign than it seemed and that there was therefore nothing to worry about. Enough is enough. The Lisbon treaty threatens to undermine the defence assumptions that our nation has had for 60 years, and to drive a wedge between us and our transatlantic allies. Britain cannot have two best friends when it comes to defence. The treaty asks us to make a choice, but the Conservative party will not support the weakening of our transatlantic bonds.

We want the EU to work in partnership with NATO, not compete with it. The provisions of the treaty move in the wrong direction—for Britain, for the EU and for NATO. That is why we oppose them.

I am delighted to have another opportunity to wind up a debate on the Lisbon treaty. Today’s debate has been genuinely interesting and occasionally fascinating. It has concerned an issue that I believe should command cross-party support, although it is clear that it does not.

The EU’s common foreign, security and defence policy is a key instrument with which Britain can influence what happens on our continent and beyond. It helps us to project British values around the world, and the Lisbon treaty will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the current intergovernmental arrangements. I shall give some recent examples of what that approach has helped to achieve.

First, I refer to the comprehensive EU sanctions against the vile regime in Zimbabwe—[Interruption.]. The hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) makes an intervention from a sedentary position. She has fought against the European project, and I shall be happy to give way to her.

From a sitting position, I said that the EU approach has not been successful in Zimbabwe in any way. In fact, the EU has been completely impotent when it comes to bringing about change there.

Britain is much more able to exert influence on Zimbabwe when we work with 26 other member states. The sanctions imposed by the EU against the Zimbabwean regime are stronger than the UN’s. I understand that the hon. Lady would like to leave the EU altogether, so the logical conclusion of her approach is that she must extend her criticism to every international institution.

As a member of the EU, Britain is in a position to shape the agenda, although of course I accept that we have not yet been able to deliver on that in the way we would want. However, the fact that we have not been able to bring about the change in Zimbabwe that we all want is no reason for us to give up altogether and lose the possibility of having any influence at all through the EU, yet that is what the hon. Lady advocates with her fight against what she calls the European “project”.

The EU continues to play a crucial role in arenas other than Zimbabwe. I agreed with the vast majority of the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), although we must agree to disagree about the EU’s role in what is happening in the Balkans. I consider it to have been deeply constructive, both in ensuring that the leadership in Kosovo protect the rights of the Serb minority and in ensuring that the Serbs see a European future for themselves. The EU has helped to influence the behaviour and attitude of Serbia’s authorities, political parties and civic society in an important way. It did the same during last year’s elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition, Britain has had the support of our EU partners in our recent bilateral disagreements with Russia. All hon. Members should accept that our relationship with Russia and our influence in that country are much stronger when we speak as one of 27 voices that share the same message. The Opposition seem to demand more European action, tougher European words and greater European input in the relationship with Russia, but today they oppose the means by which we can achieve that. They have done the same over recent months, and I suspect that, unfortunately, they will continue to do so into the future.

I give way to the chairman of the all-party Russia group.

I was not asking the Minister to give way, but he has kindly offered. The position as regards Russia does not underscore his point; it undermines it. There is a complete difference of opinion across the European Union with regard to Russia, particularly on energy security and, as far as topical debates are concerned, in relation to Serbia and Kosovo, and indeed the Balkans as a whole.

I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman was not seeking to catch my eye, but I have made a habit of trying to give way to him in every debate on the Bill as he takes a great interest in Russia. We have managed to get European Union statements on Russia. Such statements have much greater effect if they come from the European Union as well as the United Kingdom.

The weakness of the Minister’s argument is that even if he is right about speaking with 27 voices, that has been achieved without the treaty. That completely undermines the case that he is making.

Not at all. The case I am making is that the European approach has often lacked momentum and has occasionally been disjointed: an example is the rotating presidency. When we sought a statement on Litvinenko, we had to go to the Portuguese presidency—the route to an EU statement was through Lisbon. By the time of our disagreement with Russia over the British Council, the presidency had moved to Slovenia because of that ridiculous charade—that game of musical chairs with European diplomacy—and the route to a European statement on Russia was through Ljubljana. We are more effective when we work through the European Union, but we could be made much more effective still by some of the reforms in the treaty.

I want to make a little bit of progress; I will give way again if time allows.

I strongly believe that member states should support the Union’s external and security policy actively and unreservedly, in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity. Member states should

“refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the Union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force in international relations.”

I will happily give way again to the hon. Lady if she wishes. I was actually quoting the Maastricht treaty. I did not write it; her party took it through Parliament when it was in government. [Interruption.] I know that. The shadow Defence Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary both supported the treaty text that I have just shared with the House.

It is a measure of Conservative party unity that we all agree that the way things are being done under the treaty—which merges all the existing treaties, including Maastricht—demonstrates that those of us who took a certain position at the time of the previous treaties were correct in our assessment. The Conservative party is now completely right in its united opposition to the reform treaty.

The Conservative policy on Europe reflects two things: how consistent the hon. Gentleman has been, and how isolationist and ludicrous the lurch to the right has been—among the Front Benchers, at least; that does not extend to all Back Benchers—on the issue of Europe in recent years.

I would like to make some progress in the time available. The issue has again been raised of the UK’s position on the United Nations Security Council. It was floated in the media last summer, and the shadow Foreign Secretary had much to say about it. The treaty text is clear and much more authoritative than the shadow Foreign Secretary. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs concluded that

“the new post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has the potential to give the EU a more streamlined international presence…We conclude that the Lisbon Treaty provision for the new High Representative to speak at the UN Security Council will make little difference to current practice. It will not undermine the position of the UK in the United Nations system nor the UK's representation and role as a Permanent Member of the Security Council.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee, which the Minister has just quoted with approval, also says that the position of high representative is identical to that of the EU Foreign Minister. Did the Committee get it completely wrong on that?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary dealt with that earlier. The Foreign Affairs Committee also said:

“We further conclude that the High Representative is there to enact agreed foreign policy”—

that is, foreign policy agreed by unanimity.

Let us look at the practice, not just the observations of the Select Committee. The European presidency spoke at the UN on eight separate occasions on issues such as Sierra Leone, Bosnia, climate change and the middle east. On each of those occasions we did not sit on our hands. We did not leave the room. We did not have to seek permission to speak. We, as an independent, sovereign, proud nation, also spoke on each and every one of those occasions. That will remain the case under the Lisbon treaty.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot). I am just disappointed that the House had to wait 21 years for his maiden speech on Europe, but it was worth the wait. It was an extremely thoughtful speech in respect of NATO. I offer the observation that both the United States and NATO support the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO Secretary-General, has stated clearly:

“And no one today would still seriously assert that NATO and the EU are rivals whose aim is to drive each other out of business. Such discussions are now altogether obsolete if they ever existed in the past.”

The shadow Foreign Secretary was asked in interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) whether he supported any of the provisions in the treaty, and his response was no—not a single foreign policy and security provision in the treaty, such as an end to the rotating presidency, for the first time making it explicit in treaty articles that the responsibility for setting the strategic objectives for all EU external action lies with member states.

The ring-fencing of common foreign and security policy on intergovernmental policy is opposed by the Conservatives. Expansion of the list of ESDP tasks is opposed by the Conservatives. They also oppose the rational and sensible introduction of a high representative. Today’s debate has not been about Europe; it has been about the Conservative party’s isolationism within it. The shadow Defence Secretary has said previously:

“There’s only one party that’s going to take Britain in the direction that those who vote UKIP would like to see. . . That’s the Conservative party.”

He also said back in 2005 that we should recognise death when we saw it, and that he saw it as a constitution that was dead—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [28 January and this day].

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Main Question put forthwith:—


That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning foreign, security and defence policy.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Within the constraints laid down by the business motion, which the House has agreed to, may I, through you, enter a plea to colleagues in all parts of the House?

There are before us important groups of amendments on three subjects, and it would be extremely unfortunate if the Committee were to spend all its time discussing external relations and we were not to get on to at least the defence amendments. Are there any entreaties that you can make to Members of the House to move the business forward so that we may discuss what the Government clearly would like to discuss—all parts of the treaty?

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. All the amendments before the Committee are extremely important. I would urge all hon. Members to bear that very much in mind as the debate in Committee proceeds. All that the Chair can do is make entreaties of the kind that he is asking me to make, and I do so most seriously. The speed with which we progress depends entirely on the length of the contributions made by hon. Members—Back Benchers and Front Benchers—and they ought to bear that in mind.