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European Union

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

The Petition of the Democracy Movement Bakewell,

Declares that a new poll by ComRes, a member of the British Polling Council, commissioned by the Campaign for an Independent Britain, reveals that British people believe the European Union is out-of-touch, unfair, corrupt and extremely costly for UK taxpayers and that UK politicians are hopelessly out of touch; further notes that 83 per cent of those polled say British law should be paramount, 75 per cent think UK politicians do not do enough to stand up for British interests in Europe, and 71 per cent want a national referendum to decide whether the UK remains in the EU; further declares the petitioners’ deep concern that the EU spent 2.4 billion euros of taxpayers’ money in 2008 to promote itself and its overriding aim of ever closer union.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to declare that it will not take Britain into the Euro zone and that it accepts the need for a referendum on the fundamental issue of Britain’s sovereignty.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Bob Spink, Official Report, 11 March 2009; Vol. 489, c. 403 .]

[P000330]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

The Petition from the Democracy Movement Bakewell requests the House of Commons to urge the Government to declare that it will not take Britain into the Eurozone and to accept the need for a referendum on British sovereignty.

The Government’s position on the Euro is unchanged. It is that in principle, we are in favour of UK membership of EMU, but in practice, the economic conditions must be right. A decision on membership of the single currency will be based on whether it is in the national interest to join and whether the case is clear and unambiguous. The Government have set out five economic tests that must be met before any decision to join the Euro can be made. When these five tests were last assessed, it was concluded that, “a clear and unambiguous case for UK membership of EMU has not at the present time been made”. While the Government did not propose another Euro assessment to be initiated at the time of Budget 2008, the Treasury will again review the situation at Budget 2009.

On the petitioners’ call for a referendum: the UK has a Parliament whose Members are elected to take decisions that affect the nation. There was no referendum on our entry into the then European Community in 1973: that decision was made by our democratically-elected Parliament. There was a referendum on UK membership of the European Economic Community in June 1975—thereafter, each amending Treaty—including the adoption of the Treaty on the European Union, which formed part of the Maastricht Treaty—has been ratified by the British Parliament. Should this Government decide that the time is right for the UK to join EMU, we have committed to put this decision to a referendum.

The petitioners also cite public concerns that the EU is out of touch and costly for UK taxpayers and that the Government do not do enough to stand up for British interests in Europe.

This Government share the petitioners’ concern that the EU should deliver for British people. But it does not share the view that the EU is unaccountable and a drain on UK taxpayers. Our membership of the EU is very much in the interests of the UK and has brought real benefits in jobs, peace and security. The UK’s participation in the EU Single Market alone each year brings economic benefits to the UK well exceeding our annual contributions to the EU budget. Over half of the UK’s trade is within the EU, with an estimated 3.5 million British jobs linked to it. Our membership allows us to live, work and travel across Europe and to receive free medical care if we fall sick on holiday. Improved maternity pay, the right to paid holidays and a reduction in mobile phone charges when abroad are just some of the practical benefits the EU has helped deliver for UK citizens.

Of course the Government agree that there are areas of EU policy in need of reform. For instance reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a long-standing priority for the UK. We welcomed the steps taken in last year’s CAP Health Check, but will continue to push for a fundamentally reformed CAP, to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

We have also taken a lead in pushing for improvements to the Commission’s accounting practices and for EU funds to be managed to the highest standards. The UK was instrumental in setting up the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and strongly supported the establishment of the European Commission’s internal audit service as an independent unit.

Finally, the petitioners express concern over the European Commission’s expenditure on EU information policy. The Government fully support public and Parliamentary scrutiny of all EU expenditure. However we believe that the European Union has a legitimate obligation to communicate its policies and activities to the citizens it serves.