[Relevant Documents: Fourteenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, on UK Government’s renegotiation of EU membership: Parliamentary sovereignty and scrutiny, HC 458.]
As ever, you have been very generous, Mr Speaker.
I beg to move,
That this House believes in the importance of Parliamentary sovereignty; and calls for the Government’s EU renegotiations to encompass Parliament’s ability, by itself, to stop any unwanted legislation, taxes or regulation.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and Members on both sides of the House who supported the application for it.
There can be no greater issue for this Parliament to debate and defend than the country’s sovereignty, as that goes to the heart of everything we do. Without it, we cannot truly have the final say on a host of issues, including the primacy of our laws, the integrity of our borders and the extent of burdensome regulation. As our EU renegotiations proceed, however, it appears that little effort is being made to truly restore parliamentary sovereignty. It is not a priority, which I suggest is a great opportunity missed.
We have a golden opportunity to pitch for fundamental change in our relationship with the EU for the benefit of both parties, as the Prime Minister promised in his Bloomberg speech, but we are missing it while No. 10 tinkers at the edges. Without consulting his parliamentary party, in my view the Prime Minister is sidestepping the issue completely by arguing for temporary measures, and measures that require us to club together with other Parliaments, in the vain hope of stopping the EU. That is not restoring parliamentary sovereignty. If we as a Parliament and a country cannot on our own stop any unwanted EU taxes, directives or laws, then it is clear that if we vote to stay in, we vote to stay on the conveyor belt towards ever closer union, as laid out in the EU’s founding treaty. Parliament will become nothing more than just a council chamber of Europe.
To those who say that the UK already accepts a certain pooling or loss of sovereignty when joining other international organisations, I say that only the EU can force us to take in economic migrants despite the strain on our infrastructure, override our laws, and foist burdensome regulation on our companies, despite the vast majority not even trading with the EU.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising this important issue, and I agree with everything he has been saying. The great 19th-century constitutionalist, Walter Bagehot, divided politics into the “effective” and “decorative” parts of the constitution. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this place must be the effective part of our constitution, not just a decoration?
I wonder whether all those years ago Enoch Powell was right, and that we have been dodging this issue ever since 1972. The question he posed was that if we join the EU, this Chamber and democratically elected House loses its sovereignty. Now an historic moment is approaching, and the British people have to make that choice. Will they reclaim that sovereignty or not?
I can only repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins)—I completely agree, and that is why this debate is important. It is not easy to say some of these words, but I regret that there has been a lack of consultation on the proposals in this renegotiation. Better engagement, certainly with the parliamentary party, and perhaps with Parliament generally, given that we are representatives, would have been useful.
What I regret is the lack of wide consultation generally with regard to renegotiation. When many of us were campaigning in the last Parliament for a referendum in this one, it was in the hope that we would have a meaningful debate prior to the renegotiation, and then a meaningful debate afterwards as we headed towards a referendum.
Let me make a little progress, and then I will take further interventions. I am also conscious of the time.
Let us be clear about the so-called “red card”. We appear to have a system that has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese—so much so that it is more like a lottery ticket that has been through the wash. The question is: is it valid? The idea is that we club together and form a majority with other national Parliaments to stop unwanted EU taxes and laws, but that would not enable our Parliament, by itself, to reject anything that it did not want. This would be an extension of the ineffectual “yellow card'” system currently in operation, but with an even higher threshold.
Lord Hague once referred in this Chamber to the system then in operation, which was similar to what is now being proposed:
“Given the difficulty of Oppositions winning a vote in their Parliaments, the odds against doing so in 14 countries around Europe with different parliamentary recesses—lasting up to 10 weeks in our own case—are such that even if the European Commission proposed the slaughter of the first-born it would be difficult to achieve such a remarkable conjunction of parliamentary votes.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1262.]
The “lottery ticket” system will not work. It would be like a football referee getting out his fraction of a red card, only then to consult with 14 other officials before deciding what to do, by which time the game is over. If we are serious about regaining control of our borders and fisheries, and about having the ability to set our own trade deals and the power to set our own business regulation, sovereignty must be restored to Parliament. It is quite simple. Everything else is a cop-out, a sell-out, a lottery ticket fraud. Let us be honest about the washed-out lottery ticket.
I am glad that I did not interrupt my hon. Friend in the midst of that wonderful metaphor. One of the real problems with the mentality of those who subscribe to the EU project is that instead of being honest enough to say “no” to those of us who want our sovereignty back, they put forward devious and deceptive and pretences to say yes, when in reality they know it means no.
I can only agree with my right hon. Friend. Having said that, the Minister for Europe is nothing but a courteous and able Minister, and I am delighted that he is in his place. I would not want him to be under the illusion that we are suggesting that of him, but there has been a tendency to act out a charade, when actually we have been on the conveyor belt of ever closer union. We need greater honesty in this debate.
My hon. Friend has raised the issue of sovereignty, and the draft decision document published this week by the European Union contains a section called “Sovereignty”. If ever there was a misnamed section of a document, it is this—perhaps my hon. Friend will come on to that. The one thing that this document does not return to the United Kingdom Parliament is sovereignty over the laws that are made for this country. Indeed, it promises a “red card”, which is no more than an extremely cumbersome method of qualified majority voting in the European Union.
There will be people who want to disagree—don’t worry.
I will just turn, if I may, to the immigration emergency brake, which again is questionable. I speak here with a tinge of sadness, because I think the Government have framed this part of the debate in the wrong manner. Let us first of all be clear that the emergency brake access to in-work benefits will last only four years, with the EU, not Britain, judging whether the emergency brake is declared. Not even here do we have control. It is also unclear what happens after the period expires. In addition, access to benefits would gradually be increased, meaning it is moot how much of a deterrent to immigration a brake would actually be.
My sadness—I have said this many times in this place —is that I believe the Government are wrong to couch the debate in these terms. It feeds into a negative narrative about immigrants. It ignores the fact that almost all—the vast majority—immigrants from the EU come to Britain to work hard. They are not looking for benefits. It ignores the fact that large-scale EU immigration cannot be stopped, in all truthfulness, while we adhere to the EU’s founding principle of freedom of movement, particularly as the rise in the national living wage picks up speed. Let us have real honesty about this debate. I am fed up with listening to politicians focus on benefits and play to the gallery. It is absolutely wrong to do so. It feeds a negative narrative. The vast majority of immigrants —let us make this absolutely clear—come here to work hard and we should acknowledge that fact, so let us have clarity about the emergency brake. After all, it can only be used by the EU backseat driver, and we all know how dangerous that can be.
There are massive holes in the two key planks of the Government’s renegotiations. Is that important? For some, it will not be. I say it is important, because while the general view may be that we are standing still while inside the EU, we are in fact standing still on a conveyor belt towards ever closer union. Let us be absolutely clear about that. Indeed, the lesson of the eurozone crisis is that the EU usually finds a way of achieving what it wants, ever closer union, even at the expense of violating its commitments. As Mr Juncker once said,
“when it becomes serious, you have to lie”.
Those are the words of the President of the European Commission.
The EU is developing all the trappings of a nation state: a currency, a body of law and a diplomatic service. It makes no secret of its ambitions or its determination to succeed, even if this results in a democratic deficit with its own peoples. We only have to hear what has been said by some of the key people in the EU. Mr Juncker has made his position very clear:
“if it’s a ‘yes’, we say ‘on we go’; and if it’s a ‘no’, we say ‘we will continue.’”
Angela Merkel has made her wishes clear:
“we want more Europe, and stronger powers to intervene”.
Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament, has been particularly blunt:
“the UK belongs to the EU”.
Mr Barroso, the former President of the Commission, has cast light on the EU’s integration process:
“they must go on voting, until they get it right”.
If things do not change, the UK is captive on a journey to who knows where. Looking into voting at the EU’s Council of Ministers, academics based at the London School of Economics—there has been very little research on this—have shown that, in recent years, Britain has voted against the majority far more often and been on the losing side more than any other member state. It is not as though it is even getting better within the internal structures of the EU. The British people never signed up to this and it is therefore right that they are finally having their say in a referendum. Do the British Government truly believe that they can muster sufficient votes to stop this inexorable vote towards ever closer union? That is one of the key questions Ministers should try to answer today.
The hon. Gentleman mentions various eminent and well-known persons in the EU. Is not one thing that binds them all together in relation to this debate the fact that they are not elected? We in this Parliament had no say in who they are and we cannot get rid of them. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) mentioned Enoch Powell. Tony Benn said that if we cannot get rid of the people in an institution, it is not democratic.
I very much agree with the hon. Lady. There is a democratic deficit in the EU. It is no coincidence that the European Parliament, after the most recent elections, is probably the most Eurosceptic European Parliament in the EU’s history. There is a connection there and the EU needs to recognise that it needs to put that democratic deficit right.
There are many flaws in the system. The peoples of Europe—although one can generalise too much in this respect—are asking more and more questions as the system fails to deliver, in particular on the economic front. Mass unemployment is causing great hardship in many countries and the EU is failing to deliver.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. He is hitting the most important point here. Does he accept that this is not just an academic debate about sovereignty? This is an issue that goes to the very core of social cohesion. If people feel they cannot change those who make decisions, we will have all kinds of trouble and tensions on our streets. That is the core of the issue. Democratic institutions are important for the wellbeing of society.
I completely agree and that is very well put. It is terribly important that there is an element of democratic accountability. If there is not, we will alienate sections of society and issues such as unemployment will not be properly addressed. How are people going to voice their opinion without moving to the extremes of the political divide, and feeding that extremism because they do not feel they can be democratically represented within the existing structures?
Does my hon. Friend agree there is a practical side to the issue of sovereignty, too? As a member of the EU, we have lost our sovereign ability to negotiate friendly or free trade agreements with major economies around the world. It would be in this country’s interests to have a friendly trading agreement with the big economies, such as America, China and Japan. We cannot do that, however, because we have lost our seat at the World Trade Organisation and our membership of the EU forbids us from making such negotiations.
That is absolutely right. It is a question of sovereignty, at the end of the day. If we cannot take our seat at the WTO and negotiate our own trade deals, indirectly that is a loss of sovereignty. There is no doubt about that. I am conscious that time is ticking on, so I will make some progress if colleagues will forgive me.
The Prime Minister misses the importance of parliamentary sovereignty in the EU debate. That is a mistake No. 10 is in danger of making when it focuses too heavily on Project Fear issues, such as immigration and jobs. We all know it is the loss of parliamentary sovereignty that really lies at the heart of our uneasy relationship with the EU, and which has rankled since we first joined in the 1970s. Over the course of the referendum campaign, I do not believe Project Fear will bite. Ever-increasing numbers of big businesses, including the likes of JCB, Toyota, and Unilever, make it clear that they will not pull out in the event of a Brexit. Indeed, a recent Barclays report suggested a Brexit would be beneficial to the UK. Jobs are linked to our trade with Europe, not to our membership of the EU. Given that our vast trade deficit is in the EU’s favour, it would want to sign a trade agreement in the event of a Brexit.
Furthermore, even if the EU wanted to get awkward, it could not. Falling global tariffs since the 1970s mean that both the UK and EU are bound by the WTO’s “most favoured nation” tariffs—the USA’s average being under 3%. One can easily lose 3% in a currency swing in a week. Many smaller countries outside the EU easily trade with it. Does the “in” camp think the public believe we could not do likewise?
What excites voters’ imagination is the ability to restore sovereignty to our ancient Parliament. I rather suspect the Prime Minister knows this, and that consequently he is holding something in reserve—we are hearing something about a sovereignty Bill, for example—but details are scant. If it is true, however, does it not acknowledge that the “washed-out lottery ticket” and the EU “backseat driver brake” are not fit for purpose? Will the Minister supply the House with more details?
In conclusion, there has never been a better time to renegotiate our relationship with the EU, and nor are we ever likely to be in a stronger position to win meaningful concessions. I therefore urge the Prime Minister, at this critical stage, to return to the renegotiations and seek nothing less than a true restoration of parliamentary sovereignty. Let us step back for one brief moment. If the EU did not exist today, would we really invent it? I cannot understand why this and other Governments have acquiesced in this charade. I can only surmise it is because it is easier not to correct it and to do nothing, than to put it right and take action. But inaction is costing this country dear, not just by way of our £10 billion a year net contribution, but in terms of our sovereignty and responsibility to the people of this country.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on his excellent speech.
I want to address those of my Labour colleagues who mistakenly remain in favour of staying in the EU. The hon. Gentleman talked about being told, “No”, but we have some opt-outs, which is good, because they have saved us some of the pain of being a member of the EU. I think, in particular, of the opt-out from the euro. Had we been a member, we would have been destroyed by the crisis in 2008. The fact that we could depreciate by 30% protected our economy, to an extent, from that terrible experience. Other countries in southern Europe had much greater difficulties and are still suffering. Currency flexibility, which means that countries and economies can adjust to appropriate parities with other economies, is fundamental to a successful world economy, let alone national or European economies.
Is not one of the more ridiculous parts of the document published yesterday the idea that we need the EU to recognise more than one currency in the EU? Given that Sweden voted in a referendum to stay out of the euro, when it did not have an opt-out, as was negotiated in the Maastricht treaty for the UK, is it not clear that if a country has its own currency, the EU cannot take it away, and that we do not need a treaty change or anything to tell us we can have the pound?
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. I have had the pleasure of being a member of the European Scrutiny Committee for some years now, and in that capacity I meet representatives from other Parliaments. Swedish Parliament representatives tell me that support for joining the euro is at 11% in Sweden, so I do not think it will be joining any time soon. We heard from the Czechs recently. As soon as anyone suggests they might join the euro, they basically say, “Never”. One or two countries that joined the euro now think it was not such a good idea and might like to withdraw if they could. It is true that there are several currencies in the EU: several countries retain their own currency. Some years ago, I met Polish representatives, and I said, “Whatever you do, don’t join the euro, if you want to run your economy successfully, because you would be pinioned, and it would not be good for Poland.” I do not think my advice mattered; nevertheless that country has not joined the euro, and I see no prospect of its doing so in the near future.
I want to talk about other opt-outs. I have long campaigned in the House on the bizarre and nonsensical common fisheries policy. Thousands, if not millions, of tonnes of fish are being destroyed by being dumped back into the sea dead, and fish stocks have been savagely cut. The only way forward is for countries to be responsible for their own fish stocks, along traditional lines, to husband their own resources and to fish in their own seas, as the Norwegians do.
Indeed. I raised the matter when a former representative from UKRep spoke to the Committee a few years ago. I said, as I had suggested to the coalition Government, “What would happen if we gave notice that in five years we would withdraw from the CFP, restore the 200-mile and 50% limits and start to manage fish stocks properly, in the interests of our own fishing industry, monitoring every boat and catch sensibly, as happens in Norway?” He said, “You’d be expelled from the EU,”, so there is no possibility of that happening.
If the Government put that in their negotiations, however, they might be a bit more persuasive. I have a list of things I would have in the negotiations—sadly, the Government have not followed it—and getting rid of the CFP is one of them. We have the largest fishing grounds and used to have the most successful fishing industry in the EU, but it has been devastated by overfishing and the appalling discarding of bycatches. The point is that, if we made a real change, we would apparently be thrown out, so the substantial changes I want would not be acceptable.
Even yesterday, people were talking about the common agricultural policy—another nonsensical policy that has cost us dear—under which we make massive net contributions to the EU. Every country ought to manage its own agriculture. Some, like the Norwegians, would choose to subsidise it for strategic reasons, as would be perfectly acceptable. We could do the same and choose either the current subsidy regime or a different pattern of subsidies. Each country should do its own thing. One of the nonsenses is that some countries are paid not to grow food. I was in Lithuania a couple of years ago with the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. It used to be self-sufficient in food, but now thousands of acres are lying fallow because it is paid not to grow food. That is nonsense, and it is all to do with the CAP.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. In Northern Ireland, a big issue is what would happen to farming subsidies were we to leave the EU, but is not the point that farming subsidies are better tailored to the needs of individual countries than is a common policy that often fails to meet the needs of farmers in our countries?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If we withdrew, we could eliminate the net loss of our contribution to the budget—some say £19 billion, others £14 billion, but either way it is in the billions—and still subsidise regional and other policies, and tailor them to our national and regional needs.
I turn now to the sham of so-called “social Europe”. It is used as a lever to persuade social democratic and socialist parties to say yes to the European Union, but when it comes to the crunch—this would not necessarily impress Conservative Members and certainly not Labour Members, I hope—the EU always finds in favour of employers. Free movement is not about being benign; it is about bidding down wages, ensuring that wages are kept down and profits kept high. It is part of the neo-liberal package of measures that is being driven by the European Union.
In the case of Greece and other southern European countries that have had bail-outs, one of the conditions for bail-out is to put a brake on collective bargaining: “You’ve got to calm down your employees, especially in the public sector. We’re not going to give you the bail-out unless you cut back on collective bargaining.” That is hardly “social Europe”. What about the rights supposedly involved in the charter of fundamental rights? Then, of course, another condition of bail-out is forced privatisations, and we have seen fire sales of public assets in these countries. All these things have damaged social welfare in those countries.
The biggest problem of all has been mass unemployment, falling national output and falling living standards. Greece provides the most extreme example, but other countries have suffered, too. Greece has seen its living standards cut by 25%, and its unemployment is at 25%—50% among young people. Across southern Europe as a whole, youth unemployment stands at 40%. It is nonsense—it does not work economically. The idea that is all about “social Europe” and that it is beneficial to workers is, I think, complete nonsense and simply not true.
I am saying that my hon. Friend provides a reason why the trade union movement and trade unionists across the country are catching on to this more and more. Is this not why trade unionists are speaking out and beginning to join and get involved in the campaign to leave?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on introducing this debate so well.
I have to say that this has been a very long journey—30 years, I suppose, in all. I do not want to speak about the technicalities of negotiation; we will deal with that when the Foreign Secretary appears in front of the European Scrutiny Committee on 10 February. I had the opportunity to say a few words yesterday in reply to the Prime Minister’s statement, but today I simply want to indicate what I really feel about this question and explain why I am so utterly and completely determined to maintain the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament.
It is really very simple. We are elected by the voters in our constituencies. We come here, and have done for many centuries, to represent their grievances and their interests, to fight for their prosperity and to support them in adversity. The reason why this House has to remain sovereign is that it simply cannot be subordinated to decisions taken by other people. This is about this country and it is about our electors. This is what people fought and died for.
As I mentioned yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred in his Bloomberg speech to our “national Parliament” as the “root of our democracy”, but I would also mention that in our history, this Parliament has been steeped in the blood of, and nourished by, civil war. When your great predecessor, Mr Speaker—
Certainly not at this moment.
I was about to say that Speaker Lenthall, in defiance of prospective tyranny, refused to accept armed aggression by the monarchy. Pym, Hampden, ship money—this was all about sovereignty and defending the rights of the people from unnecessary and oppressive taxation, which was being imposed on them without parliamentary authority. Through subsequent centuries, we saw the repeal of the Corn laws, and parliamentary reform through the 1867 Act to ensure that the working man was entitled to take part in this democracy; and after that, through to the 1930s when we had to take account of the mood of appeasement.
With respect to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe, I take the view that in completely different circumstances what has happened in these negotiations in terms of parliamentary sovereignty can be seen when the die is clearly cast and we now have an opportunity for the first time since 1975 to make a decision on behalf of the British people. That is why we need to have regard to the massive failures of the European Union and to its dysfunctionality—whether it be in respect of economics, immigration, defence or a range of matters that are absolutely essential to our sovereignty.
All those issues have, within the framework of the European Union, been made subject to criticism. We are told that we would be more secure if we stayed in the European Union and that we would preserve the sovereignty of our electors who put us in place to make the decisions and make the laws that should govern them. Would we really be more secure in a completely dysfunctional, insecure, unstable Europe? No, of course not.
The issues now before us in Europe are actually to do with sovereignty. If we lose this sovereignty, we betray the people. That is the point I am making. Yes, there are certain advantages to co-operation and trade, for example, and I agree 100% with that. I have always argued for that, but what I will not argue for is for the people who vote us to this Chamber of this Parliament to be subordinated so that we are put in the second tier of a two-tier Europe, which will be largely governed, as I have said previously, by the dominant country in the eurozone—Germany.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most worrying sentences in the document published this week relates to what will occur if the eurozone seeks to deepen its integration? This sentence reads:
“member states whose currency is not the euro shall not impede the implementation of legal acts directly linked to the functioning of the euro area and shall refrain from measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of the economic and monetary union.”
Given that there is going to be a new treaty and we do not know how it is going to affect us, is this not in effect giving up our veto?
It is. We were promised that in 1972. Our membership of the European Union is entirely dependent on the same Act that was passed in 1972. It was a voluntary decision based on certain assumptions. The 1971 White Paper, which preceded that debate, said that we would never give up the veto, and went on to say that to do so would be against our vital national interests and would endanger the very fabric of the European Community itself. They knew which way it could go. They knew they had to keep the veto, but it has been taken away from us progressively by successive Governments. If we cut through all the appearances, this is a sham. That is the problem and this is the real issue.
My hon. Friend is so right to raise the debate above mere technicalities. He will remember that at his school he was told that the blood of the martyrs is the seed corn of his church. Is not the blood of all those parliamentarians who died in defence in this House the seed corn of our liberties?
I agree 100% with my hon. Friend. This is not about technicalities. It is about freedom of choice—freedom of choice at the ballot box for people to have their own laws that can be challenged accountably —not by proportional representation, not by the European Parliament, not by COREPER getting together in unsmoke -filled rooms to hatch deals on behalf of the people who are actually being affected in their daily lives. That is the problem. We have wordsmiths, and we have people running around in big chauffeur-driven cars making decisions—unelected bureaucrats—just as Monnet and Schuman intended in the first place.
We have reached the point of no return. We have to say no: we have to leave. That is the position. I do not need to say any more. As far as I am concerned, this is about the liberties of this country. It is about the liberties of our people. That is why I say that we must leave the European Union.
Let me end by quoting from G. K. Chesterton and John Gower:
“Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget,
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.”
I shall be very brief, because I know that many Conservative Members wish to speak. I am disappointed that so few of my own colleagues are here, wishing to defend the European Union and to speak against the sovereignty of this Parliament, but they are not here, so I shall say a few words.
Actually, what I really want to do—because we are talking about Parliament, and about great parliamentarians —is quote some of the things that were said in the House by one of the greatest parliamentarians, sadly now dead, the right hon. Tony Benn. They follow on from what was said by the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash)—and I agreed with every word of it. This is not about technicalities and “wordsmiths”, as the hon. Gentleman put it, and it is not about bureaucrats. It is about, fundamentally, our belief in our country, and our belief in our country’s ability to run itself.
Let me first quote from a letter that Tony Benn wrote to his Bristol constituents on 29 December 1974. I am not sure whether you had been born yet, Mr Speaker, but I think you probably had been. Tony Benn wrote:
“Britain’s continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected Parliament as the supreme law making body in the United Kingdom.”
So he was showing some foresight back in 1974. The following year, he made a speech during a meeting at which the Cabinet was discussing the Labour view on how Members should vote in the 1975 “leaving” referendum. As we know, the party was very split at the time. He said:
“We have confused the real issue of parliamentary democracy, for already there has been a fundamental change. The power of electors over their law-makers has gone, the power of MPs over Ministers has gone, the role of Ministers has changed. The real case for entry has never been spelled out, which is that there should be a fully federal Europe in which we become a province. It hasn’t been spelled out because people would never accept it. We are at the moment on a federal escalator, moving as we talk, going towards a federal objective we do not wish to reach. In practice, Britain will be governed by a European coalition government that we cannot change, dedicated to a capitalist or market economy theology. This policy is to be sold to us by projecting an unjustified optimism about the Community, and an unjustified pessimism about the United Kingdom, designed to frighten us in. Jim”
—I think that he meant Jim Callaghan—
“quoted Benjamin Franklin, so let me do the same: ‘He who would give up essential liberty for a little temporary security deserves neither safety nor liberty.’ The Common Market will break up the UK because there will be no valid argument against an independent Scotland, with its own Ministers and Commissioner, enjoying Common Market membership. We shall be choosing between the unity of the UK and the unity of the EEC. It will impose appalling strains on the Labour movement...I believe that we want independence and democratic self-government, and I hope the Cabinet in due course will think again.”
On 13 March 1989, he told the House of Commons:
“It would be inconceivable for the House to adjourn for Easter without recording the fact that last Friday the High Court disallowed an Act which was passed by this House and the House of Lords and received Royal Assent—the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. The High Court referred the case to the European Court…I want to make it clear to the House that we are absolutely impotent unless we repeal section 2 of the European Communities Act. It is no good talking about being a good European. We are all good Europeans; that is a matter of geography and not a matter of sentiment.
Are the arrangements under which we are governed such that we have broken the link between the electorate and the laws under which they are governed?
I am an old parliamentary hand—perhaps I have been here too long—“
He was here for a lot longer after that!—
“but I was brought up to believe, and I still believe, that when people vote in an election they must be entitled to know that the party for which they vote, if it has a majority, will be able to enact laws under which they will be governed. That is no longer true. Any party elected, whether it is the Conservative party or the Labour party, can no longer say to the electorate, ‘Vote for me and if I have a majority I shall pass that law’, because if that law is contrary to Common Market law, British judges will apply Community law.”—[Official Report, 13 March 1989; Vol. 149, c. 56-8.]
That was very, very apt all those years ago, and it is even more apt today, which is why I absolutely believe that this House must be sovereign. The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed to take account of any of that. When we are given the referendum, the people will finally have a chance to say no to this undemocratic, anti-democratic system—a system that is opposed to the democracy that we want in this country.
On this day of all days, let me commence by striking—I hope—a note of humility. The truth is that I do not know whether the conclusion I have reached is right or wrong. I think that the problem we face in questioning our consciences in relation to whether or not our country should take this historic step to depart from the European Union is almost too big for a single individual to compute. All the potential economic consequences, and all the other consequences for our social and other fabric, are of a complexity by which individuals, and even Members of Parliament, would rightly feel daunted.
Not just now.
I think that the Prime Minister was right—completely right—when he said to the House this week, “Do what is in your heart.” We can never be sure, if we leave the European Union, that the economic consequences of doing so will play in one way or another, but we can have faith that they will, and, speaking for myself, I have that faith. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, “What do we believe is right? What is important to us, as Members of Parliament and as representatives of our country and our constituents?”
That is why I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) struck the right note. For a long time I have remained silent on this issue, trying to wrestle with the rights and wrongs of it, and waiting until we have seen the final version of the proposals to be made by the Prime Minister. The draft decision was published by the Commission the day before yesterday; I have read it, and I have to say that I do not believe that it is a sham. I believe that it represents the best that the Prime Minister could do within the parameters that he had set himself. I think that there is much useful stuff there. If it is worked on, and if detail is provided and is sufficiently substantial and well drafted, no doubt it will provide some modest measure of satisfaction, and some ring-fencing for us in a thoroughly, fundamentally unsatisfactory position. However, I do not believe that it amounts to the rewriting of the DNA of this organisation which I believe the country is crying out for.
For that reason, I have concluded—and this is the first time that I have said so—that I shall be obliged to vote to leave the European Union. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, I believe that it is a question of freedom: the freedom of this country to be true to itself, and to follow the policies that the House and its Executive believe are the best policies, fitted and suited for the interests of this nation: not diluted, not representing an accommodation of, and a constant adjustment to, the competing interests of 29 member states, but following the path that this nation sets and that is right for this nation’s interests. For 40 years we have shifted, adjusted and felt uneasy in our skins at the compromises we have had to make as a consequence of our adherence to the Union.
I say to our partners in the European Union that this is not an act of hostility. It is a rebirth of our country in its full independence and its full freedom, to enable us to set our commercial policies, to be decisive and clear and give a lead to the international community in foreign policy, to set our own defence policy in the way we judge to be in the best interests of those we represent, to enable us to have clear lines of democratic accountability and to fulfil the spirit and genius of our own nation.
I say to this House and to those who listen outside: let us trust in the genius of our own people. Before 1974, did this country do so badly? Were we not leaders in the development of human rights? Did we not have 400 years of peaceful political evolution? This country does not have to be afraid of resuming its own independent self-governance. We can offer more to the world by that means than by being a muted voice in a big organisation with whose objectives and outcomes we do not feel at ease.
I shall not attempt to address now the technicalities of this issue or the economic rights and wrongs. I shall conclude on a note of freedom with the words of John Milton himself:
“Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam.”
When he spoke those words, he spoke in defence of freedom and truth. Let us believe in the genius of our country.
I have had to remind myself what motion we are debating today because it strikes me that if it had been phrased to say what most of its sponsors want it to say—namely, that this House could not care less what the Prime Minister achieves because we are voting to get out anyway—I am not convinced that anyone, with the possible exception of the last speaker, the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), would have said anything different.
I would never have thought that, almost exactly nine months after becoming a new Member of Parliament, I would be giving a lesson in English parliamentary history to one of the most esteemed and experienced parliamentarians to grace this Chamber, the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). However, this Parliament did not witness the English civil war, because it did not exist at that time. One of its predecessors, the Parliament of England, most certainly did, but at best this Parliament has existed since 1707. Some would argue that the Parliament of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is less than 100 years old. I say that not to knock the pride of those who justifiably believe that the previous Parliament of England delivered a lot and was a trend setter for democracy in many parts of the world, but if you have a strong hand to play, you damage it by overplaying it. I fear that some of those on the Conservative Benches are overplaying the significance of the history of previous Parliaments that have met not in this exact building but close by.
I would simply say that when Scotland joined us in the Union, it was in order to combine our fight for freedom. Indeed, the Scots fought with us in all the great battles including Waterloo and the Somme and right the way through the second world war. It is that freedom that we fought for together.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The Poles, the French, the Hungarians and many others also fought alongside us.
What actually happened in 1706-07 was that the two Parliaments were combined; it was not a takeover of one Parliament by another. I entirely respect the clear pride and positive English nationalism that we have heard from some Conservative Members today. That is a positive thing; as long as nationalism is based on pride in and love for one’s country it is always to be welcomed. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stone on his pride in declaring that “we are the people of England”, but we are not the people of England; we are the people of Scotland. We are the sovereign people of Scotland, in whom sovereignty over our nation is and always will be vested. For Scotland, sovereignty does not reside in this place, and it does not reside in those of us who have been sent to serve in this place. It resides for ever in those who have sent us to serve here.
I am genuinely interested in the concept that the institution of Parliament is ultimately sovereign, even over the people. Perhaps someone who speaks later can tell me who decided that that should be the case, and who gave them the right to decide that. I suspect the answer will be that it was the people who agreed that Parliament should be sovereign, in which case it is the people who retain the right to change that decision.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this debate is not about the sovereignty of this place but about the sovereignty of the people who elect us to this place? Therefore, if we become pawns, the sovereignty of the people he is talking about—the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales—is diminished.
I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s comment, but I have to draw his attention to the wording of the motion. It does not mention the sovereignty of the people; it talks about the “importance of parliamentary sovereignty”—[Hon. Members: “They are the same thing.”] The two are most definitely not the same thing. If Parliament is sovereign, does it have the legal and constitutional right to pass any legislation, however morally repugnant it might be, with the people’s only recourse being to wait five years and then vote for different Members of Parliament? That is not a version of parliamentary sovereignty that I recognise, and it is not a version of parliamentary sovereignty that the people of Scotland recognise or will ever be prepared to accept.
No, I need to make some progress and the hon. Gentleman made a lot of interventions earlier this afternoon.
I want to look at the second part of the motion, which goes to the nub of the EU membership debate. We have heard the term “ever closer union” being repeated as though it was some kind of threat and we were going to be swallowed up by a big two-headed monster, probably in Germany but possibly in Brussels. I urge Members to look at the wording of the preamble to the European treaties to see what the term was originally intended to mean. The exact wording varies from time to time, but we are talking about ever closer union between the peoples of Europe so that decisions can be taken as close as possible to the people.
I want to ask those Conservative Members, and some on the Opposition Benches, who are determined to argue against the concept of ever closer union: are we really saying that we want to drive the peoples of Europe further apart at a time when we are facing the greatest humanitarian crisis in our history, which nobody believes can be addressed by individual nations acting on their own? Are we really saying that we are against the concept of ever closer union between the peoples of Europe? I also draw Members’ attention to the fact that my use of the word “peoples”—plural—is not some kind of mistake written by Alexander the Meerkat. I am using it deliberately to recognise the diversity of cultures, faiths and beliefs among the peoples of Europe.
Are Members against the idea that decisions should be taken as close to the people as possible? I believe that the term “ever closer union” can still be turned into one of the greatest assertions of the rights of the peoples of Europe that we have ever seen. However, I willingly accept that it is a vision that has not been followed by the institutions of the European Union. Those institutions have failed, and continue to fail, to fulfil the vision that was set out in the original treaties. I would much rather we continued to be part of the European Union so that that vision can be delivered, because I find it not only welcoming but exciting. Just imagine living in a Europe in which monolithic power-mad Eurocrats, whether in Brussels or closer to home, were no longer able to ride roughshod over the will of the people. I remind the House that there was a Prime Minister not long ago who chose to ride roughshod over the will of the people, when the immovable object that was the late Margaret Thatcher met the irresistible force that was the will of the people of Scotland over the imposition of the poll tax. Within two years, that immovable object had been moved. The irresistible force that is the sovereign will of the people of Scotland is still there and will be there forever.
Nobody knows; during the independence referendum, when people asked why I was still happy for Scotland to be in Europe, I said it was because we have never had a chance to be a part of the European Union with a voice. Questions were asked about fishing earlier, and I can tell hon. Members that Luxembourg gets a vote on fishing policy whereas Scotland does not. Scotland’s fisheries Minister was not allowed to be part of the UK delegation; an unelected Lord who knew nothing about fishing was sent, instead of possibly the most respected fisheries Minister—one who is actually respected by fishermen. My constituency has a bigger coastline than Luxembourg, yet Luxembourg gets a vote on fishing policy and nobody in Scotland does. These are the kinds of areas where we need to see reforms.
I long to see the day when the dream of Europe, as originally set out, is realised, when the peoples of Europe are genuinely brought closer together—not the institutions, the civil servants or the Governments, but the peoples of Europe—and when decisions are taken closer to the people than they are now. I long to see a Europe where
“Man to Man, the world o’er, Shall brothers be for a’ that.”
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for recommending this important debate. In 2013, the Prime Minister set out the future of Europe in his Bloomberg speech. He acknowledged that the status quo was no longer working for us, so he promised us change, reform and even a new treaty. Having received the draft negotiation earlier this week, I ask myself, “Where are these grand promises of fundamental reform?” There are none; there is not a single clear-cut promise of any treaty change. The Prime Minister said that the European Union cannot progress with “more of the same”, but so far that is all I have heard. It has been more of the same complex rules, restricting and burdening us; more of the same inability to change; more of the same foreign domination that we have not asked for and that we do not want. The European Union is its own biggest threat. How many times will we be promised a more competitive environment? How many times have we been told that red tape will be cut and the single market strengthened? We have yet to see real proposals and we have yet to see proper results—enough, is enough.
I am interested in Mr Tusk’s definition of sovereignty, because the proposals can hardly be called “sovereign”; nor do they let power flow back to this Parliament. Instead, we could receive a “red card”—a red card that can be used only when a group of national Parliaments decide to stop a legislative proposal. A majority of 55% of member states is to constitute a red card, whereas my majority would be 100% of the United Kingdom.
What about this “emergency brake”? It is an emergency that needs to be objectively justified. Whereas it is jolly good that the Commission tells us that the UK would qualify to pull this brake, it is outrageous that the final word lies not with us, but with other member states. We may not, says the EU, have to pursue an “ever closer union”. When the UK is neither allowed to pull its own brake, nor to decide its own emergency, that is when I feel that the ever closer union is still very much upon us.
The Prime Minister described an updated European Union as flexible, adaptable and more open. I can only see a supposedly updated European Union that is inflexible, unadaptable, and blocked. The Prime Minister did warn us, saying:
“You will not always get what you want”,
but it is becoming clearer by the day that with the European Union you never get what you want. If the European Union really wants us to stay, would it not have offered us more? The European Union has sucked up our sovereignty, and trampled all over our ancient rights and freedoms. Are we simply going to carry on with this relationship we have with the EU, when the EU so obviously does not want to change? Is not the only solution just to say “Leave” to this whole spectacle? This renegotiation is a spectacle; it is too much noise, too much of a farce and much too little substance.
May I say what a great pleasure it is to take part in this vital debate? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing it, and may I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for being in the Chair for this important debate, because I know that you take these matters extremely seriously? As for my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), his speech was a tour de force and I feel every ounce of the passion that he feels about this subject.
This is not a new issue; this has been going on for well over half a century. When the then Lord Privy Seal, Edward Heath, sought advice from the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir, he was given advice in December 1960 in respect of our potential membership of the Common Market, as it was then called. Lord Kilmuir stated:
“I have no doubt that if we do sign the Treaty, we shall suffer some loss of sovereignty, but before attempting to define or evaluate that loss I wish to make one general observation. At the end of the day, the issue whether or not to join the European Economic Community must be decided on broad political grounds”.
“Adherence to the Treaty of Rome would, in my opinion, affect our sovereignty in three ways: Parliament would be required to surrender some of its functions to the organs of the Community; The Crown would be called on to transfer part of its treaty-making power to those organs; Our courts of law would sacrifice some degree of independence by becoming subordinate in certain respects to the European Court of Justice.”
Lord Kilmuir could not have been clearer, but in 1975, when people were asked to vote on these matters, this issue of the loss of sovereignty was played down by Ted Heath and his Government at the time. Some of us foresaw the dangers. We saw that the EEC had a president, a flag, an anthem and a court. In 1986, 45 of us voted against the Single European Act. I am the only Conservative who voted against it left in the House, but there are two who did so on the Opposition Benches: the Leader of the Opposition; and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). I quite accept that I am in rather questionable company, but we did have one thing in common: we believed in our country—in those times, at any rate.
I still do, as my hon. Friend says.
The EEC has now become the European Union, and it has a currency, a Parliament, a high representative and a defence identity, designed of course to undermine NATO. What are those things? They are all the attributes of a sovereign nation state, and we deceive ourselves if we imagine that this process has now somehow come to a halt, been frozen in aspic and will remain ever thus—it will not. The direction of travel is clear. We do not have to prove this to the people, because they can see the direction of travel since 1975 and how this organisation, which we were told was going to be a common market in goods and services, has grown to become so much more—and it intends to continue. As several hon. Members have said, we must look at what is happening in the eurozone, with this absurd deceit that there can be a single currency without a single monetary institution operating a single monetary policy. This process will continue, and the British people must be warned that if they vote to stay in this organisation, they will not be voting for the status quo; they will be voting for further integration and further change.
In his excellent speech at Bloomberg, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that he believed in maximising parliamentary sovereignty, and he said it again yesterday. The proposals contained in the Tusk arrangements, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay pointed out, are absolutely absurd. We have to get another 15 or so other Parliaments to agree. That is not the restoration of sovereignty to this Parliament, but basically a cop out.
I salute the European Scrutiny Committee, the illustrious Chairman and members of which are here in this Chamber today, for the work it has done in pointing out the exact situation. Its December report, “Reforming the European Scrutiny System in the House of Commons”, said that
“the existing Article 4(2) of the Treaty on European Union, which requires that the EU ‘shall respect the essential state functions’ of its member states, and that this means respecting the democracy of the member states.”
Accordingly, the Committee’s report recommended that
“there should be a mechanism whereby the House of Commons can decide that a particular legislative proposal should not apply to the UK.”
That seems to be the sensible way in which to go, and I am sorry that the Prime Minister did not accept the recommendations of that Committee. There is a way forward. There is plenty of evidence to show that these arrangements that the Prime Minister has put in place are not legally binding. We need to restore sovereignty to this Parliament. The British people have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that.
I close with the words of Sir Walter Scott, the great poet from the Scottish borders from where I draw so much of my own blood.
“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!”
And I want it back!
What is parliamentary sovereignty? It is the power and the ability of this elected House to carry out the wishes of the British people. Sovereignty of Parliament is actually the sovereignty—or the power—of the British people. Bit by bit, over the past 40 years, successive Governments have handed over the power of this House, and therefore the power of the British people, to the European Union.
Of course it was not always the European Union. Back in 1973, and when people voted in 1975, it was the common market, the European Economic Community. It then dropped the middle E, so that it became the European Community. It gradually attracted all the attributes of a state as it moved towards its goal of becoming a united states of Europe, with its own Parliament, its own flag, its own anthem, its own court, and its own foreign service.
We do not have to be Einstein to work out where the EU is going. It is heading in that direction, and in doing so it means that, in so many areas, the European Union, and not this Parliament, is sovereign. This loss of sovereignty from this Parliament is at the heart of my opposition to our membership of the European Union.
Handing over powers to the European Union means handing over the powers of my constituents in Bury North and of the British people. Why is that important? Well, it is important for this reason: when my constituents come to me and ask for help, they expect this Parliament to have the power and the ability to be able to sort out their problem. In so many areas, that is no longer the case. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that the power has been handed over to Brussels.
As my hon. Friend knows, a very good example is the ports regulation. The industry, the employers, the unions, the Government and the Opposition did want not it to happen, yet we were powerless to do anything about it. The regulation will become a European regulation and imposed on this Parliament, unless we can obstruct it, as we have done so far.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is an excellent example of where this House no longer has the ability to control its own affairs. In passing, I pay tribute to the great work that my hon. Friend and his Committee have done in drawing to the attention of this House and therefore the British people the enormous number of rules and regulations that come out of Brussels and that have to be enforced by this Parliament.
As I was saying, our constituents come to us expecting that we will be able to help them. When they find out that we cannot do so, what does that result in? It results in their having a lack of confidence and faith in MPs and the political process. That is evidenced by a reduced turnout in elections. People think, “Well, why bother? These people have no power anymore.” That is why we have seen a fall in the turnout. It also means that there is a lack of engagement in the political process, because people lose faith and confidence in the whole democratic process, and that is dangerous. Societies break down once democracy breaks down, which is why it is so important that the people of this country seize this golden opportunity—this is their one opportunity—in the forthcoming referendum to take back the powers. They should do so for the sake not of us in this House, but of themselves, because if they do not like what we are doing, they can get rid of us and appoint someone else in whom they have faith. This is where we have common cause with those on the left of British politics. We might disagree with them—they want a socialist system, which is an honourable position, but I prefer a capitalist system and I will stand up and defend that—but we both can agree on democracy and on the fact that the power lies with our constituents. If my constituents do not want me, they can replace me with someone else, and we all stand on that basis.
This is a golden opportunity. I hope that this debate will show the British people that this is the one chance probably in their lifetime to get back their powers. I do not believe that this renegotiation has changed in any meaningful way the sovereignty of this House. It will not give us back any powers. We do not have time to examine these documents in detail, but I have looked at them and I am sure that they do not give us back any more powers, which is why I hope, in my heart of hearts, that the British people will ask themselves from where they want to be governed—from here in Westminster or by the foreign powers in Brussels.
If the British people miss this unique opportunity to reject the undemocratic EU superstate project, it will be the fault of people such as me—not me as I am today, but me as I was in 1975 when I had the chance to vote to withdraw from the then EEC and I wasted it. Why did I waste that chance? Well, it was very simple: I was intimidated by the establishment. My instincts were to vote to leave, but all around me, in Oxford—in that home of lost causes—the great and the good were saying that it was beyond question that the prosperity of the United Kingdom depended on remaining in the EEC. I thought, “What do I know about it?” After all, in those days, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) pointed out, it was only about an economic community. It was not about my pet subject of the defence and security of the United Kingdom. How that has changed, now that it is—and now that we know where we are heading.
When the time comes for me to advise my constituents about what I think they should do, I will give them six good reasons to leave the EU. First, I will tell them that every year the United Kingdom pays £20 billion to this organisation and gets less than half of it back. Secondly, I will tell them, as we have heard today, that the EU wants ever closer political union and that we cannot opt out of that while remaining within the European Union. So-called “associate membership”—the trick they are waiting to give us at the final stage of the great concessionary charade in which we are currently engaged—would make no difference at all. It might even diminish our own powers still further.
Thirdly, I will tell my constituents that the European Union wants a single European population with no borders between EU countries, so that we cannot restrict immigration into the United Kingdom. Fourthly, I will tell them that the EU wants to develop its single European currency into a single European economy controlled from Brussels. Fifthly, I will tell them that the EU wants a single European army, a single European foreign policy—that did a lot of good for the Ukraine, didn’t it?—and a single European justice system, all outside UK Government control. Finally, I shall tell my constituents that all of that is designed to create a single country called Europe under a single European Government, thus finally taking away the power of the British people to govern ourselves.
In his excellent opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) gave a long list of statements made by European bigwigs. As he pointed out, some of them did actually stumble across the truth; when they do, however, they usually pick themselves up, brush themselves down and carry on as if nothing had happened, as Churchill once said of a lesser British politician.
One occasion when a European Union bigwig told the truth was on 31 December 1998, the new year’s eve before the introduction of the single European currency. I happened to be up, waiting to see the new year celebrations on television, and on to my screen came the visage of Romano Prodi, who, as we all know, was then the President of the Commission—or, as these people always like to call themselves, the “President of Europe”. He was asked a simple question about the European single currency: “It’s a political project, isn’t it?” Now, remember: this was the single currency that had been sold to people over and over again as being vital for their economic prosperity. So that was what they asked him. And because it was too late for anyone to do anything about it, he told the truth, and he told the truth in an entirely cynical way when he replied, “It is an entirely political project.”
So we know what they are trying to do, and what we have to achieve is to make sure that people, when they come to make their decision, are not intimidated by the great and the good on economic grounds, when the real aim is political, and they should reject the EU by voting to leave.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on securing this very important debate. The principle of parliamentary sovereignty is the central pillar of the British constitution. In modern history, it flows from the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It is the very fountainhead of our freedoms and democracy in this country, and I believe that every Member of this House should seek to defend it.
I have been concerned about parliamentary sovereignty since 1972; I was a very unfortunate, sad youth. I remember the debate about accession to what was then the European Economic Community, and being told by Edward Heath that we would not be losing our sovereignty, merely sharing it. I felt at the time that that was a nonsensical proposition. Sovereignty cannot realistically be shared; it can either be preserved or surrendered. So in 1975, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), I voted against remaining in the European Union. My view has not changed since.
My view is that we have ceded—temporarily, I hope—our sovereignty to the supranational entity now known as the European Union. I believe that that sovereignty can be recovered, and that it is not completely lost. But the concern is that the unremitting accretion of power to the European Union, which the EU is clearly intent on pursuing if the Five Presidents report is anything to go by, carries with it the danger that at some stage our parliamentary sovereignty will indeed be extinguished. No one in the House, from the Prime Minister down, should be prepared to accept that.
The Prime Minister said in his Bloomberg speech:
“There is not, in my view, a single European demos. It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.”
That is certainly the case in the United Kingdom. But we must look at the draft decision that the Prime Minister unveiled to the House yesterday. The question is whether that would, if agreed, be sufficient to restore the sovereignty of the United Kingdom that has been ceded to the EU. I have huge concerns that it would not.
In the first place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) pointed out in his Committee’s report, the legal force of a decision, which is a political agreement of Heads of Government and Heads of State, is open to debate. The draft decision details the various areas of provisional agreement struck between the British Government and the President of the Council. Other hon. Members have referred to freedom of movement and to benefits, and I do not propose to repeat their arguments. However, I would like to refer to what the draft decision says about sovereignty.
The significance of the repeated references in the European treaties to the creation of an “ever closer union” is played down considerably. The decision declares that the words should not be used to support an expansive interpretation of the competences of the EU or of the power of its institutions; instead it suggests that the words are intended simply to signal that the European Union’s aim is to promote trust and understanding among the peoples of Europe.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that even if the expression “ever closer union” is taken out in respect of the United Kingdom, that will not change one word of any of the existing treaties or laws? We will continue to remain subject to those laws and treaties.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. In fact, the decision acknowledges that the competence conferred by member states on the Union can be modified only by a revision of the treaties following the agreement of all member states. Although the commitment to ever closer union is stated to be symbolic, the reality is that competences have been transferred from the sovereign nations of Europe—Britain included—to the EU and its institutions. The extent of that transfer is very great indeed, as other hon. Members have pointed out.
The institutions of the EU have become ever more powerful. So powerful are they that even the proposal to limit benefits to EU migrants and the new rules on child benefit, set out in the draft decision itself, would, it seems, be vulnerable even if agreed by all Heads of Government and Heads of State. Today’s newspapers report that Members of the European Parliament will have the right to veto all the proposed reforms, including the so-called emergency brake.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that if we are unable to secure substantive reform now, when the Union’s second largest member, and its fifth largest economy, is threatening to walk away, the chances of our ever getting substantive change that we can be comfortable with are nil?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. That is the direction of travel that the European Union is hellbent on pursuing.
A document circulated in the European Parliament asserts:
“The European Parliament will defend the fundamental principles and objectives of the EU and will be cautious of setting dangerous precedents which could undermine such principles and objectives.”
The issue of parliamentary sovereignty could not be thrown into any sharper relief.
Nor do the “red card” proposals protect British parliamentary sovereignty. They require reasoned opinions to be submitted within 12 weeks of transmission of a draft EU law, and they require more than 55% of the votes allocated to national Parliaments. That is another attempted exercise in so-called pooled sovereignty.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can help the House. On this business of voting, are we talking about the number of Parliaments or the weighted votes? Germany has about 16% of the weighted votes and France has about 12.5%, so between them they have 30% towards the 45% blocking threshold.
My understanding is that it is the latter.
The proposals do not amount to a reassertion of the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. Yesterday, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Prime Minister said:
“asserting the sovereignty of this House is something that we did by introducing the European Union Act 2011. I am keen to do even more to put it beyond doubt that this House of Commons is sovereign. We will look to do that at the same time as concluding the negotiations.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 934.]
All hon. Members will be looking forward to the announcement on that, and it would be helpful if my right hon. Friend the Minister could give us an inkling of what is proposed, so that we can achieve at least some comfort.
If what is done is insufficient, the British people will be right to conclude that a vote to withdraw from the European Union is the only way to preserve the valued constitutional integrity of our country.
More than 70 years ago, our great island nation stood alone against the tyranny of the jackboot and the lash. Our freedom, our democracy and our sovereignty were in mortal peril. Led by Winston Churchill, we did not flinch in protecting them. Hundreds of thousands of our brave men and women—whether in uniform or not—gave their lives to defend our island and everything we stand for. Because of their sacrifice, we have a daunting responsibility to respect what they fought and died for. I must therefore ask: why are we so prepared to hand the destiny of our proud island nation to an unaccountable bureaucracy with barely a murmur? How dare we? How dare we? How would anyone dare to go down that road? I simply cannot understand it.
We have a duty to those who fought and died to stand up for our country and to ensure her sovereignty is kept intact. This sham of a renegotiation does not do that, and we all know it. Sadly, one treaty after another has undermined our will to resist. We have already handed over the UK’s head, torso, arms and legs. Now we propose to surrender our very soul. And to whom? The answer is a group of unelected Commissioners who sit in their multimillion-pound glass towers, surrounded by all the trappings of cars, secretaries and expenses, pontificating over lobster and Chablis about plans to create a wonderful new centralised state—a federal Europe—where uniformity is pressed on an unwilling electorate by guile, persuasion or threat. Democracy my foot!
Is that not the central point about the EU’s unwillingness to devolve sovereignty to individuals—to voters—and Parliaments? The EU cannot afford it. If it is going to centralise functions right across Europe, forcing states and individuals into arrangements they do not want, sovereignty is the last thing it is going to tolerate.
I could not have said it better, and I will expand on that very point a little later in my speech.
Who will lose out? It is the voters—the man and woman in the street—whom Opposition Members claim to represent, and who will increasingly rail against an authority over which they have no control and no say. Meanwhile, our political elite march on, deaf to the cries of those who elected them.
This madness will continue, at least in the short term—Germany has too much to lose. To control the experiment further, closer integration is not only necessary but inevitable, with more and more power going to the centre, whatever our Prime Minister says to the contrary.
We are told we are safe from all this. We are not. I am sure that the Prime Minister, who is an intelligent man, knows that in his heart. I have watched, appalled and dismayed, as we have ceded powers to the EU in an insidious and gradual erosion of our sovereignty. There was a time when all the laws affecting the people of this country were made in this House by directly elected Members like us. As we know, that is no longer the case. As we have been dragged kicking and screaming down this truly undemocratic path, we have been assured by one Prime Minister after another, “Don’t worry. We have a veto over this, and a veto over that. We have a red card we can wave.” Now, apparently, to block laws we do not like, we have to persuade at least 15 EU members to agree with us. Will they hell!
To me, sovereignty means the ability to govern ourselves free from outside interference. We are not free to do that today. For heaven’s sake, we have to ask 27 countries for permission to change our welfare rules. Meanwhile, our borders remain dangerously porous, permanently open to EU citizens and horribly vulnerable to infiltration by those who would do us harm. What staggers me is how we wandered into this trap.
I have always been suspicious when political parties agree, and with the notable exception of a few Members, our future relationship with the EU is a very good case in point. As a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I see first-hand the raft of legislation that comes in boatloads from across the channel. It interferes in every single facet of our lives.
I will not give way.
The arrogance is mind-blowing, the intrusion truly terrifying, the accountability non-existent. We have nothing to fear from leaving the EU except fear itself. That is what the Europhiles are peddling in their genuinely misconceived belief that we are better in than out. I often hear the retort that we are more secure inside the EU than out. Why? As the problems of the euro, unemployment, the refugee crisis and uncontrolled immigration tear the EU apart, I can see no logic in that argument. It is NATO that has held the peace over the past decades, not the EU.
As ever closer union forces more conformity on member nations, the wider the chasm between the electorate and the elected will grow. That is where the wound will fester, and there are clear indications of that already across Europe.
Who would have thought that the biggest threat to our freedom, democracy and sovereignty since the second world war would come from within? I shudder at the implications of staying in the EU and the consequences that that will have for everything that I, and millions of others, hold dear.
What we need is the enterprise, flair, intelligence and determination of one nation to get out there and do business with the world, safe in the knowledge that the country is sovereign, free and truly democratic. Let the lion roar!
I pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate, which is the right debate at the right time. I fear that during the referendum period we will often hear people say, “The EU is just something about free trade and you needn’t worry yourselves that it’s any different from the institution we joined back in 1973”—or thought we were joining. I very much fear that we will not hear much said about sovereignty, so I am very pleased that we are having this debate today.
Much of the debate, as we heard from Opposition Members yesterday, will be about the idea that we would lose trade through Brexit. Rarely cited, though, are the 5.5 million jobs in the EU that are reliant on trade with us, and the £60 billion trade deficit that we have with the other 27 EU countries. We are a premier market for EU nations’ products. We abide by the rule of law; we are a decent country to do business with. Are we really to believe that on the stroke of our leaving the EU, BMW would not want to sell us its cars? Are we really to believe that a Frenchman would look at a Range Rover and say, “Ah, they’re not in the club any more, so I’m not going to buy their product”?
The hon. Gentleman is making some valid points. This is why it is important that the “stay in” campaign is positive rather than negative. Does he realise that the arguments he is rubbishing about what would not happen if Britain left the EU were advanced by his party in almost exactly the same terms in relation to what would happen to Scotland if we left the United Kingdom—that nobody would buy our whisky any more? Does he now accept that the arguments advanced by “project fear” at that time were complete and utter nonsense?
I think the hon. Gentleman would find that 300 years of history makes things rather different. I find the SNP’s arguments really curious, and I really struggle with this one. As for the arguments you make about trade, you are somehow twisting them round to your enthusiasm for the European Union. I tended to agree with you: I did not think that trade would have been at risk if Scotland had left, but you now think that in respect of the European Union.
Order. The hon. Gentleman keeps using the word “you”. He is a partisan and enthusiastic advocate of the British Parliament, and a key tenet of our debates is that debate goes through the Chair. There is no “you” involved, because I have not expressed any views.
I apologise, Mr Speaker; it is always exciting when there is an intervention from an SNP Member.
We have to recognise that trade has changed—that the world is now a global place and trade barriers have come down. A lot of these trade areas are good, friendly nations—Commonwealth nations. I always find it very strange that our friends—our kith and kin; our family—extract their wallets and purses and find, lo and behold, a note with a very familiar and loved face on it, but we deny them access to our country, and we are not allowed to speak to them on trade terms, because of course that is done by a Swedish Commissioner—Cecilia Malmström, a former university lecturer. You could scarcely make this up. We have enthused about having the Premiers of China and India over to our country—you entertained them, Mr Speaker, in your House and in this place—and yet it was nothing much more than a charade.
Those on the contra side of this debate will say that the EU is moving in our direction and we have to stay in it to be of influence. Well, I am sorry, but we have tried that argument for 40 long years. We have tried to change things; we have tried to reduce its powers. Try arguing that with the small fishermen in Ramsgate or the small businesses across our country, given all the regulations and red tape! What is the recent history of being at that high table and working from within? In the Council of Ministers, Britain is always on the opposing side. Our PM has been outvoted under qualified majority voting rules 42 times since 2010. It is time, I think, that he was honest with himself and with us that the EU is moving in a different direction.
We will also hear much in the referendum debate about what might be—what could be—with regard to security and justice. I am afraid that that will all just be part of “operation fear” to encourage the electorate merely to acquiesce quietly and gently as we continue the destruction of the sovereignty of our Parliament and this place.
I think we need to go back in time a little. We will go back to 1971—to Edward Heath’s White Paper, in which he said:
“There is no question of Britain losing essential…sovereignty.”
In 1973, he said:
“There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”
Papers have been written since by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that, I am afraid, reveal what was really happening.
What has developed since then? Obviously those papers were produced in the very infant days of what the European Union was trying to become. It has since amassed a number of treaties, directives and decisions, and of course the bulk of ECJ law. For brevity, I shall concentrate on a couple of fiscal matters. With regard to VAT, in particular, we are entirely and completely subservient to EU law. Some months ago, we had a rather entertaining debate about the tampon tax. That really did highlight the fact, perhaps accidently, that we in this place are completely unable to enact any changes to a very key stream of national legislation. We merely walk through the Lobbies, supplicant to what Brussels has told us we must do.
When the Chancellor prepares his annual Budget, he has to start with the £20 billion of gross contributions to the EU—some 30% of our current deficit. Across corporate taxes, in dividends and losses, the primary authority is increasingly ECJ cases. When he seeks new rules to enhance Britain’s investment and entrepreneurial spirit—I cite the enterprise investment scheme and, more recently, the seed enterprise investment scheme—he has to seek permission from Brussels in case they flout state aid rules.
The direction of travel of the European Union is very obvious. I merely quote Angela Merkel:
“we need a political union—which means we need to gradually cede powers to Europe and give Europe control.”
We are simply on the wrong bus. If we do not take this opportunity to leave, it is probably just as well that there is a proposal for a major renovation of this palace to be conducted, because dear old museums need care. This referendum gives us the opportunity to restore this place—to restore to the public of the UK that which should never have been taken away from them.
I believe in the primacy and sovereignty of this House which flow from the people who send us here. It is a great honour to follow such rousing and passionate speeches in that regard.
The position that I put to my constituents before I was elected was that I would try to give them my dispassionate assessment of what the referendum choice means in real terms for people and their families, that I would try to explain the logic of that so that others can see it and make their own choice, and that I would make a constructive attempt to approach whatever happens next to make sure that we get the best deal for those people. So if the House will bear with me for a moment, I want to run through a ledger on each side of the argument as to what some of the advantages of leaving or otherwise might be.
First, on an issue that is so important to people—can they get a house? I believe that, on balance, they will be a lot less likely to be able to get houses if we do not leave, partly because there is such an influx of migration from the EU that will not let up because of what is being proposed in the renegotiation. I would score that as a five on a one-to-five scale of effects.
The second aspect is people’s access to services such as school places and hospitals. Again, on balance, unless we leave it will be a lot less likely that they will have that access. Next is whether the cost of living will be manageable. I think that that is less likely, although not a lot less. There will be benefits of less regulation and tax if we leave. I am worried about the proposed VAT impositions on food and clothes, in particular, and potentially fuel duty. I would give a score of four on that aspect.
Will people be able to move in search of work to a big city in this country? I think that unlikely, unless we leave, so I score it five. Demand for housing and jobs in London is massive because foreign demand is crowding out domestic supply. I think that the answer to the question of whether people will be able to get a job where they are is the same either way. There may be one or two surprises on trade, but I think that, at the very least, they would be offset if we negotiated our own trade arrangements.
Will jobs pay better? Overall, I think that would be the case if we left, but not a lot more, so I score that four. Will people be able to go on holiday and work in Europe? That would be marginally less likely if we left, although I do not think it is a particular issue. Visa arrangements with non-EU countries, such as Australia, are perfectly normal and work quite well, so I score that two—a marginal negative—out of five.
Will people be safe under domestic security arrangements? I think that the answer is the same either way. We already share our data with our friends and allies in Europe, and that would not cease to be the case. It is only very recently that we have started sharing passenger manifests for aeroplanes, which is amazing. I think that will continue.
Will we be safe with regard to international security? I think that the answer to that question is also the same either way. As we have heard, we rely on NATO and that would not change. Our bilateral alliances will be constructive, I am sure. Will our environment be secure? I think it might be marginally less secure, so I score that two on my little scale.
Turning to the local level, one of my constituents’ concerns is that big, international exporters such as Westland might run into trouble if we were to leave the EU. Personally I am not too worried about that. We would need to preserve the same sort of regulation with regard to Government procurement of large defence orders. We would also need to consider replacing some of the science and technology research investment money that the EU currently provides, but that is certainly not beyond the wit of man. Those things are doable. We would also need to look at farming subsidies, which have been mentioned.
My hon. Friend is making a very good case. Does he agree that if we no longer had to pay about £10 billion net to the European Commission, we would have an awful lot of money to be able to institute a proper arrangement for support for, and investment in, the research he has mentioned?
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is scope for that. Clearly, we would need to spend a lot, so I do not buy the argument that we would have lots of extra money.
In summary, in respect of the 10 things I have listed, my score is 36 out of 50. By my logic—it is not an emotional logic to do with sovereignty, which I will come on to in a moment—I am leaning towards thinking that it is in our interests to leave. I would need to feel a fairly strong emotional attachment to the EU project and its institutions in order for it to outweigh that inclination. Although I do not have that emotional attachment, I realise that others do and that they might also make slightly different assessments of their interests. They will happily be able to choose for themselves. On the question of whether a sovereignty clause would make a major difference to the renegotiation, that is not clear, particularly with regard to restriction of immigration.
I do not think we can reform the EU dramatically by staying in. Clearly, the devil will be in the detail, which I will certainly look at. I have not made up my mind fully, but I believe in Britain and its people. The emotion I feel at the moment is for them. Personally, at this stage, I would be inclined to leave.
It is a great pleasure to follow my near neighbour in Somerset, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Marcus Fysh), who gave a fantastic calculation as to why, on balance, it would be right to leave. I know that the people of Somerset will respond warmly to the lead he has given them.
I want to pick up on a couple of threads mentioned by the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) relating to parliamentary sovereignty. We sometimes get into the idea that parliamentary sovereignty comes out of a vacuum, but in fact it is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. It is the way we represent the sovereignty of the British people. They delegate to us, for five years, the right to make laws in their name, but at the end of those five years they expect to have the sovereignty returned to them intact, so that they can decide how it should be used in future.
In that sense, I am very close to the Scottish understanding of the sovereignty of the people, because it comes from them and belongs to them. It is not ours to give away; it is ours to protect, return and operate within. It is not about us as individual Members of Parliament or these grand rooms; it is about the rights of the British people and their ability to achieve through us the things that they have expected to achieve for centuries. I am thinking primarily of redress of grievance and the right to hold the Government to account.
That is why the issue is so difficult. Although it is possible to hold a Minister to account and to seek redress of grievance through this House in those areas that remain a domestic competence, as soon as an issue goes beyond these shores and becomes a European competence, it is impossible to obtain redress of grievance through this House. Indeed, in my correspondence with a Minister on behalf of a constituent, I was told that, although the Minister was sympathetic to my constituent’s plight, if he were given the redress he needed the British Government would themselves be fined. He could not, therefore, get that redress. That is a fundamental attack on parliamentary sovereignty which is there for the right reason.
On the renegotiation, the hon. Member for Glenrothes made an interesting point. He said that he thought many of us would vote against anyway, because we are so desperate and gasping at the bit to leave, and that, whatever happened, we would not have been willing to accept what the Prime Minister came up with. I do not accept that. I think that this was an opportunity for fundamental reform, but that has not happened. I do believe that the Government have acted in good faith—I do not believe they have got it right, but I do accept their good faith.
The Government have, however, negotiated around the edges. They are, perhaps, so steeped in the ways of the machinations of the European Union that they have failed to see the big picture and think that, when negotiating with 27 other countries and the Commission, it is an amazing achievement to get the right to hold a discussion on the difference in view between the Euro-outs and Euro-ins. It is like dealing with a brick wall—for want of a better cliché coming immediately to mind—so even being allowed a discussion results in them thinking, “Whoopee! We’ve achieved something very important that we can present to the British electorate.”
If we look from a further distance at what the Prime Minister has said over a number of years, what he promised in his Bloomberg speech and what we put in our manifesto, we see that they were not about pettifogging changes around the edges; they were about fundamental reform and the reassertion of sovereignty. Because the renegotiations were in that sense so narrow, so weak and so uninspired, the status quo is not an option in the referendum. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, the choice is not between leaving and staying exactly as we are; it is between leaving and remaining in a Union moving towards ever closer union.
If we look at our past opt-outs, we will see that that is true. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the social chapter no longer exists. It is incorporated in the treaty, so our opt-out came and went, as frost on a winter morning might disappear as the sun comes out. Our opt-out on Schengen is there and it is important, but recently we agreed that we would be part of an EU border force: there is a migration problem, and the solution to it is of course more Europe and more European integration. We are going along with that, although we are not formally part of it. The Dublin treaties on returning people to the place where they first sought sanctuary are coming under threat, which would make our position outside Schengen very difficult to manage.
On justice and home affairs, we got an opt-out under the treaty of Lisbon, but again and again we have given more away. We have given away the arrest warrant and we have given away Prüm, so investigation and arrest are now in the hands of the European Union.
The European Union Act 2011 was a protection, but it was also part of a coalition deal, so it ensured that things that the Lib Dems were quite keen on would not automatically trigger a referendum. I agree with my hon. Friend that we ought to have had a referendum on giving back the things that we had claimed when we opted out of justice and home affairs matters a little over a year ago. Now that arrest and investigation are determined at a European level, the argument for some European centralised oversight will only become stronger. If a Bulgarian issues an arrest warrant that is effective in the United Kingdom, surely there needs to be some European common standard to ensure that that is done properly.
The direction of travel is towards more Europe. Even in the context of monetary union, we should bear it in mind that we only have an opt-out from stage 3. We are committed to stages 1 and 2. The European Union has not enforced those in recent years, for obvious reasons, but that will not always be the case. We are committed—article 142 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union is relevant to this—to our currency being of interest to the European Union.
My right hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. He is absolutely right: there is no common people, but there is an elite who have this vision that more Europe is the answer to a maiden’s prayer. Let us look at the treatment of Greece, and how it suffered through its membership of the euro, which was forced upon it. Greece was encouraged and egged on by the European Union and the Commission to adopt the euro, partly because it was the birthplace of democracy, and how outrageous it would be if it did not join in this grand political scheme. When it got into difficulties, which economists knew it would get into, what was the answer from the European Union? More Europe, more control over its affairs, more direction over what it does and less domestic democracy. In what happened in Greece, we see the clash that is in the motion before us. We have a choice between moving to a single European state or maintaining the sovereignty that is still ours. To do that, we have to vote to leave. Texas maintained that it had the right to leave the United States; it did not.
Order. I would like the debate to finish at 3 o’clock, if possible, and certainly no later. I do not know whether there will be a Division of the House; we shall have to wait to see, but I would like the debate to finish by 3 o’clock if we can manage that.
I thank the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for bringing the debate to the House, and for his earlier comments. I will tackle the issue of sovereignty first. I refer those who have come late to the debate, and those who read my comments at another time, to the excellent speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), who said that popular sovereignty lies with the people. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) also touched on that in his excellent contribution.
Fundamentally, we think that the negotiations have been a missed opportunity. When we hear people blaming the European Union, we wonder whether we should instead be thinking about how the UK uses its role as a member state. That may be where the fault has lain over the years.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoroughly unwarranted praise. At this moment, there are no fewer than 16 documents from Europe that the European Scrutiny Committee has asked to have debated in Parliament. Some are scheduled and some are not. Some have been waiting for more than two years. Does my hon. Friend agree that, all too often, people point the finger of blame at the European Union for being unaccountable and not subject to scrutiny, but perhaps we should look more closely at the Government’s unwillingness to be scrutinised over how it interacts with Europe?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I know that it is a frustration of his—as a member of the European Scrutiny Committee—and of others that the UK Government appear reluctant for their actions in the EU to be properly scrutinised. Perhaps the Minister can deal with that in his summing up.
We saw this missed opportunity from the very start. There was a lack of consultation with the devolved Administrations, on which the matter will have a significant impact. When it comes to Europe, the Government need all the friends that they can possibly get. The failure to take on board the devolved Administrations, who have done a much better job of making friends and influencing people in recent times in the European Union, was a missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity was the chance to think about what really constitutes a member state. I was interested earlier to hear Conservative Members trying to compare the debate on Scottish independence with this debate. Let me tell the House this: the European Union could not impose the poll tax on the United Kingdom against its will, the European Union could not send nuclear convoys through the United Kingdom against its will and the European Union could not impose Trident on the United Kingdom against its will. Those are all things that could be imposed on Scotland. The role of a member state and Scottish independence are two totally separate issues.
I am delighted that my friend and colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee is giving way. I suggest to him gently that when the Scottish people voted for the Union, they voted for its ability to make decisions on behalf of all the peoples of our Union. That needs to be recognised by the SNP.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, which was thoughtful, as usual. On that point, of course the Scottish people did. It is a matter of respect. We may not have liked that decision, but it is the decision that they made, and it is why we are here in record numbers to make our contribution. Let me draw out the point about respect, because I believe that the hon. Gentleman may agree with it. If we are going to have a referendum, we should not have it too soon. That means respecting the electoral process in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the English local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and Members from every single party in the House have signed my early-day motion stating that a June referendum would be “disrespectful”, and I think that goes to the heart of the matter. That is why the European Union referendum will be a huge test of the Union that the voters of Scotland voted to remain in.
As well as considering the respect agenda and allowing a long time, the Government—Opposition Members may agree with me on this—should have the courage of their convictions and have a proper debate about membership of the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon announced the date of the independence referendum 545 days before it was held. I am not quite suggesting that we should wait 545 days before we sort this out, but I am suggesting that June is too early and that if, as the Government suggest, this is a once-in-40-years decision, we should make it properly and have the courage of our convictions. I fully believe that the case for remaining in the European Union stands up to that scrutiny, and I look forward to making that case. I know that Conservative Members have different views, and I respect them, but let us have a proper debate on the matter.
As my right hon. Friend quite rightly said, and the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay mentioned this point as well, we do not want another “Project Fear”. I have been concerned by some of the arguments that have been made. Do not get me wrong, Mr Speaker, because I believe—I will say this to put it on the record—that the United Kingdom could be a successful independent country outside the European Union and that it could stand on its own two feet. The question is whether or not we are better off by doing so. Let us not have another “Project Fear”.
There is the issue of Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will. While we have been in the Chamber this afternoon, an opinion poll has been produced by TNS. It shows that 44% of Scots want to remain within the European Union, and 21% want to leave, with the remainder undecided. We look forward to that debate, but the poll shows that the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland want to remain within the European Union.
If the hon. Gentleman seriously thinks that the European Union would somehow vote not to have its most energy-rich country and the one with its longest external border as part of its union, I think he seriously misunderstands the European project. I have never heard anything so ludicrous. In the same sense, I have heard Conservative Members say that Scotland would somehow be in a queue behind Albania. I think that that is disrespectful, and I hope he will not continue the debate in that tone of disrespect.
Mutual respect, which is the reason why Scotland should not be taken out of the Europe, also extends to respect for immigrants, which has also been raised in this debate. Immigration is and has been good for this country, and I want it to continue. It is good for my constituency and the businesses within it. We need to be careful how we conduct the debate on immigration.
I am wondering whether the Minister will comment on the principle of subsidiarity. I do not know what difference this deal will make to strengthening Scotland’s national Parliament, or indeed the Parliaments and Assemblies elsewhere in the country. Does the principle of subsidiarity end in this place? It most certainly should not do so.
Let us make the positive case for membership of the European Union. I want to see a long and proper debate, as I am sure do Members from both sides of the House. I hope that they will vote with us when it comes to setting the date of the referendum. Let us talk about where we should have more Europe. I do not think that we should be afraid of that on issues such as climate change—yes, it does exist—as well as security policies and so on. Let us also talk about having less Europe. We have raised the issue of fisheries. Let us bear in mind that Scotland’s fishermen were described as expendable not by the European Union, but by the United Kingdom Government who sought to represent them. On that point, I will sit down. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
This has been a very long debate, and I have sat through the whole of it. I counted 14 speeches in total, not including the winding-up speeches, and it started with that of the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). The speeches were all passionate and eloquent, and we have heard some very strongly held views. The last Back Bencher to speak was the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is always eloquent and entertaining—so much so that, on occasions, I find myself nodding along, even though I do not agree with a single word he says.
It is depressing that we have heard a rehash of many of the same, often ill-informed, myths and stories about how Britain no longer has control over its own sovereignty, having yielded everything to Europe. What I found most disappointing is that, for people outside Parliament watching the debate in the Chamber, the speakers have largely been older, grey-haired men in grey suits—
I said “largely”.
I do not believe that that represents the country we are here to serve or the views of the people outside Parliament. It has been yet another debate—I am sure there will be many more up to the referendum—in which members of the Eurosceptic right wing of the Tory party have been able to grandstand, while positioning an ice pick firmly in the back of their own Front Benchers and lining up to rubbish their own Prime Minister’s negotiations. Two of my Labour colleagues have joined in enthusiastically, but given that over 96% of the members of the parliamentary Labour party, including every member of the shadow Cabinet, are members of the PLP pro-EU group, it is absolutely clear that Labour is a pro-Europe party and that it is campaigning actively for a remain vote in the referendum.
I am conscious that the debate has been very long and that we have heard an awful lot from one side of the argument, but I want to be respectful of the House and to give the Minister time to sum up, so I intend to be brief.
Right at the beginning, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay said that the electorate got very exercised about our sovereignty. Not in my experience: people in my constituency are concerned about jobs, youth unemployment, housing, the bedroom tax, tax avoidance by large companies and, yes, immigration, but the people I speak to never talk about the sovereignty of the EU, EU bureaucracy or Britain’s rebate. That just does not happen on the doorstep.
No. I am sorry, but we have heard an awful lot from one side of the argument.
People in the Westminster bubble, particularly Conservative Members, are exercised about all those things, but given that I have no reason to believe that the people of North West Durham are any different from people across the country, they are simply not the top priorities of people working hard outside Parliament.
This is largely a Tory party drama—a blue-on-blue issue—with very little relevance to the lives of ordinary people who are struggling to pay their rents and mortgages, and to get their kids to school. The Prime Minister has repeatedly given in to his own right wing, seeming not to understand that they will never be satisfied on these issues. In doing so, he has risked this country’s future prosperity, safety and place in the world.
I will not go over them in great detail, but there are many reasons for remaining part of the EU. There is the economic case and the environmental case, as well as issues involving this country’s future safety and security and our place in the world. The Labour party is committed to keeping Britain in the European Union, because we believe it is in the best interests of the British people. For us, it is simple: Britain is a stronger, safer and more prosperous country as part of the European Union.
The world is becoming more and more globalised. The problems that we face are complex and they need complex international responses. We cannot solve the problems of climate change, international terrorism, international crime, people trafficking or mass migration across the world on our own; we can tackle those issues only by working with our partners in Europe. We are part of NATO and the UN, as well as of other organisations across the world, which means that we have given up some of the things we used to do ourselves for the greater good, the safety and sometimes the prosperity of our country. I do not see a problem with any of that.
I will move quickly on to what should happen in the future. I want our sovereignty to be enhanced through seeking democratic reform that will make EU decision makers more accountable to its people and not so metaphorically and physically distant from our communities. I want economic reform that will put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy, and that will bring in labour market reforms to strengthen workers’ rights in a real social Europe. I believe that we enhance our sovereignty by negotiating with our EU partners for policies and agreements that benefit us as a country and improve the lives of our citizens.
Ultimately, the referendum will come down to a decision to remain or leave, and I believe that the people of this country will vote for the future and not for a past that only ever existed in the minds of the Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches.
The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) said that this had been a long debate. I confess that for me it passed in a twinkling of an eye. As the hon. Lady gains in experience of these occasions, I think she will find that this was quite a brief encounter with some of the arguments about this country’s place in Europe.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) on obtaining the debate. I shall move straight to addressing the central arguments that he described in his speech. He is right that parliamentary sovereignty lies at the heart of how the United Kingdom thinks about its constitutional arrangements, and it is true that Parliament remains sovereign today. As I think he himself said in his speech, there is only one reason why European law has effect in the United Kingdom at all, and that is because Parliament has determined that that should be so and has enacted laws which give European law legal effect here.
To avoid any misunderstanding about the fact that any authority that EU law has in Britain derives from Parliament itself, we wrote into the European Union Act 2011, in section 18, that the principle was clear—that European law has direct effect in the United Kingdom only because of Acts of Parliament. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, if there is more we can do to make that principle clear, we would be keen to do that. It is open to Parliament, too, to pass laws to rescind the European Communities Act 1972 to end Britain’s membership of the European Union. If that were not the case, if ultimate sovereignty did not continue to lie here, there would be little purpose in our having this national debate about a referendum on British membership.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) is right that standing alone in 1940 should continue to be a source of pride and inspiration to everybody in this country from whichever political family they happen to come, but let us not forget that that was never a situation that this country or Winston Churchill sought. It was one forced upon us by defeat, and only a few days or weeks before Churchill’s speech about fighting on alone, he had gone to France and offered France a political union with the United Kingdom in order to try to maintain the struggle against Nazism. If we look back at our great history, we can see how leaders such as Marlborough, Pitt, Wellington, Castlereagh and Disraeli sought to advance the interests of the United Kingdom and the British people through building coalitions of allies and of support among other nations on the European continent.
My hon. Friend will forgive me—I have very limited time. Many colleagues have spoken and I want to respond on behalf of the Government.
As a number of hon. Members said, there is concern about the question of ever closer union—about Britain being drawn against its will into a closer political European Union. There are a number of clear safeguards against that. As the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) pointed out, we remain opted out of such things as the single currency. We can decide for ourselves whether to participate in individual justice and human rights measures. There are issues such as taxation and foreign and security policy where the national right of veto continues.
We wrote into the European Union Act 2011 a requirement that a referendum of the British people would be needed before this or any future Government could sign up to treaty changes that transferred new competencies and powers from this country to Brussels—to the European institutions. That referendum lock also applies to any measure that moves the power to take decisions at European level from unanimity, with the national veto, to majority voting.
What the draft documents from President Tusk this week explicitly recognise is that there should be different levels of integration for different member states, and that the language and the preamble to the treaty about ever closer union does not compel all member states to aim for a common destination. The fact that this is a draft declaration by the European Council is significant, because the treaty itself says that it is for the European Council to set the strategic political direction of the EU as a whole.
We need to recognise in this House that there are other European countries for whom the objective of ever closer union may be welcome and in line with their national interests. Ministers from the Baltic states have said to me, “When you’ve been through our experience of being fought over by Soviet communism and Nazism, when you’ve lost a quarter of your population to those tyrannies and to warfare, when you’ve lived under Soviet rule for half a century, and then you get back your independence and your democracy, you grab any bit of European integration that’s going because you want that appalling and tragic history not to repeat itself.” We should respect their wish for closer political union, in return for their respecting our clear wish to remain outside such a process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay asked whether we would reinvent the EU today. I say to him and to the House very plainly that if we were starting from scratch, I would not start with the treaty of Lisbon, but we are where we are. The debate both in this place and in the country, when assessing the results of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation and the wider issues at stake, should be about whether the interests of the British people whom we represent—their security, their prosperity, their hopes and ambitions for their children—are better served by remaining in the European Union, which I hope will be successfully reformed, but which will still not be perfect, or by leaving and attempting from the outside, de novo, to secure some kind of new arrangement with that bloc of countries. That is the context within which we should consider the specific issues that have been raised in this debate.
I will take trade as an example, because a number of hon. Members have mentioned it. Outside the European Union, we would have the theoretical freedom to negotiate free trade agreements on our own behalf. However, it is not just a matter of speculation, but what leading trading nations say to us, that they are much more ready to negotiate trade deals with a European market of 500 million people, with all the leverage that gives us as a player in that single market, than to negotiate with even a large European country on its own.
No; I apologise to my hon. Friend, but time is very limited.
The reality is that the World Trade Organisation and other international organisations are largely directed by blocs of countries and very large nations such as China and the United States. I believe that the interests of the British people are better served not simply by having a separate flag and name plate on the table, but by playing a leading role in shaping the position of the world’s biggest and wealthiest trading bloc, using its leverage to advance our national interests and winning new opportunities for businesses and consumers in this country.
I am disappointed by the pessimism of some hon. Members. Look at what we have achieved through positive British action at the European level. It was Margaret Thatcher who built the single European market that has made possible, for example, affordable aviation for ordinary British families in every part of this country. It was Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Labour Prime Ministers who made possible the entrenchment of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in central European countries where those things were crushed for most of the 20th century. We did that through support for the enlargement project. The work that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is leading to strengthen co-operative European work against terrorism and organised crime is doing more to aid our security and defend the safety of the British people than we would be able to achieve through unilateral action.
I want us to be in a reformed European Union and in the single market, playing a leading role in creating a safer and more prosperous Britain and a safer and more prosperous Europe. We should be in the things that matter to us and that benefit us, but out of ever closer political union—out of the euro, the European army and Schengen. There is a real prize available to us. That is why I am supporting so enthusiastically the work that my Prime Minister and this country’s Prime Minister is doing to secure that future for the United Kingdom in a successful and reformed European Union.
Many thanks for remaining with us during the course of this debate, Mr Speaker.
I suggest that we are approaching a seminal point in our history, when we will either choose to remain inside the EU and continue down the road of ever closer union, at the expense of our sovereignty, or vote to leave the EU and, thereby, regain our ability to have the final say on issues such as the primacy of our laws, the integrity of our borders and the extent of business regulation. The fact that No. 10 seems now to be talking about a sovereignty Bill clearly illustrates that the Government’s so-called red card system, or watered-down, washed-up lottery ticket, and the emergency brake controlled by an EU backseat driver, is unravelling as we speak.
Such measures will not stop us being drawn into ever closer union with the EU should we remain, and they certainly will not restore our parliamentary sovereignty. The British people want to be represented by their MPs, not governed by the EU. Sovereignty is ours to cherish, not to sacrifice. I am afraid that the Minister and the Government have been unable to answer our questions, so I therefore intend to press to a vote the motion which clearly says that the Government’s EU renegotiations must encompass Parliament’s ability to stop any unwanted legislation, taxes or regulation.
A Division was called, but no Members being appointed Tellers for the Ayes, the Speaker declared that the Noes had it.
Question accordingly negatived.
The Division is off. Perhaps the hon. Members were locked in a room by somebody. Good heavens. Well, there we are. I was all ready to sit in for the Division—I have been here for the last two and a half hours for the debate, so I was perfectly prepared to be here for the Division, but a Division must take place in an orderly way, or not at all.