I beg to move,
That this House has considered European affairs.
In just under four months’ time, the British people will face a choice—one that has been denied to them for many years—that we pledged to give them in our election manifesto and that we are now delivering; a choice that will have profound consequences for this country for a generation or more—whether to remain in the European Union on the basis of the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister or to leave.
The last time the British people were consulted on this question, 40 years ago, the answer was a clear yes, but much has changed in that 40 years, and the fact that we are holding this referendum now is recognition of a growing unease at the direction in which the EU has evolved—a growing sense that Europe was pursuing a goal that Britain did not share, and that we risked being dragged into a level of political integration for which few in Britain have any appetite.
For 25 years, I have shared that sense of unease. I have always considered myself a sceptic, and I consider myself a sceptic today. Like most people in Britain, I do not feel any warmth or affection for the EU or its institutions. I am irritated by the tone of much of what I hear coming from Brussels and instinctively suspicious of anything that sounds like a “grand projet”. But we do not live in some ideal world; we live in the real world, and the EU is part of that real world. The question that we have to answer is not: do we like it? The question we have to answer is whether we are stronger, safer and better off in the EU rather than out of it. Stronger, because our global influence is enhanced by being a leading member of the world’s largest trading bloc. Safer, because working together with EU partners strengthens our defences against organised crime and terrorism. Better off, because Britain benefits from having a domestic market of 500 million consumers and the clout that a quarter of the world’s GDP gives the EU in negotiating trade deals.
The Prime Minister has said in recent days that his view of the European Union’s impact on our collective security had changed over the years because of his experience as Prime Minister. The Foreign Secretary would probably be thought of by many people as having a Eurosceptic background. Has his experience as Foreign Secretary also changed the balance of his view on the European Union’s impact on our collective security?
Yes, it has. First as Defence Secretary, and now as Foreign Secretary, I have seen how, in practice, working with EU partners is an important tool in our armoury. Of course, the EU will never, in any way, replace the security benefit that we get from NATO; it does a different thing. However, we have seen in the conflict over Ukraine that economic sanctions—which, in reality, are the only practical weapon available to us in responding to the challenge of Russia—when properly honed and consistently used by the European Union, will prove to be a very important weapon in our armoury against Russian aggression.
Well, back to my theme. We have set up the Office for Budget Responsibility. The Foreign Secretary is rightly doing a sort of cost-benefit analysis of this issue. Why do the Government not institute an independent study, by a genuinely independent body, to go in some detail into the effects of a Brexit, plus or minus, on, say, GNP? That would surely be very useful.
The problem with the challenge my hon. Friend presents—it is going to be a recurrent theme in this debate, I suspect—is that we simply do not know what the counterfactual is. We do not know what Britain’s situation outside the European Union would be. We do not know whether a deal could be negotiated with the remaining 27. We do not know what free trade agreements could be negotiated with other parties, and we do not know on what timescale those could be achieved. We do not know what damage would be done to our economy in the meantime. I fear that the objective analysis my hon. Friend is seeking might be very difficult to achieve.
The Foreign Secretary is advancing the case of the economic benefit of Britain’s membership of the European Union, and he may like to hear the verdict from Britain’s manufacturing industry. Yesterday, at the Engineering Employers Federation, I took part in a debate with a senior member of the Vote Leave campaign, at the end of which 800 of Britain’s manufacturing companies voted by 83% that they would prefer Britain to stay in the European Union. That is what is happening in the real world among real people who make real things for Britain’s benefit.
I am unsurprised by the figure that my right hon. Friend quotes, because in the world of manufacturing, where supply chains are increasingly complex and internationalised, the operation of the single market, and particularly the operation of the customs union, will be increasingly important to the competitiveness of British businesses. There are substantive reasons that business can see for remaining in the European Union, but there is another reason over and above that: business hates uncertainty, and the one thing that is becoming crystal clear is that whatever the end state might be if there were a British exit, for a period of years—perhaps many years—there would be very significant uncertainty, and that would act as a chilling effect on investment, job creation and business confidence in the United Kingdom.
I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary is just a couple of minutes into his speech, but in the opening minute we heard a series of negative words used to describe our relationship with the European Union. I think I might have heard the words “suspicious” and “sceptical”. I wonder what our friends in France and Germany might be thinking as they watch this debate when somebody who is apparently in favour of our being members of the European Union is using such language. Coming from the in campaign, is this the type of debate that we can expect in relation to our relationship with Europe?
I think it is important that our friends and partners in Europe understand—I say this to my colleagues very regularly—that for the great majority of people in this country there is no passion about a European vision. We find in some European countries genuine passion for the idea of Europe, but that is not the British way. Lots of people in this country believe that we should remain in the European Union because it is good for Britain and good for our economy—because we are stronger, safer, and better off. That is not the same as being passionately attached to some idea of a European vision.
I am going to make a little progress, if my right hon. and hon. Friends will allow me.
The PM’s pledge was to engage with our partners in Europe to agree a series of reforms to get the EU back on track and to change the terms of our membership to protect our interests, and then to put the question to the British people. He has delivered on that pledge.
I will in just a moment.
So the question is this: should we stick with what we know, bank the gains that the Prime Minister has brought back from Brussels, and continue to fight from the inside for reform, or should we take a leap into the dark? For me, the answer is clear: I am a sceptic who will vote with my head to remain because I know in my heart that that is what is right—what is best—for Britain.
I share the Foreign Secretary’s view that what the Prime Minister has returned with is better than what we had before, but will he say something about the legal of status of the agreement, particularly the assertion by the Lord Chancellor, no less, that it is not legally binding? I respect the fact that the Lord Chancellor takes a different view from the Prime Minister, but how can his position as a senior legal Minister for the Government possibly be tenable when he is arguing that the deal is not legally binding and the Downing Street position is the precise opposite? Surely his position is untenable and Cabinet collective responsibility has been stretched too far.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the principle of collective responsibility has been suspended in respect of this debate to allow Ministers to express a different opinion from that of the Government. Our position is clear: this is a legally binding agreement. It was registered yesterday at the United Nations as a treaty. The overwhelming majority of qualified legal opinion recognises that it is a legally binding international law decision.
I am not a lawyer, so it is not a question of the basis on which I say it is legally binding, but there has been a plethora of qualified legal opinion supporting the view that it is a legally binding decision. Registering it at the United Nations records it as a treaty-status international law obligation. The document will be taken into account by the European Court of Justice, whose own decisions in the Rottmann case have established that it must have regard to interpretative decisions by Heads of State and Governments. The document itself makes it clear that it is legally binding.
I am going to make a little progress.
Let me recall what we set out to achieve and what has been delivered. First, we set out to protect British jobs and ensure a level playing field in Europe for British business, because the creation of the eurozone and the greater level of co-ordination needed between eurozone countries created a very real risk either that non-Eurozone countries such as Britain would be dragged into integration that we do not need and do not want, or that our businesses would suffer discrimination because of our decision to retain our own currency. So alongside the crucial exemption from steps of further integration, we needed to negotiate clear safeguards for the pound, the exemption of British taxpayers from eurozone bailouts, protection against discrimination for Britain’s world-leading financial services industry, a clear role for the Bank of England, and a clear commitment that we will have a full say in the functioning of the single market while not being part of the single currency. This deal delivers all those demands in a legally binding agreement, underpinned by the commitment by all EU member states to enshrine those UK safeguards in treaty change.
But what the Foreign Secretary is not doing is using other words that are part of this package—not only “legally binding” but “irreversible”. As he knows, the question of whether this is irreversible is highly contentious. It is clear from the evidence that has been received, and indeed from the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, that it is not irreversible.
I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. The decision is irreversible unless Britain chooses to allow it to be reversed, because it could be reversed only by all 28 member states agreeing. I can assure him that, certainly for as long as this Government are in office, Britain will never agree to that happening.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that this morning’s BBC interview with the former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was very useful? He explained that Denmark’s opt-outs with the European Union are based on exactly the same type of legal basis and have not been reversed in the years that they have been in place.
I am going to make a little progress now.
The second area we set out to address was Europe’s impact on competitiveness. We have achieved a commitment to completing the European single markets in services—a key area for Britain given the importance and competitiveness of our services sector—in digital; in energy, to ensure greater competition and lower energy bills for British households; and in capital, ensuring greater access to sources of finance for our entrepreneurs. We have also delivered a clear commitment to prioritising international trade agreements with the largest and fastest-growing economies across the globe, with the potential to boost our economy by billions of pounds a year; and agreement to cut the burden of EU regulation on business, with specific targets to be set for key sectors. That builds on a programme of work that the Commission is already undertaking, which has already slashed by 80% the pipeline of regulatory proposals, and bakes the deregulatory approach into the DNA of the European Union.
The third area in which this deal delivers is in ending the abuse of the principle of free movement to work in order to access the benefits of our welfare system, which are paid for by hard-working British taxpayers. We have already ended access to unemployment benefits and social housing for new arrivals and limited their time in which to find a job to six months. The package agreed last Friday gives us new powers to exclude criminals from EU countries, and stops EU nationals dodging British immigration rules to bring family members from outside the EU to live in Britain.
Under this agreement, we can apply our rules, including on minimum income and English language competence. It ends the unfairness of child benefits at British rates being sent to children living in countries with much lower living costs, and it gives us a new seven-year emergency brake to ensure that EU migrants will not have full access to in-work benefits until they have been in the UK for four years, answering the perfectly reasonable question: why should people take out when they have not paid in? Under this new arrangement, they cannot do that—no more something for nothing. Taken together, this is a package that will address the concerns of the British people about abuse of our benefit systems and erosion of our immigration controls.
On child benefit, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the agreement does not meet the promise set out in the Conservative party manifesto, which said:
“If an EU migrant’s child is living abroad, then they should receive no child benefit or child tax credit, no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid”?
That has not been achieved. It is a failure.
As I have said before in this House, any reasonable person will look at the package that has been delivered. We have been clear from the outset that tackling abuse of our welfare system is about reducing the pull factor that makes the UK a target for inward migrants because they can get their wages topped up with a variety of benefits. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Although my hon. Friend can pick on a specific part of the package, I think that most reasonable people will want to look at it in the round.
Let me make a little progress. The fourth area in which this deal delivers concrete change is in protecting us from political integration under the mantra of “ever closer union”. The British people have never believed in political union and have never wanted it, and now there is a clear and binding legal commitment to a treaty change to ensure that the United Kingdom will never be part of it. That is a crucial change that alters fundamentally the UK’s relationship with the EU, setting out clearly, in black and white, that the UK’s destination will be different from that of the rest of the EU.
The Prime Minister gave a commitment to go to Brussels, to negotiate hard and to bring back the very best deal that he could achieve. That is what he has done. I think that people will look in the round at the commitments that were made and what has been delivered. In the end, it will be the British people who give their verdict on that package.
The Foreign Secretary has talked many times about the opinions of the British people, but does he not accept that there is a divergence of opinion across the United Kingdom, with a clear majority in Scotland in favour of remaining in the EU and considerably more sympathetic to the European project? I grew up in the Scottish highlands, where there are bridges and roads that simply would not exist without the gold-starred blue flag pinned alongside them. There is a lot more sympathy and appreciation among the people of Scotland for the positive things that the European Union has achieved.
This is a UK-wide question and a UK-wide referendum. I sincerely hope that when the dust has settled and the counting is done, the hon. Gentleman will discover that a significant majority of people across the United Kingdom believe that Britain is better off, stronger and safer inside the EU. When the debate plays out, however, I hope he has a stronger argument than, “They bunged us a few quid to build a road”, because, frankly, that is not a sustainable argument across the European Union as a whole.
I am going to make a little progress. I am happy to take interventions, but in doing so I am conscious that I am eating into the time available for debate.
We have also set out to strengthen the powers of this Parliament and of the British people. In the last Parliament, we legislated, through the European Union Act 2011, to ensure that no more powers could be handed to Brussels without the explicit consent of the British people in a national referendum. That Act introduced a vital check on the one-way ratchet of the transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels.
This deal goes further, breaking the ratchet once and for all, with a new mechanism to return powers from Brussels to national Parliaments. For new legislation, the UK Parliament, working with the other national Parliaments, will be able permanently to block proposed EU legislation that a majority of them do not want, through a red card system.
The declaration, signed by all 28 member states, that we secured at the European Council last Friday is, as I have said, legally binding in international law and has already been registered as a treaty at the United Nations. Authoritative legal opinion is clear on this point. It cannot be undone without the consent of every single member state, including Britain. The agreement commits all member states to changes, in due course, to the EU treaties to enshrine the protections for Britain as a non-member of the eurozone, and to confirm explicitly that ever closer union does not apply to the UK.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way a second time. He phrases himself incredibly carefully. He says, quite correctly, that the agreement is binding in international law, which is not justiciable, but it is not binding in European law, where it has only to be taken into account by the European Court of Justice. Nor is it irreversible, otherwise section A(7) could not say:
“The substance of this Section will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties and the respective constitutional requirements of the Member States.”
If it requires the respective constitutional procedures of the member states, that means that if they are not followed, it will not be implemented.
In the Rottmann decision, the ECJ itself made clear that it had to take account of a decision of this nature. I say to my hon. Friend and others who repeatedly make points about the legally binding nature of agreements that we are having a substantive debate about the future of Britain, in or out of the European Union. We have a package that has been agreed by all 28 countries and endorsed by their Heads of State and Government. It is not only legally binding, it is a solemn political commitment. I advise colleagues to address themselves to the substantive issues that we are debating, namely Britain’s place in the European Union and what the world would look like from the perspective of a Britain outside the EU.
I want to take the Foreign Secretary back to the serious substantive point that he made at the outset of his speech. He and the Prime Minister claim that somehow this deal enhances the security of Europe. By asserting that the EU has a role in the defence matters of Europe, they are going down an extremely dangerous line, playing into the hands of those such as Mr Juncker, supported by Chancellor Merkel, who want an EU army. There is a real risk that NATO will be undermined. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister should address that issue, rather than have a junior spin doctor in No. 10 twisting the arms of former senior military officers to sign a letter to The Daily Telegraph, from which two signatories have already resiled.
My hon. Friend, who served with me in the Ministry of Defence, will know that no one is as alert as I am to the risks of undermining NATO’s crucial role in underpinning the defence of western Europe. We have always been very clear that any role played by the European Union in our defence must be complementary to, and in no way undermine, the role of NATO. I remind him that, when we took part in the counter-piracy operation to interdict terrorists pirating ships crewed by British citizens off the coast of Somalia, it was led by a British admiral based in Northwood, but it was a European Union mission that carried out the task. We have to look for roles in which the European Union can augment our security and safety. We are seeing that across the piece in organised crime and counter-terrorism. We see it today, and we have seen it in past years.
I will make a little progress, if my hon. Friends will allow me.
These changes, taken together with our existing opt-outs from the euro, from Schengen and from justice and home affairs measures, give Britain a special status within the EU; indeed, it is a unique status. That gives us the best of both worlds: a seat at the table to protect our interests, but a permanent opt-out from those areas of the EU that we reject—out of ever closer union and political integration, out of Schengen, out of the euro and out of eurozone bailouts.
This is a significant package, delivering the substantial, legally binding and irreversible changes that we promised. But let me be clear: no one is suggesting that it solves all the problems of the EU. The deal is not the end of the reform of the EU, but it is an important step on the road.
No matter which side of the debate we are on, I hope that we will at least be able to agree across the House that the decision will be one of profound significance for the future of our country. It will be a choice that determines our trajectory for a generation or more. Let me be clear; the Government will respect the outcome of the referendum, whatever the result. There will be no second referendum. The propositions on the ballot paper are clear, and I want to be equally clear today. Leave means leave, and a vote to leave will trigger a notice under article 50. To do otherwise in the event of a vote to leave would represent a complete disregard of the will of the people. No individual, no matter how charismatic or prominent, has the right or the power to redefine unilaterally the meaning of the question on the ballot paper.
The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to make it clear that this is a one-time referendum and that the decision is in or out. If it is out, I think that the British people need to know what they would be going out to. Does he agree that it is about time the vote leave-ers set out precisely their vision of Britain outside the European Union?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am about to come to that point. I hope that my remarks might provoke some of my hon. Friends to put some flesh on the bones of what leaving might mean. I will say something about the consequences of, respectively, a vote to leave the EU and a vote to remain.
Let me make my point, and then I will happily give way to my right hon. Friend. A vote to leave is a vote for an uncertain future. That is a simple fact. That uncertainty would generate an immediate and negative reaction in financial markets; on that, all market commentators agree. Indeed, the mere possibility of a leave vote will have a chilling effect on business confidence even before the referendum.
As the right hon. Gentleman suggests from a sedentary position, we have had a foretaste of that this week in the currency markets.
A vote to leave would trigger a fixed two-year time period under the treaty for the UK to negotiate the terms of our exit from, and our future relationship with, the EU. We would, of course, seek to reach agreement with the other 27 member states during that two-year period. In the meantime, however, we would be able to offer British businesses that wanted to invest no assurance at all about their future access to EU or other markets. We would have nothing to say to Japanese, American or Chinese companies that come here looking for a base from which to produce for the EU market. That would be truly a leap in the dark, and the effect would be to put the economy on hold until the negotiations were completed. At the end of those two years, there is no guarantee that agreement would have been reached, but our exit would be automatic unless every single one of the remaining member states agreed to an extension of the negotiating period.
My right hon. Friend is rightly drawing attention to the potential impact of Brexit on our economy, but may I take him back to the issue of security? It was suggested earlier that there would be no adverse consequences for security from our leaving the European Union, because we would remain members of NATO. Did he hear the remarks this morning of the former Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said:
“If the UK were to leave the European Union, the voice of the UK would be weakened”?
“I would strongly regret if Britain were to leave the European Union. A lot is at stake when it comes to security.”
Should we not listen to former Secretaries-General of NATO, as well as to former military commanders, and have some respect for their views?
Mr Fogh Rasmussen is not merely a former Secretary-General of NATO, but a former Prime Minister of Denmark. That country can tell us something about the binding and enduring nature of protocols that are made in EU negotiations. It is important to acknowledge that security comes in different parts: military security and defence, but also security against organised crime and against terrorism. The EU makes its most important contribution to our overall security in the latter two.
The Foreign Secretary invokes article 50. Before notification was given under article 50, given that the referendum is an advisory one in terms of the constitution, would there be a vote in Parliament? Would there also be a vote in the Scottish Parliament, given the impact on devolved competencies under the Sewel convention?
The Government’s position is that the referendum is an advisory one, but the Government will regard themselves as being bound by the decision of the referendum and will proceed with serving an article 50 notice. My understanding is that that is a matter for the Government of the United Kingdom, but if there are any consequential considerations, they will be dealt with in accordance with the proper constitutional arrangements that have been laid down.
I rather concur with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), because I think that before the Government could move to any action as a consequence of the referendum, it would be essential for Parliament to debate the matter and for the Government to obtain consent from Parliament.
On the question of what happens if we leave, may I enlighten the Foreign Secretary? First, there is no obligation to go for article 50. Secondly, we would be taking back control over our borders, our laws and the £10 billion a year net that we give to the European Union. It would buy us plenty of options, which the Government seem determined to prevent us from even discussing.
My hon. Friend raises again the suggestion that there is no need to treat an exit vote as triggering a notice under article 50. He seems to suggest that there is some other way of doing it. He raised the question on Monday and I looked into it, because he caught my imagination, but I have to tell him that that is not the opinion of the experts inside Government and the legal experts to whom I have talked. We are bound by the treaty until such time as we have left the European Union. The treaty is a document of international law, and Ministers are obliged under the terms of the ministerial code to comply with international law at all times.
The UK’s current access to the single market would cease if we left the EU, and our trading agreements with 53 countries around the world would lapse. It is impossible to predict with any certainty what the market response would be, but it is inconceivable that the disruption would not have an immediate and negative effect on jobs, on business investment, on economic growth and on the pound. Those who advocate exit from the EU will need to address those consequences—the substantive consequences, of the kind that the British people will be most focused on—in the weeks and months of debate to come.
I want to say something about the environment in which the putative negotiations would be conducted, because it is crucial to understand how difficult the discussion would be.
Over the past 18 months, I have got to know pretty well my EU counterparts, and in many cases their senior officials, as well as the opposition figures in most of their countries and key figures in the Commission and the European Parliament. There is, perhaps surprisingly, an overwhelming consensus among them about the importance of Britain remaining a member of the EU. However, they, too, are politicians: they, too, have constituents to whom they are having to explain, even now, why Britain adds so much value to the EU that it has to be allowed a unique and privileged set of arrangements that are not available to any other member state. They have, collectively, already invested a lot of political capital in delivering on Britain’s agenda. I tell the House, frankly, that if we reject the best-of-both-worlds package that has been negotiated by the Prime Minister and if we reject the unique and privileged position in the European Union that is on offer to Britain, the mood of good will towards Britain will evaporate in an instant. That would be our negotiating backdrop. To those who say they would have to negotiate—
I will in a moment, but this is important. People are talking about a negotiation that we might have to have with 27 other member states, and it is important to think about the mindset of those 27 other member states as they go into such a negotiation. To those who say that they would have to negotiate a sweetheart trade deal with a UK outside the EU, I say this: there will be no desire at all among the political elites of the remaining 27 member states to help an exiting Britain show that it can prosper outside the EU. On the contrary, they will interpret a leave decision as two fingers from the UK, and we can expect precisely the same in return. The idea that they will go the extra mile to ensure that Britain can remain a destination for foreign direct investment to serve the EU market or that our financial services industry can compete in the European market on a level playing field is, frankly, fantasy land.
I am showing respect, and I am sure my hon. Friend would want to show respect as well. I think if you insult people, you have a weak argument.
Does not the United Kingdom have a veto over foreign policy in Europe? If we were to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom would have less influence, by definition, on European Union foreign policy, and it would be more likely that European Union foreign policy was dominated, for good or bad, by France and Germany.
My hon. Friend is right. These are the complexities: obviously, if we were outside the European Union, we would not be bound by any foreign policy of the European Union, but, equally, we would not have any influence and, in this case, that influence is decisive because of our veto over that policy. It is a judgment, and people will have to weigh up the pros and cons.
Rather to my surprise, I agree with my hon. Friend. I shall use the phrase “the political elites” again in my speech, because he is absolutely right: there is a gap between what the political elites in some European countries are thinking and what their voters are thinking. However, on the subject we are discussing—a putative negotiation on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union—the reality is that our negotiators would have to engage with those political elites.
I will in a moment, but I want to make a little more progress.
In addition, any market access we agreed with our former EU partners would come at a very high price. We know that because we know what the basic models are for access to the single market for non-EU member states. We can look at Norway: pay up as if you were a member state, accept all the rules as if you were a member state, allow full free movement across your borders as if you were a member state, but have no say, no influence and no seat at the table; or Switzerland: spend eight years—
My hon. Friend says it is silly, but it is a fact that that is where Norway is today. It is a fact that it took Switzerland eight years to negotiate piecemeal access to the single market sector by sector, and it has had to accept three times as many EU migrants per capita as the UK. That surely cannot be the future for Britain that the leave campaign seeks: it is literally the worst of both worlds.
I am interested to know my right hon. Friend’s judgment on the character of our fellow EU countries. Is he really saying that Germany would be so vindictive and spiteful that it would cut off its nose to spite its face? According to a House of Commons Library paper, we export £43.3 billion of goods and services to Germany and it exports £70.6 billion of goods and services to us, which is a deficit of £27.3 billion. Is he really saying that Germany is so vindictive and spiteful that it would close its door to that?
I am talking about trade in goods. If that is all my hon. Friend is seeking, it would be relatively simple to negotiate, but Britain will need much more than that if we are to get a fair deal for Britain’s businesses and to protect British jobs.
I want to make another point to my hon. Friend. He is of course right that economic and business voices from across Europe would argue for a free trade deal of some description with the UK. However, the political elites would look over their shoulder at the effect of a British exit and at their political opponents in their own country, and they would be fearful that what they see as contagion might spread. They do not wish to do anything that would help us to demonstrate that Britain can succeed outside the European Union. That is a simple political fact. Everyone in the Chamber is a politician, and we all know how such a calculation works: when the chips are down, they will protect their political interests.
Does the Foreign Secretary agree that those who advocate that we leave express a big inconsistency? On the one hand, they say, “When we are in the European Union, we can’t get anything we want”, but on the other hand, they say, “If we come out of the European Union, we will have precisely what we want”.
The hon. Lady has put her finger on it. That is what this debate will hinge on. Those who propose that we remain argue that we should stick with a proposition we know and understand, and lay on top of that the additional benefits that the Prime Minister has gained for us in the negotiation. Those who propose that we leave do not know—because they cannot know—what they are proposing to the British people. They can tell us what they would like to achieve and what they would hope to negotiate, but by definition they cannot know until afterwards and the British people cannot know until afterwards what proposition they would be voting for.
No. I want to move on to setting out what I see as the consequences of Britain deciding to remain.
If Britain decides to remain a member of the EU, I want it to do so with the mindset of a leader. Having renegotiated the terms of our membership and secured the protections we need against further integration, we need to be a loud voice in the EU. We need to exercise our influence as Europe’s second largest economy and the recognised leader of its reform movement. We need to stop seeing ourselves as passive victims of the EU, and start to see Britain for what it is—one of the most powerful and influential member states, and one to whom others look for leadership in keeping the EU on track as a competitive, outward-looking, free-market union that is engaged with the challenges of a globalised economy.
We can take on that role because Europe is changing. There was a time when Britain, with its sceptical approach to the European project, really was in a minority of one, but the political balance across the EU is shifting away from an unquestioning acceptance of the inevitability of “more Europe” to an engaged scepticism—a desire for the EU to focus on where it can add value, leaving the member states to get on with their own business where it cannot; and a recognition of the benefits of membership, with an increasing focus on the costs and a healthy pragmatism about the limits to what the EU can deliver. In Denmark, Finland, Poland, Hungary and other Baltic and eastern European member states, we increasingly find like-minded partners who share our vision of Europe. Even in the Netherlands, one of the founder member states, the mood has shifted sharply. In that country, there is a slogan that rather neatly sums up what I think most people in Britain think about the EU: “National where possible, Europe where necessary.” Across the continent, the population, as opposed to the political elites, has become more sceptical about the EU and more focused on the need for reform and accountability.
On the very point that the Foreign Secretary has just made, has he noticed that an increasing number of EU member states are looking enviously at the deal that Britain has managed to secure—I will leave the qualitative judgment to others—and seeing that this is a route that they want to take advantage of, because there is a huge appetite for reforming the European Union to ensure that it serves the people of Europe and not just the political elite?
The hon. Gentleman is right and that is my case: Britain can lead that reformist tendency within the European Union, which is subscribed to by more and more member states and by the populations in even more member states where the political elites have not yet woken up to the new reality.
Let us be clear with our neighbours that although the package agreed in Brussels last week is a big enough step forward to allow us to recommend to the British people staying in the EU on these special terms, they should not for a moment imagine that a UK recommitted to EU membership will rest on its laurels. They should expect to deal with a UK that fights continuously at the head of a growing phalanx of like-minded member states to keep the EU on the track of reform and competitiveness. They should expect us to police rigorously the delivery of the promises that have been made on deregulation, the repatriation of power, eurozone fairness, single market progress and trade agreements.
The choice for Britain is simple: a leading role in a reformed EU or a leap in the dark to negotiate from a position of weakness with the 27 member states we have just snubbed; driving the expansion of the single market and EU trade agreements from within or watching from outside as the rules of the market are shaped by the interests of others.
The special status that Britain has on offer means that we can have the best of both worlds. We can be in the parts of Europe that work for us and permanently out of those that do not. We can influence the decisions that affect us, shape the world’s largest market and co-operate to keep Britain safe, strong and better off, with the status of our pound and the Bank of England guaranteed and our exclusion from eurozone bail-outs confirmed. We will be out of the passport-free Schengen area and permanently protected from further steps of integration towards a European superstate, and new commitments will be made and mechanisms established to reduce burdens on business and return powers to member states. Of course there is more to do, but as we move towards the referendum, this Government have no doubt that on these terms, the United Kingdom is safer, stronger and better off inside a reformed European Union.
Order. The House has tested the Foreign Secretary with a great many interventions this afternoon, and he has been patient and courteous in answering them fully, but it has taken considerable time. I warn hon. Members who have in their heads or in their hands long speeches that they intend to deliver that I will have to impose a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of nine minutes later in the day.
Almost 41 years ago, this House debated the terms of a renegotiation of our place in Europe prior to a referendum of the British people. On 7 April 1975, this is what the opening speaker in that debate said:
“for many hon. Members, as for millions outside the House, the issue is not limited to an assessment of the outcome of the renegotiations. Many…have already made up their minds…There will be a substantial body of opinion…who believe…that Britain should be in the Community for the greater economic good of Britain in a changing world…Equally there is a substantial body of opinion which is fundamentally opposed to British membership and which holds that no possible renegotiations could have changed the nature of the Community sufficiently to enable it to support British participation.”—[Official Report, 7 April 1975; Vol. 889, c. 821.]
Those were the words of the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who, incidentally, gave the British people a decision about their place in Europe. Those words remind us that some things never change, although then it was the Labour party that was split over our place in Europe and the Conservatives who were united, whereas now there has been a complete reversal of roles. History is repeating itself in mirror image.
As we are talking about history, can we at least agree that the right hon. Gentleman’s late, lamented and great father and Enoch Powell were right during those historic debates in the early 1970s that this was a unique endeavour and that what we were signing up to in the European Communities Act 1972 was quite unlike any other treaty, because it established the supremacy of the European Court of Justice over this House? Can we at least agree that there is no halfway house—we are either under EU law or we are not? That is what this referendum is about.
Indeed, that is the case. The Labour party—not the Conservative party—decided that the British people should have their say precisely because that kind of transfer of sovereignty is a decision that should rest not with this House of Commons, but with the British people. The British people made their choice and decided by a significant margin to remain in the European Community.
I was about to mention the Prime Minister’s reception on Monday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) is fond of describing some right hon. and hon. Members as the “desperate to be disappointed”. It is fair to say that on Monday, those people were indeed disappointed, because they were never going to be satisfied.
The right hon. Gentleman gives the impression that the Labour party is completely united in its position, but that excludes the public statements of some of his colleagues that they are in favour of leaving the European Union and the many Labour organisations around the country that are already campaigning for us to pull out.
I am not sure that I will bow to the hon. Gentleman’s alleged greater knowledge of the opinion of Labour organisations up and down the country on the European Union. Labour Members of the House of Commons overwhelmingly support Britain remaining in the European Union, as we shall hear in their contributions later, and in the trade union movement there is strong support for Britain remaining, for reasons that I shall come to later. The truth is that we have changed our view, and that strengthens our argument for remaining in the European Union.
The Prime Minister was never going to come back with a deal that he did not feel able to recommend because, as we know, he did not want the referendum in the first place and was forced to concede it only by the turmoil and disagreement on his Benches. The deal does contain some useful and important changes, some of which we called for. The red card, as the Leader of the Opposition reminded the House on Monday, was a commitment in our election manifesto. There is protection for the pound because we are not in the euro, and it was the last Labour Government that took the decision not to join the euro—and how wise a decision was that? We support reforming the sending of child benefit to children living in other European countries, and the establishment of the principle of fair contribution, namely that those coming to work in this country should pay in before they receive in-work benefits.
The choice that the British people now face will rest not on the terms of this renegotiation, but on something much bigger and more important: how will our economy and trading relationships, and our prospects for investment, be affected by taking a step into the unknown; how do we see ourselves as a country; and what is our place in the world and in Europe now and in the years ahead?
The Labour party’s position is to respect the decision that the Scottish people took in the referendum when they rejected independence. We are one United Kingdom, and the decision will be taken by the people of the United Kingdom. Labour Members are clear that we support Britain remaining a member of the European Union. We held that view before the renegotiation, and we hold it today. The European Union has brought us jobs, growth, investment and security, and I argue that it gives us influence in the world. Before exploring each of those benefits in turn, let me briefly address two essential arguments made by those Conservative Members who think that we should leave—namely, sovereignty and taking back control.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the EU has brought much in the way of prosperity and jobs, and that does apply to the United Kingdom. Sadly, however, it does not apply to other countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, which are also members of the EU. Why are they suffering so much unemployment and low growth, while the United Kingdom is prospering? Is the difference that we, as well as being members of the EU, are led by a Conservative Government?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will not tempt me to agree with him on that particular observation at all—[Hon. Members: “Go on!] No, I will not be encouraged to do that. I will, however, make an argument about the precise way that the benefits that I have just described have been brought to us because of opportunities given to us by membership of the European Union.
On sovereignty, the original decision to join the European Union was taken by the sovereign House of Commons, and confirmed by a sovereign British people in the 1975 referendum. All treaty changes that followed, including those that introduced qualified majority voting, were agreed by Conservative and Labour Governments, and approved by the sovereign Parliament. That tells us that we have chosen as a sovereign Parliament to work with others in Europe for a purpose: to achieve things that we think benefit us and our neighbours.
The second argument is about taking back control, and for some I think this is a belief that Britain standing alone would somehow have the voice that it possessed 50 years ago. We must be honest with each other. We live in a different world to the one that gave birth to the European Coal and Steel Community after the end of the second world war. We have witnessed the end of empire, the creation of the United Nations and the European Union, the formation of NATO, the end of the cold war, and the collapse of the Berlin wall. We have lived through an era that has seen the rise of new world powers, alliances, conflicts, threats, and the blistering pace of technological change that is revolutionising our economies and shrinking the way we perceive our world. We cannot turn the clock back, and to argue that we can is to mislead ourselves and others. We can, however, use the qualities that we as a nation are blessed with to make the most of the opportunities that this new world presents to us, and that is exactly what our membership of the European Union helps us to do.
Look at the strength of London as a financial centre. Look at the openness and diversity of our society, and our talent for creativity. The UK computer and games industry—not one I am particularly familiar with—did not even exist 40 years ago, but it now generates £2 billion a year in global sales, and supports nearly 30,000 jobs. Consider the worldwide reach of the English language. All those things help to make us the fifth biggest economy in the world.
When we think about the City of London, we often think of bankers, and unfortunately of some of the high and perhaps disproportionate banking bonuses. However, banking is a necessary part of this country’s economy. Indeed, the pensions of this country are often found in the City of London, and they affect every single person up and down the land. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an exit from the European Union would make it more likely that banks, institutions and pension funds would go to Frankfurt rather than London?
I agree that there are real risks, and the Foreign Secretary rightly made that point in his speech. It is perfectly legitimate to point out those risks, which even the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) acknowledged in his article in The Daily Telegraph, and we should take that important consideration into account. In truth, almost half our exports go to Europe precisely because we are part of the single market, and we must think about supply chains and services. We also export all the way around the world, in part because of deals that the European Union has negotiated with other countries.
The EU either has or is negotiating trade agreements with 90% of Commonwealth countries. I have heard it argued that being in the EU prevents us from having better trading relationships with other members of the Commonwealth, but that is not the case. Given that we are part of this huge market of 500 million people, why on earth would we want to exchange the certainty of deals that we currently have for the uncertainty of deals that we might not secure? As we have heard—the Foreign Secretary made this point forcefully—we already have good trade deals, and our only alternative examples are those such as Norway, but even the Norwegians say to us, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” I think the British people will look at that and say, “That looks like a pretty bad deal to us.”
In the late 1980s, when Mrs Thatcher was busy taking away trade union rights in this country, one reason that the British trade union movement changed its view was that it saw there was an opportunity for workers’ rights across Europe. The EU helped us to deal with some of the consequences of global change by protecting workers in every European country. Those protections include paid holidays, the right to spend more time with a new-born child through improved maternity and paternity leave, limits on working time, and better protection for agency and temporary workers. Those are striking examples of how, by working together across Europe, we can protect workers and prevent a race to the bottom.
The right hon. Gentleman has campaigned for many years on behalf of Africa and trade with Africa, supporting prosperity there. What does he say about the protectionist policies of the European Union, which prohibit and make trade with Africa more difficult?
When I was International Development Secretary I argued precisely that Europe should change its policies, including the common agricultural policy. I shall say something about development a little later in my speech, because that too is a really strong argument for remaining part of the European Union.
Before my right hon. Friend moves on from the list of employment rights that are guaranteed at EU level, it is important to point out that when those who would take us out of the European Union attack EU red tape and bureaucracy, they are usually talking about precisely those rights. For example, the right to equal treatment as a part-time worker and so on—those are measures of justice in the workplace, not needless bureaucracy.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, when one of the Ministers who advocates Britain’s exit from the European Union was asked on television at the weekend to provide an example of red tape, he referred to health and safety. Health and safety is not red tape, a burden or regulation; it is about protecting British, German and Spanish workers when they go to work in the morning, to make sure that they can do their jobs safely and securely. If we voted to leave, we could end up with a double nightmare. Unfortunately, there would still be a Conservative Government in this country and, given past records, I am not entirely sure that I would trust them to ensure that we keep the rights we currently have.
There is an even more important reason why we should remain a member of the EU: Britain’s influence in the world is strengthened by our membership. It promotes interdependence through trade and advances our economic security, because it works to tackle conflict and other global challenges, and it helps to protect us from crime and terrorism. There is nothing patriotic about diminishing the United Kingdom’s ability to make its voice heard by other nations. Stumbling out of Europe and pulling up the drawbridge would serve only to harm our position and influence in the world.
The global economic crash of 2007-08 shook the public’s faith in the ability of Governments, regulators and institutions to protect them. What it really brought home to us is the need for more, not less, co-operation with other countries, and stronger multilateral institutions, not weaker ones. If we are going to deal with the problem of big companies that show an aversion to paying tax, Europe is a very good place to start.
We should also acknowledge that the growth in the number of member states of the EU has been a very powerful force for change for the better on our continent. The prospect of membership offered the former communist states of central and eastern Europe a really powerful incentive to meet the conditions for joining. They were creating an alliance built on the values of democracy, respect for human rights, free media, the rule of law and individual freedom. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, that also helped us to be stronger in facing up to aggression and problems around the world. There is no doubt that the sanctions agreed against Russia have had an impact. They are biting. Although the Minsk agreement has not been fully implemented—the conflict is frozen—it was precisely because Europe was united and determined that we were able to have that impact. Let us be absolutely clear: Russia would see Britain’s exit from the EU as a sign of our weakness. It would see it as a sign of European weakness at the very moment when, in the face of that threat, we need to maintain our collective strength. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) wants to intervene, I will of course give way.
The deal with Iran is another really good example. Europe came together in solidarity and achieved something that many people thought would not be possible. We have heard reference to the action, through Operation Atalanta, to deal with piracy off the horn of Africa. Look at the sanctions on Burma. We are just about to see something we never thought possible: Aung San Suu Kyi’s party taking power by democratic change. Europe’s voice in saying that what the previous regime had done was not acceptable was a powerful force for good in the world.
These collective displays of solidarity remind us of the power, working with our European allies, to do good. I have to say the current problems in Syria remind us of our failure in that particular conflict.
In the event of a leave vote, there are only two possibilities: either we want to remain part of a single market and are therefore subject to pretty much exactly the same rules as we are now, in which case what is the point of the referendum; or we seek not just to realign our trading approach towards the rest of the world, but realign British foreign policy away from the democracies of western Europe and the north Atlantic to the dictatorships of the east. Surely that would not be either in our national interests or in the interests of western liberal democracy. I cannot understand why so many Conservative Members, who expect us to go out to bat for Britain at European Council summits, somehow expect our fellow European states to do otherwise in the event of a leave vote, in which case we will be punished.
I agree completely with my hon. Friend. I have just tried to demonstrate to the House the benefit that working with our European allies in trying to be a force for good in the world has brought. I was just in the process of saying that Syria is a terrible example of the world’s collective failure. Like the Foreign Secretary, in his comments at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday, we hope very much that the ceasefire will be implemented and upheld. However, that really depends on Russia, hence the point that I was making earlier.
What every single one of these examples teaches us is that we need stronger, not weaker, international co-operation. At this moment in this century, it would be extraordinary folly for our country to turn its back on this vital international alliance if we wished to help shape world events. That is why Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, said:
“Britain is a global player and a strong EU will also make sure that NATO has a strong partner in the European Union when we are facing the same security threats”.
To be perfectly honest, I am less interested in what happened in the 1990s. I am more interested in what is going to happen in 2016, which is the big decision that the British people will have to take. I argue that our national security is served by our membership of both the EU and NATO. Co-operation across Europe is essential if we are to deal with terrorist threats. The European arrest warrant is a really good example of that. The case of the failed 21 July 2005 bomber who was returned here from Rome, where he had sought to escape British justice, demonstrates the benefit of working with our allies. That is why the director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, warned recently that British exit would
“make Britain’s job harder to fight crime and terrorism because it will not have the same access to very well developed European cooperation mechanisms that it currently has today”.
No, I am going to try to bring my remarks to a close.
Underlying all those questions is the greatest challenge that the peoples and countries of the world face at the beginning of the 21st century: how do we come to terms with, and deal with, the interdependence of human beings?
That is incredibly kind of the right hon. Gentleman. Just before he does bring his remarks to a close, I wonder whether he agrees about the importance of the EU when it comes to the environment. That has not been mentioned yet today, rather oddly, but the cross-border nature of environmental degradation means our involvement in the EU is more important than ever on everything from clean beaches, clean air, clean seas and a clean world.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Lady. The blue flag beaches are a really good example. We will not have clean beaches in Britain if we are not dealing with sewage coming from other European countries and vice versa. I shall make a point about climate change in a moment, on which Europe is absolutely vital.
The House is only too well aware that there are 7.2 billion people in the world, with 11 billion forecast by the end of the century. If we look at what has been happening on our continent in the past few months, we see the flow of refugees and Schengen under strain. That has tested Europe’s solidarity to the limit, but let us pause for a moment and imagine what the situation would be like now if the European Union did not exist. The truth is that it does not matter whether people are moving across the globe to flee persecution for a better life or to flee climate change. We are still going to have to deal with the consequences. We have not just a moral interest in dealing with climate change, poverty and conflict; we have a practical interest in doing so. From my experience as a Cabinet Minister, I can say that the fact that European countries came together in the run-up to Gleneagles and said, “This is what we are prepared to commit to” helped to unlock commitments on more aid and debt relief for the developing world. The fact that Europe went to climate change summit after climate change summit with a commitment it was prepared to put on the table, in the end, helped to unlock the deal in the Paris.
The final argument, which was the founding argument of the European project, is the fact that it has brought peace to a continent that for hundreds of years was scarred by war. Anyone who has walked along the rows of graves from the first and second world wars—what I would describe as the flower of two generations of Europeans—will see that some bear names and show how young they were. On other graves, there is no name at all. The gravestone simply reads, “A soldier of the Great War. Known unto God”. Nobody knew whose father, uncle, nephew or brother lay beneath those immaculately tended graves.
The one disagreement I have with the Foreign Secretary was when he said he felt no passion for Europe. I think we should be passionate about the greatest achievement of the European project, which was that by bringing nations together, originally through coal and steel, we would make future war, in the words of the Schuman declaration,
“not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”
The British people have to make a choice between the fear that we have somehow lost our identity, our influence and our place in the world because we are part of the European Union, and our experience that being in Europe has actually amplified, extended and increased Britain’s voice in the world, through which process the British people have benefited economically.
I have changed my views since 1975. I have been on a journey, and the party of which I am proud to be a member has been on a journey. We live in a changing world and if we look at that world, we see that the case for Europe is stronger now than ever. The story of Britain over the last century is one of a nation that has been at the heart of world affairs. It is the story of a country that has been at its best when we have been outward looking and confident. In the 20th century, we helped to build the institutions that have given us the chance to make progress: the UN, NATO and the EU. In the 21st century, we cannot reduce our influence—we cannot shut the curtains, close the door and hope that the rest of the world will go away.
This choice is ultimately about whether we face the future with optimism, or not. I believe that Britain’s national interest is best served by remaining part of the European Union, and I hope that the British people will come to that decision, too. It is now their choice.
Let me first congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on their speeches. I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister and his negotiating team on their courage and tenacity. I include especially my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who had to bear much of the heat and burden of the day. This was a remarkable achievement, and I wish it well. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, it is now for the British people to have their say, and have their say they will.
This is the 70th anniversary year of Churchill’s speech on the cause of a united Europe at Zurich on 19 September 1946. It has always struck me as ironic that that speech has been claimed by both sides of the European argument as being some sort of holy grail. I am daily on the receiving end of some vile emails and whatnot from people telling me that I am a traitor to my grandfather’s memory.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. May I say that although I disagree with him profoundly on this issue, I regard him with the utmost respect? He has held these views for a very long time with complete sincerity, and people disgrace themselves by their insults.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.
Of course, Churchill’s was a speech of great prescience and great vision. It was also a speech of the most profound analysis. Unlike most other hon. Members, I would like to reflect at a little more distance on Britain’s experience of the European Union and, in particular, my party’s long-standing commitment to the European cause.
It is worth the House reflecting for a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the tragedy of what Europe must have looked like in 1945. It is only the winking of an eye in terms of time and history. It was only 71 years ago that the Germans surrendered to the allies and signed the instrument of surrender. It was only 70 years ago that the Russians drew down the iron curtain on a broken and suffering eastern Europe. Behind that line, in the wicked grip of a ruthless regime, lay all the great capitals and states of eastern Europe—Warsaw, Prague, Berlin, Bucharest and Sofia.
Most of the rest of continental Europe lay shattered and broken, after six years of war, for the second time in 25 years. There remained a vast mass of bewildered human beings, who gazed forlornly at the wreckage of their homes, their nations, their lives, their families, their possessions and everything that they loved. But from that awful scene of desolation, sadness, ruin and despair a little over 70 years ago, something truly remarkable has been achieved, which has brought freedom, security and prosperity way beyond the dreams that anyone alive at the time could ever have contemplated.
Not only have the sovereign states of Europe risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of two world wars, but they have created of their own free will a European Union of 28 members comprising the biggest and most powerful single market in the world—one of 500 million people—in which we travel with our fellow Europeans in prosperity and peace in an era of constantly expanding co-operation, prosperity, security, safety and freedom.
When the cold war ended and the Berlin wall came down on that glorious, cold 9 November 1989, the Warsaw pact collapsed into dust without a shot being fired. Most of the eastern European countries joined the European Union, and most of them also joined NATO. Indeed, only six countries that are members of the European Union are not members of NATO.
Why did they join? They did so because the Europe and the NATO that they joined were and are prosperous, secure and free, and they wanted as soon as they could to find shelter in the institutions that had benefited from a period of peace, stability, freedom and security unprecedented in 1,000 years of European history. They hoped that it would protect them from a still predatory Russia. There is no argument but that the EU was absolutely central to those developments, and it is a very great credit to our country that we should have played such a leading role in seeing all this through.
The European Union has achieved a very great deal, but it cannot and it must not allow itself any self-congratulation in these very difficult times. Although we can see that the ice has melted on the landscape of the second half of the last century, and that power in all its forms has shifted and is shifting rapidly and unpredictably, we know how inadequately most of the institutions of the European Union have coped. This must be remedied.
As we look across Europe at all the achievements it has to its name, the pervasive mood is one of insecurity, lack of confidence and lack of optimism. Those characteristics are not found only in Europe. The troubles of Governments everywhere speak to the anxieties of their electorates and, sadly, to the mistrust in their politicians, their institutions and their leaders. The public across Europe know only too well that the world of easy answers, instant solutions and declaratory statements is a construct of fools, politicians and the media. As power shifts so rapidly and unpredictably, one might almost believe that we are today at the start of a new history.
Nowhere are these difficulties, insecurities and lack of understanding more obvious than in this country of ours. I am always wary of trying to work out what Churchill might have thought today, because I think it is an impertinence to do so. The one thing I absolutely know is that as the world has grown bigger for Britain, the opportunities greater, the chances more glittering for our commerce and our people, so the people who practise politics and government in this country, and especially those who write about it, have a sadly cramped and limited view of Europe and the rest of the world.
In this campaign, one of our most important tasks—all of us, whatever side we are on—is to remind our fellow citizens that we share a region, a climate, much of our history and demography, our economic space and our culture with the countries of the European Union, something that Churchill pointed out very clearly in his Zurich speech. Our business corporations, our leisure time, our intellectual and cultural life are all intertwined with Europe’s. We face shared problems in endless comparable ways. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) rightly mentioned all the environmental issues on which Europe has been extremely effective.
However, our political and deeply shallow media do not engage with any of that, or, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central pointed out, with the interests—vital to us—of our European partners, allies and friends. At least, that was the position until very recently. Now the media have finally woken up, like the great, slack monster they are, to the awesome prospect of combat, newspaper sales and competition as each side of the argument tries to persuade our fellow citizens of the right way.
I rejoice at the Prime Minister’s extraordinary achievement in Brussels, and I commit myself to making the same case to the best of my ability whenever I have an opportunity to do so. I am struck by the scale of support for the European Union from British commerce and businesses both large and small, and especially—in an important letter, published in The Daily Telegraph yesterday—from four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff and other former service chiefs, who drew attention to the great importance of the EU in the security sphere.
I believe that the case to remain is overwhelming on all fronts, but there is no point in pretending that the European Union does not face many major challenges that it has to find a better and more effective way of resolving. The refugee crisis, for example, has made the EU look deeply ineffective and purely reactive. It is clear that Schengen cannot survive without the most dramatic reform, and that the external borders of Europe need to be strengthened rapidly. None of us can feel happy that the European Union, which has brought such great stability to much of the European continent, now appears to be weak and uncertain. Its unpopularity matters, and it is damaging.
My hope is that our Government will seize the moment, and that, having rediscovered the great value of extremely energetic and skilled diplomacy, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe and others will really push ahead in the EU to drive—along with like-minded colleagues and friends—the big reforms that Europe must swallow. They will find willing friends who want to do the same. There is a huge agenda in which Britain can and will play a leading role. On economic reform, on security, on energy, on defence and on foreign policy, there are practical and radical steps that can be taken.
May I finally indulge myself, Madam Deputy Speaker, by recalling the end of Churchill’s great speech to the Congress of Europe in The Hague in 1948, remembering that the founding fathers of Europe, with a noble vision, built this astonishing edifice on firm and very lasting foundations? This is what Churchill said at that conference:
“A high and a solemn responsibility rests upon us here this afternoon in this Congress of a Europe striving to be reborn. If we allow ourselves to be rent and disordered by pettiness and small disputes, if we fail in clarity of view or courage in action, a priceless occasion may be cast away for ever. But if we all pull together and pool the luck and the comradeship—and we shall need all the comradeship and not a little luck…and firmly grasp the larger hopes of humanity, then it may be that we shall move into a happier sunlit age, when all the little children who are now growing up in this tormented world may find themselves not the victors nor the vanquished in the fleeting triumphs of one country over another in the bloody turmoil of…war, but the heirs of all the treasures of the past and the masters of all the science, the abundance and the glories of the future.”
Those of us who fight the good fight to remain will do so with confidence, but also with humility and profound respect for those who hold long-standing views that are very different from ours, and in the sure knowledge that this issue is about the fundamental place in the world, for a generation to come, of a confident, open, engaged, pro-European Great Britain. Faîtes courage!
I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). I have not always found myself in such agreement with him over the years for which we have been in this place—if I remember correctly, we were elected on the same day back in 1987—but I am delighted to follow him today, not just because we are going to be on the same side in this referendum campaign, which may be another first, but because of the nature of the argument that he pursued in his speech. I am convinced that, from the “in” point of view, the argument must be presented at that level. It must be about the big issues, the things that really matter, if we are to get people out of their homes and into the polling stations to vote for continued membership of the European Union.
Perhaps I should not tempt my luck, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman’s “hommage” to his grandfather’s achievements might spread to one of the other institutions in which he exerted a substantial influence: the Council of Europe—along with the European convention and the Strasbourg Court—in which 47 countries have been brought together in the cause of human rights. That was one of the achievements of Winston Churchill, and, indeed, the Scottish lawyer David Maxwell Fyfe. I trust and believe that we can count on the right hon. Gentleman’s support when that battle is waged in the not too distant future.
I mentioned the level of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. Let me appeal to the Foreign Secretary and, through him, the Prime Minister. As I tried to explain earlier this week, when we look at the politics, we see that it is inevitable—numerically, arithmetically—that if the case for Europe is to be won, the bulk of the votes that will win it must come from the Labour party, the Scottish National party, the Green party and Plaid Cymru. I would have included the Liberal Democrats, but, although they are the most pro-European party, as they constantly remind us, they seem today to have deserted the cause—momentarily, I hope.
The reason for that is simple. In last year’s general election, the Conservative party achieved 37% of the vote. Even if the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are successful in carrying a majority of that vote into the “in” camp in the coming referendum, as I hope they will, that will represent roughly 20% of the electorate. To win a referendum, as I know only too well, it is necessary to achieve not 37% or 45%, but more than 50%. Arithmetically, the bulk of that winning vote—as I hope it will be—will come from people who voted for Labour, the SNP, the Green party and Plaid Cymru, on the progressive side of politics; and that affects the way in which arguments must be presented.
I say this with great respect to the Foreign Secretary. I know that Tory Ministers arguing a pro-European cause are like a wagon train surrounded by hostiles, and that they therefore have to pitch a certain type of argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) observed that the Foreign Secretary had begun his speech by using the language of scepticism and suspicion to show that he was still a Eurosceptic at heart, despite his conversion to the “in” cause. An argument of that kind may be useful in fending off the hostiles, but it will not necessarily grip the attention of the bulk of voters who have to be convinced by the European argument. For the Labour party and ourselves, the achievements of social Europe are hugely important—the achievements that have come and those that still could be. For the Green party, ourselves and the Labour party, environmental issues are of huge moment. These are things that have to be decided—even more decided now—on that continental scale. On the arguments on refugees, those of us on the progressive side of politics want to see the country do more in terms of solidarity with the refugee crisis that has beset Europe, in addition to being positive and confident about Europe’s achievements—the peace that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex spoke about; the prosperity of the single market; the achievements on workers’ rights which converted so many on the progressive side of politics in the ’80s and ’90s to the European cause. This argument cannot be presented as if it was just about the largest faction in the Conservative party; it has to be presented to command majority support across the country.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an eloquent speech, as ever, but may I ask a simple question: does he think left of centre voters across the UK and in Scotland really support a political construct that has inflicted penury on millions of people in southern Europe in pursuit of a discredited monetary policy driven essentially by Germany? Is he proud of that; is that socially progressive?
The hon. Gentleman allows me to say it is exactly the sort of area we want to debate, because we want to see a Europe that builds recovery, not, as he puts it, that enforces penury. That is exactly the sort of argument for why we want to change the focus of Europe in terms of how it achieves things.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall certainly give way to him slightly later.
I wanted to reflect on one point where I have particular experience and I think a bit of honesty is called for. I was the First Minister who lost a referendum and then resigned the next day. I did that because I do not think it is credible for a First Minister or Prime Minister to continue in office in these circumstances. I do not believe the Prime Minister—and I do not think probably the majority of his party and certainly of the country believes him—when he says he would sail on in office with a negative vote, to negotiate out of the EU, after telling people it was essential to the security and prosperity of the country, as he put it last week, for us to be in it.
There is evidence to suggest the Prime Minister has form on these matters. On 17 September 2014 he said in a statement that the question in the Scottish referendum was not about his future, but was about the future of Scotland and that he would continue regardless of the result, but by 28 September—11 days later—he confided to Scotland on Sunday the following:
“If the vote had been for Scotland to have left the UK, I genuinely would have been heartbroken. I would have felt winded and wounded. Emotionally, one would have thought, ‘I’m so saddened by this. I find it difficult to go on’.”
By “difficult to go on” I think he meant in office rather than anything more substantial.
That attitude has been confirmed by a number of sources since. I suspect that the idea that a Prime Minister could continue in office having lost such a vote is, to coin a phrase, “for the birds”, which is exactly why the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is right in one bit of his apparent calculation: that an opening would allow a new Prime Minister, as he puts it, to negotiate our way back into some sort of European construct on better terms. The second half of that probably is “for the birds”, but at least in the first half about a vacancy being available the hon. Gentleman’s calculation may be right. I think the Prime Minister should own up, because I think his current position lacks some degree of credibility.
The nature of this debate is already having big impacts on politics. Earlier this week, while people in this place were understandably fixed on the contest between the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip and the Prime Minister in the European debate, there was the settlement of the Scottish financial position. Huge tribute should be paid to the First Minister of Scotland and the Deputy First Minister, and indeed to those on all sides of the negotiating team, on bringing that settlement about. But I wondered about the rapid change in position that was taking place, where only a couple of weeks ago the Treasury position was to arrange a £7 billion reduction from Scotland’s finances, which became last week £3.5 billion, £2.5 billion earlier this week, and then ended up at zero by Tuesday afternoon. I am prepared to suggest that one reason why that change of heart may well have come about is that if it had not come about—[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary says there was no change: believe me, the dogs in the street in Scotland know there was a substantial change over the last few weeks, and one reason why it may have come about, I suspect, is that if the Prime Minister was in the position of not being able to deliver his pre-referendum promises or vows to Scotland, he would perhaps find it difficult to sustain the argument that 27 other European leaders might be delivering their pre-referendum vows to him. We are already seeing aspects of this debate having a very substantial influence on politics.
I asked the Foreign Secretary earlier about the circumstances that would arise if the vote went for out and when article 50 would be invoked, and I have been reading the Library paper in preparation on exactly that issue. The Library paper suggests that the likely formulation would be that there would be a vote in this Chamber before the Government invoked the position, but the Government could say it was an Executive decision and just go ahead anyway. What it then goes on to argue is of great importance.
I wish to clarify something. I answered the right hon. Gentleman on this point earlier, but I have taken advice since. It is the Government’s position that if the electorate give a clear decision in this referendum to leave, the Government will proceed to serve an article 50 notice; there will be no need for a further process in this House.
The Foreign Secretary says now, “No debate, no decision in the House”—right, fine. And I think that could be defended on the basis that it would be a brave person who took the position that the electorate had voted in a referendum and would attempt to gainsay it. But what I was going on to say to the Foreign Secretary is that perhaps he should pay some attention to what is in the Library paper, which goes on to put the position of what might be happening in the devolved legislatures. It says:
“As noted above, the competences of devolved legislatures and executives are circumscribed by EU law, and some positive responsibilities are placed upon the executives to implement that law. An argument could be made that the removal of these features on leaving the EU would prima facie alter devolved competence, and, insofar as it involved UK legislation, would require legislative consent from the devolved legislatures under the Sewel Convention.”
They are the ones I made at the start of my speech in suggesting that the debate should be focused on the importance of Europe in terms of social policy, the environment, why we should have solidarity in terms of refugees, and the achievements of Europe in keeping the peace in Europe, ensuring prosperity and workers’ rights. These are the arguments we are going to focus on.
It is important to pursue the end of my current point, however. The Foreign Secretary has just said no further process or vote in this Parliament would be necessary for the Government to invoke article 50, because what Parliament would gainsay a referendum vote across the UK? But in the possible circumstance that Scotland has just voted in favour while the UK has voted against, what self-respecting Scottish Parliament, having a vote, as is indicated through the Sewel convention procedure, would not vote in the way the Scottish people had voted in such a referendum, by exactly the same argument?
Even if Scotland were to vote to leave the EU, the case the right hon. Gentleman is making for proper consultation and a proper constitutional process would be just as powerful. Does he agree that whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Government remain answerable to Parliament and they should not proceed to any precipitate or even self-harming action, which a precipitate move to article 50 might be, unless they have consulted Parliament and gained its consent for the next steps? In my view, that might require some discussion with all our European partners and consultation with other parts of the United Kingdom.
I was pointing out that if the Government’s position that such a process would not be necessary because there had been a referendum vote, where does that leave the Scottish Parliament, if, under the conventions I have cited from the Library document, it was to have a parliamentary vote, having had a positive popular vote—a yes, an “in” vote—for Europe, using exactly the same argument as the Foreign Secretary now deploys to announce the democratic short-circuiting of parliamentary convention? The Foreign Secretary should think through the implications of this argument.
Someone else has thought through those implications. This is another first for me as having agreed with the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) for the first time in 30 years, more or less, I now find myself agreeing with the former Prime Minister Tony Blair for just about the first time—certainly for the first time in the past 10 to 15 years. He made the following comment in a French radio interview—we hope the translation is good:
“In my opinion…if the United Kingdom votes to leave Europe, Scotland will vote to leave the United Kingdom.”
As I say, for once I think the former Prime Minister has put his finger on the heart of it.
The First Minister of Scotland has also alluded to these possibilities and she is well justified in doing so, because during the referendum campaign of 2014 one of the arguments made by the no side was that we would jeopardise our position in the European Union if Scotland voted yes. That sounds ironic now, given the process we are going through, but none the less that was one of the key arguments. Secondly, she is justified because during last year’s general election, she described exactly these circumstances as being a change in material circumstances which would justify another referendum and she then received a mandate of 56 out of the 59 seats in the House of Commons from Scotland. When the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), from the Labour Benches, says that we will vote as one United Kingdom and dismisses this point as if it was of very little consequence, he should remember that it is exactly that attitude which resulted in the Labour party not only being part of one United Kingdom, but having only one Member from Scotland to represent it in that United Kingdom.
The arguments I have made about Scotland could also be applied to Wales. Certainly, the Welsh opinion polls show a much less clearcut position on the European issue. This Library note also points out that in 2011 the people of Wales voted in a referendum massively for part of a referendum settlement that included the instruction that members of the Welsh Executive were to be compliant with EU law. They already have a pre-existing referendum mandate which could embrace parts of the European cause.
In summary, I would say two things to the Government in this campaign. First, they should recognise that in order to build an “in” majority, which is the objective, there will have to be a great deal more reflection and emphasis on the arguments that are likely to inspire support from a range of political opinion, as opposed to arguments that will fend off the remaining Eurosceptics who have decided to vote no. Secondly, in particular, the Government should have a great deal more sensitivity to that range of arguments than has been displayed thus far. In the space of the past week, since the referendum was announced, the Prime Minister has disregarded the Leader of the Opposition, and the views of the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland on the timing of the referendum. That is not an auspicious start in having the sort of broad campaign that can result in victory.
I find it interesting—fascinating, almost—that the right hon. Gentleman wants to have a veto for Scotland over Brexit yet is very happy for Scotland to be part of a European Union where we have qualified majority voting and the vote can go against our interests time and time again. That really does happen, so how can he marry the two?
I can do it in a number of ways, one of which I shall now describe. Independent countries in Europe that are outside the euro area control 99% of their taxation base—everything except the VAT contribution. The figure for Scotland within the United Kingdom will be 25%, even after—if it is implemented—this week’s settlement. I regard 25% control of the tax base as not being independence in any meaningful sense, whereas I regard 99% control as meaningful independence and therefore worth the sacrifice in sovereignty that is inevitably made to achieve objectives such as peace, environmental protection and having solidarity when we face a continental crisis. That, in essence, is the difference between a country being independent in the European Union and being a devolved entity within this United Kingdom.
I hope that the arguments we put forward in this campaign will reflect the complexities of the coalition which is going to be required and which will have to extend far beyond the ranks of the Conservative party if we are to have a resounding in majority come June and the referendum.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), because both of them have sought and achieved a level of debate that this subject certainly deserves. I wish to say something to my right hon. Friend, and I am sure he would agree with me on this. As he knows, I have utter admiration for his grandfather, being one who was born on 10 May 1940, when he assumed the prime ministership of this country and when Hitler invaded Holland and France. However, many of Sir Winston Churchill’s pronouncements on the issue of Europe changed as time progressed. In particular, he said at one point, much later than 1948, that we should be “associated but not absorbed”. The movements that were taking place and which were apparent to Sir Anthony Eden and to others in the late 1940s and early 1950s did have a significant impact on the thinking of our great, great former Prime Minister Sir Winston himself. In saying that we should be associated but not absorbed, he had understood that there were movements afoot that were not in the interests of the United Kingdom.
Sir Winston also said that we should tell the truth to the British people. He went on to make it clear that what he meant by that was that the British people will follow you if you tell them that truth. Sadly, I believe that what has been happening in the recent months, and in the whole of this debate, is just as I indicated in my response to the Prime Minister’s statement on 3 February, when I said that he was bypassing not only his promises, but his principles. I also said that I thought there was a problem with this expression “legally binding and irreversible” and with the stitch-up, as I put it, with respect to the political decision that I anticipated would be taken in a few days’ time and which of course was taken on 10 February. I thought this expression “legally binding and irreversible” would lead on 23 June, which has turned out to be the referendum date, to something on which the voters would not be able to rely. It is strong words to say that I believe the voter is already being cheated in this respect.
I say that for this reason, and with prudence and with care: right at the heart of this is voters’ trust. I also said that on 3 February. The truth is that, for all the arguments that have developed over these words “legally binding and irreversible”, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary very carefully avoided using the word “irreversible”. He mentioned “legally binding”. Indeed, the conclusions to the summit on 17 to 18 February specifically referred to “legally binding” and specifically did not refer to the word “irreversible”. There is a good reason for that, as we have said on numerous occasions in the European Scrutiny Committee. We have said it in our reports recently and in our cross-examination of the Foreign Secretary the other day. This is all about voter trust.
Let us take as an example the removal of the words “ever-closer union” in respect of the United Kingdom. As I had to point out to the Foreign Secretary, that is not in the preamble; it is in article 1 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Therefore, any removal requires treaty change, but we are not being given treaty change. We are relying on an international agreement. I will not say that such an agreement does not have a certain legal character, but it does not bind the European Court of Justice. It does not guarantee that other member states may veto any treaty change that might follow. It also does not guarantee what the European Court of Justice may say about it. It does not take into account the fact that other states will be holding referendums on this subject, of which Ireland is one such example, the outcome of which cannot possibly be predicted—not as said by a Member of Parliament on the “Today” programme yesterday.
Like many Conservative Members of Parliament, we wished the Prime Minister well as he went forward with negotiations. Obviously, we are very disappointed with the gossamer-thin substance of the agreement with which he came back a week or so ago. Is not the offence compounded by the fact that we were led to believe in the Bloomberg speech in January 2013 that we were looking at a fundamental renegotiation of our relationship with the European Union, and that clearly and sadly has not happened?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I made that very point on 3 February in my response to the Prime Minister’s statement. The Prime Minister also said that our democracy in our Westminster Parliament was the root of our freedom of choice—that was the essence of what he was saying. I also have fears about the framework of this agreement and the developments by successive Governments in successive treaties. For example, I voted yes in 1975. While I pursued the Government and harried them over the Maastricht rebellion, the situation changed dramatically when the Maastricht treaty was brought into being.
Very little. As I have said, these were decisions that were taken in 1972 on the basis of a White Paper, which said that we would always retain a veto. That is the difference. In fact, it has been whittled away by successive Governments and I have opposed them from the moment that I saw the Maastricht treaty to the present day, as the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well.
I want to go back to this problem of voter trust. The current Eurobarometer poll suggests a minus 60 factor in trust throughout the whole of Europe. Only 43% turn out in the European parliamentary elections. There is no connection between the citizen and the European Union. This is not about Europe. Many of us on the Conservative Benches love Europe. As someone who has two Spanish grandsons, one Spanish granddaughter, a Greek granddaughter, a daughter born in France, and a son once married to an Italian, I simply say that we do not have to be anti-European to be pro-democracy. That is a very powerful and important point for us all to bear in mind.
I am deeply worried about this refusal to engage with this word “irreversible.” It cannot be guaranteed. It is like buying a shiny second-hand car on a post-dated cheque with a dud guarantee. That is what we are being offered on 23 June. Unless the voter knows that they are actually going to get what the Foreign Secretary described as the “whole package”, and that they can be guaranteed that it will be given and that it will come into effect, they have no reason to have any confidence in answering the question of whether to remain in Europe or to leave. That is a severe indictment, which is why I say that the Government are effectively cheating the voter on that day.
There is also the issue about the democracy of this country. We agreed in our vote in 1972, and in subsequent accession treaties and other treaties that were added into the European Communities Act 1972, that we would voluntarily accept this as a diminution of our sovereignty in the sense that it was being put through the parliamentary system. The other day, the Prime Minister referred to an illusion of sovereignty. I do not wish to elaborate on that other than to say that it is not an illusion. Sovereignty is about the right of the people to choose, in general elections, the kind of laws under which they wish to be governed. In this House of Commons, it is not illusion. It is a fact as well as being a question of jurisprudence. That is why it is so important. People fought and died—as my own father died in the last war—fighting for the right of the British people to resist tyranny. It is a great mistake to talk about sovereignty in terms of an illusion.
There is also the question of how much influence we actually have in the European Union. I could give some further description of the voting system, but much of what happens is decided in smoke-filled rooms and not by voting itself.
Let me begin by saying that, while I have enjoyed all the speeches so far in today’s debate, I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) for a most moving speech, which I think the whole House found pleasure in hearing.
The first week of this referendum campaign has been dominated by the positioning of members of the Cabinet and the more Godly members of the Conservative party. It is of course of interest—we are in politics so we know that it is of interest—when a political party is divided. The first point that I want to make today is that, however interesting that may be, this referendum and the decision facing the country are far more important than the position of any individual politician, the share price of any individual politician, the career ambitions of any individual politician, or indeed divisions within any single political party. It is about the future of the country. The question on the ballot paper, of course, is whether we remain in or leave the European Union, but beneath that question lie layer upon layer of fundamental issues. It is to a few of those that I shall address my remarks.
The first is the tone in which this referendum campaign is conducted. I am clearly in favour of the UK remaining in, but I want also to understand the impulse of some of those who want to take us out. I speak not principally of the leading and familiar advocates of Euroscepticism in this House, but of my constituents and many of the constituents of other Members who have concerns about this. It is important for those of us who want the UK to remain in to acknowledge the sense of loss about the changes wrought by globalisation that have made many people feel that they do not have a stake in the country’s story. It is important to acknowledge with respect that sense of loss.
Another issue underlying the question on the ballot paper is our economic and trading position. I will not go through the statistics, but we are part of a single market of 500 million people. It is the main destination for our exports. That is a big reason why as a country we are successful in attracting inward investment from both inside and outside the European Union. I believe in a UK economy that champions the activity of making things, as well as our great services. Let us consider one product, for example—a Ford car. These days such a car is likely to have its engine made here in the UK, but the rest of the car made elsewhere in the European Union—one product that contains both imports and exports. This is how modern manufacturing works. It is a supply chain and a product brought together across different borders in the European Union, with no tariffs, according to a single set of rules.
I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has brought up the issue of trade. Given that the economic powerhouse, Iceland, has managed to negotiate a free trade deal with the world’s second largest economy, does he not share my confidence in Great Britain’s ability to negotiate free trade deals with growing economies around the world?
I have looked at some of the trade agreements negotiated between individual countries and China, and I recommend that the hon. Gentleman does too. Those trade agreements often allow complete and free access for the Chinese end of the operation, with severely limited and tariff-imposed access for the smaller country, so I disagree with the view that we should have a choice between trading with the rest of the world and trading with the EU. We should do both.
Given the time limit, I shall make progress, if I may.
Another issue underlying the question on the ballot paper, and to which my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary referred, is that of employment rights. The EU is not just a trading relationship or a market. There is a social Europe aspect. Six million workers in the UK have gained new or enhanced rights to paid holidays. Around 400,000 part-time workers, most of them women and many of them low-paid, gained improved pay and conditions when equal treatment rights were introduced. I repeat the point I made in my question to my right hon. Friend. When people attack red tape and bureaucracy from the EU, it is very often those things that they mean—the right to decency at work. As my right hon. Friend said, parents’ right to enjoy time with their newborn baby is not needless bureaucracy. This is part of a decent, civilised economy. That, too, is on the ballot paper when the issue is debated.
Then I come to the question raised most eloquently by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex—the question of security. I will not repeat in a less eloquent manner the argument that he made. We ignore at our peril the achievements of peace that the European Union has helped to guarantee. This is an argument not just of interests, but of values. We should not underestimate the importance of resolving conflicts peacefully and of common commitments to democracy, human rights and respect for one another’s borders. Compare those with the way that conflicts in Europe were resolved before the European Union was in place. Of course, the European Union is not perfect. I have served on the Council of Ministers and the patience even of a pro-European like me can be tested by several hours in the Social Affairs Council, with the headphones on, but I always stopped to check myself and say however frustrating this might be, compared with the way that decisions used to be reached or conflicts used to be resolved in Europe, it is a great improvement.
On security, we have to ask ourselves who outside the European Union would be pleased to see a British exit or pleased to see a wider break-up of the European Union. The answer most clearly is President Putin. No one would be more pleased than him to see our security compromised in that way.
I will come to Scotland shortly.
I want to quote General Sir Peter Wall, the former Chief of the Army General Staff, who said on the BBC last year:
“Unlike the Cold War when things were more binary . . . in a modern interconnected world it’s not just the defence capability that is going to be fundamental to our security. It’s going to be a number of other issues too.”
In today’s world, security is a combination of hard power and soft power, so when we speak of security in the European Union, we are not talking about a European army. We are talking about the values associated with being a member. Anyone who doubts their importance should talk to the members that live close to Russia’s border. They will confirm that being part of the EU is important to their security.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) asked me about Scotland. As we have heard already in the debate today and in comments in recent days, the integrity of the United Kingdom is also on the ballot paper when we cast our vote. That is clear. It seems to me a great pity that those who profess to be the most committed to the United Kingdom are cavalier about the future unity of the country, which is at stake through the referendum.
Whatever the actual words on the ballot paper, I believe that underlying them are fundamental issues for us. Perhaps the most important of all is what kind of country we are going to be. The easiest thing in the world is to look at some of the issues that we see on our television screens—the flow of refugees, the economic problems that have afflicted Europe in recent years—and to conclude that the best thing we could do is to walk away, pull up the drawbridge and say it is all too difficult. Though an answer that might be, I do not believe that it is leadership. In the end, this is a question of leadership, and that is why I believe the most important response to those issues is to resolve to play a full part with our partners and allies in facing up to them. That is why I want to see us remain in the European Union and to see the UK continue as an outward-looking, open, confident, engaged player in the world.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who made a very thoughtful contribution. In response to his comment about Britain walking away from Europe, let me say that clearly the United Kingdom will never do that, simply because of our geography. Also, we will reach out to the rest of the world. We talk about migration, and clearly we are not going to walk away from our responsibilities in that regard. As a member of the International Development Committee, I am delighted that we are now spending 0.7% of our GDP on international development, much of which is going to Syria and to help with the refugee crisis.
In many ways I feel sorry for the British electorate. I am glad that they will get a vote, because that is important from a democratic point of view—we are talking about something huge here—but at the same time they are going to have to pick out what is true and what is not. Over the next few months they will hear a lot of propaganda, and from both sides of the argument, whether from those who wish to leave the European Union, such as myself, about how wonderful it will be, and they will have to work out how much truth there is in that—I genuinely believe it—or from those who want to remain. They are using all sorts of arguments to promote their cause, including saying, “It’s going to be Armageddon the next day, if not worse.” Clearly that is not true either. As the Prime Minister said on Monday, we are a great country, and we will remain a great country whether we leave the European Union or not.
I am delighted that the Prime Minister has given the British people an opportunity to vote, because I think that their not having such an opportunity has been one of the great denials of democracy. I have been an MP for 23 years, and I remember sitting on the Opposition Back Benches when Tony Blair explained to the House from the Dispatch Box that the Lisbon treaty had been changed and was a dramatically different document and that therefore the British people would not get a referendum, despite having been promised one.
First, the only party that has ever given the British people a choice in a referendum on our membership of the European Union, or the EEC as it was at the time, is the Labour party. Secondly, the promise to which the hon. Gentleman refers was on the EU constitution, not the Lisbon treaty; it was an entirely different issue.
I looked at both documents, and the funny thing is that about 98% of it was the same; they cut and pasted it and it was virtually the same document. I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at the time, and I remember European Commission officials telling us, “Don’t worry; it’s virtually the same document.” They had one message for the people of the United Kingdom and a completely different one for the European Union.
It was a think-tank—possibly Open Europe—that made available a consolidated version so that one could see, by putting the documents side by side, that there were no substantive differences. The only purpose of that treaty was to get it through without asking the people whether they wanted it, and that, I am unashamed to say, was the trigger that brought me here.
If Tony Blair thought that he was doing this project any favours by denying the British people a referendum, he was greatly mistaken. I think that the reason he withdrew the promise of a referendum was that he thought the British people would vote no. Ireland regularly has referendums on treaties, and it sometimes has a second one, but normally after another discussion with the European Union in which parts of the treaty are changed to make it more favourable to Ireland. Had we voted no to the Lisbon treaty, I suspect that there might have been a different project for the United Kingdom—a third way, to use Tony Blair’s favourite phrase—in a more associative relationship with the European Union, based more on trade than on the political entity that we know a number of European Union leaders want. I think that Tony Blair did this project no favours whatsoever.
I will vote to leave the European Union because I love my country, but I respect those who will vote to remain, because they love their country too; both sides believe that they are acting for the betterment of their country. My grandfather fought in the first world war and my father fought in the second world war, and they did so to give democratic rights to countries within Europe, and indeed across the rest of the world. Devolution is a keystone of British policy, bringing power closer to the people, but I believe that the leading elites of Europe might as well be from another planet. Most normal people in this country, and indeed across the rest of Europe, cannot name a single member of the Commission. We have scores of these faceless governing elites, many of them on salaries way above the Prime Minister’s.
That reminds me of this great red card that we have been told will allow us to stop legislation we do not like, so long as we join together with another 14 countries to block it. The idea was ridiculed by William Hague in this Chamber when it was first suggested. Even if the legislation we were trying to block proposed the murder of the first born, he argued, we would be unlikely to get 14 other countries to come together in the timescale that we would be given. Remember what happened—this is a measure of how influential we are in the rest of Europe—when we tried to stop Juncker becoming President. We went on a great salesmanship deal throughout the rest of the European Union, and how many countries did we get to support us? The answer is one—Hungary—out of 27.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised the Government’s failed attempt to stop Mr Juncker. That was not because the European Union is some evil organisation; it was because the Government were completely useless at finding allies. When Labour were in government, we made a similar effort to stop a candidate and we were successful. The answer is to make friends and do the job better.
I think that the answer is for us to have a veto on things we do not like. That is what sovereignty is all about. When I fight a general election, I want to be able to deliver what is in my party’s manifesto. I raised earlier the issue of child benefit going to youngsters who have never set foot in the United Kingdom. One of our manifesto promises was to stop that, but now we are told that we cannot do that. That is the nub of the problem; we are putting promises in a manifesto that we cannot deliver because the European Union will not let us.
I will not, because there is no more injury time.
This is all about sovereignty. We talk about the illusion of sovereignty. Well, if anyone wants to see it, they should come to the Palace of Westminster. If we cannot deliver the promises that we put in our own manifesto because a governing elite somewhere else will not let us, that is the illusion of sovereignty here in Westminster.
I will not.
It is exactly the same for the abolition of VAT on sanitary towels. It should be something we decide at Westminster. It should have nothing to do with the European Union whatsoever. I believe that if my constituents vote for me and then they do not like what my party has done in government after five years, they can get rid of us so that the laws can be changed. That does not happen at the moment, and that is one of the reasons why I wish to leave the European Union. We talk about a seven-year brake. Would anybody buy a car when they had to get permission from somebody else to use the brake and when the brake was going to go after seven years? We would have to be bonkers to buy a car like that.
Trade is mentioned time and time again. Will hon. Members please read the House of Commons paper that was mentioned? It shows that the deficit in goods and services with the European Union is huge—with Germany alone, it is more than £27 billion. I assume that Mercedes will be the first to knock on Angela Merkel’s door if Britain decides to leave, and it will say, “Don’t you dare meddle with the trade agreements the United Kingdom wants with the European Union.” Of course, we are also members of the World Trade Organisation, which will give us protection. I simply do not believe that the other countries of the European Union are vindictive and spiteful and that they would want to cut their noses off to spite their faces; indeed, if they were, would these be the sort of people we wanted to associate with?
Security is mentioned time and time again, and this issue does worry me. More than 1 million people have come into the European Union over the last 12 months. It is predicted that, by 2020, 3.6 million people will have entered Germany alone. Even now, the chief of Europol estimates that 5,000 jihadists have managed to enter. At what stage will Germany give passports to the people who have arrived there, and where will those people go? Many of them will come to the United Kingdom; they will have German passports, and there will be little we can do to stop them. That worries me.
Sadly, I do not think the people of Paris—whether at Charlie Hebdo or the nightclub that was attacked—felt any safer last year because they were in the European Union. That is not security. I want us to secure our own borders. That will allow us to have the power to control who comes into the United Kingdom. As the razor wire goes up all over Europe, let us take this once-in-a-lifetime chance to take back control, put the security of our people first and put power back in the hands of the British people.
It is the British people I would like to end with. We have not had a referendum on this issue since 1975. The Foreign Secretary told us there will be no second referendum, and I believe him. This will be the only opportunity we get in my lifetime to take back control, to leave the European Union and, while still trading with it, to return sovereignty to this country. I hope the people of Britain will take that chance on freedom day.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans). Very little of what he said did I agree with, but I appreciate the way he presented it.
Like some Members around the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman will remember the late Eric Forth, who was the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst—he was a fellow Member for part of the London borough of Bromley. Very little did I agree with him politically, either, but he once said in this Chamber that when those on the two Front Benches agree with each other, we should start counting the spoons. That is a reasonable idea. However, when not just those on the two Front Benches but the leader of the third largest party agree with each other, we need to be very careful in our assessment of what is going on: they might be right, but we have to open ourselves up to the idea that they might not be. Once there is a consensus on these things, it becomes almost unforgiveable to deviate from it.
I do not normally take part in European affairs debates, because they have had a tendency in the past to become almost theological in their content and in the way they are conducted. However, I want to make a few observations. I was one of a small minority of Labour Members who were always in favour of a referendum; indeed, before the last election, I joined a group called Labour for a Referendum. I was in a minority among the members of Labour for a Referendum in so far as I did not join that group on the basis of a fixed position of wanting to get out of the European Union. However, I came to a conclusion some years ago—one Conservative Member mentioned this—that things had changed so much in the years since the last referendum that it was time the British people were consulted again on this issue. That is the only way to achieve any kind of lasting settlement.
Others in my party mistakenly resisted the idea, even though the Prime Minister brought forward a Bill in 2013 to make provision for a referendum. What happened in 2013 and what Harold Wilson did in 1975 were almost identical: 1975 was a device for trying to prevent the Labour party from splitting asunder, and 2013 served exactly the same purpose, but for the Conservative party.
Many Labour Members resisted the referendum. They said, quite rightly, that the period before it would create uncertainty. As others have said, uncertainty is bad for business—one need only look at the performance of the pound on the international exchange markets this week. I think foreign exchange traders must be somewhat nervous creatures, because the fact of the referendum has now been around for four years, and it was obvious that it would take place once the current Government won the last election. It was there for all to see that there would be a referendum sometime before the end of 2017.
I am sure the international finance community will be heartened by the hon. Gentleman’s solicitude about the operation of the international markets. On a serious point, does he agree that there is a gap in the market for the decent, patriotic, thoughtful Labour voters who are Eurosceptic and believe that our future lies outside the European Union as a global trading nation? Those people are being let down by their own Front Benchers, who are, in effect, ignoring those views.
If I have time, I shall come on to that, but I broadly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point, because it does have validity right across the argument. As the hon. Member for Ribble Valley said, there are those who say they love their country and want to vote out and those who say they love their country and want to stay in. We have to give due regard to everybody’s position.
The other failure of leadership was not so much on the business considerations but came from those who said that the British public might come to the wrong conclusion, so the only way to protect against that was not to allow them the choice in the first place. That was a mistake. I am not saying it is the only reason the Labour party did not win the general election last year, but it would not have been an incentive for people to vote for Labour that we were standing against the referendum while the Conservatives were standing in favour of it.
Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) and the Minister for Europe, I served on the Committee on the original Wharton Bill, as it was known at the time. Everybody knows that it was not the Bill of the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) but No. 10’s Bill, and it was given to him when he drew the No. 1 position in the private Members’ Bill ballot. A very entertaining and illuminating experience it was, too. I remember the hon. Member for Stockton South standing up at the start of the proceedings and introducing the programme motion, quite properly as the promoter of the Bill, then sitting down and for the next five weeks not saying a word until we concluded our proceedings and he indulged in the usual civilities that we have at the end of every Committee stage to thank everybody for taking part.
The Minister for Europe was by far the most active person on the whole Committee, although I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East was the more convincing. The whole thing was a pantomime designed to save the Tory party from itself—or at least part of itself. The parallel I drew between Harold Wilson’s manoeuvrings in 1975 and those of the current Prime Minister works to some degree, but unfortunately Harold Wilson only kept the Labour party together for less than a decade, and then it split over this very issue.
I actually voted no in 1975. Conservative Members have been saying that they voted yes and Labour Members have been saying that we voted no, and I think for probably the same reasons—what we expected and wanted the then EEC, now the EU, to become. I am less inclined to vote no this time, although I am not entirely certain, because I have many concerns about how the EU operates. Strangely enough, I agree with the Mayor of London, the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) in this regard: I think that Britain can have a future outside the European Union. I just do not think it is the optimal future for the British people. Where I disagree entirely with him is on the risible and laughable idea that we can vote no today so that we can vote yes tomorrow. That is completely bizarre and untenable. I admire the attempt by the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) to breathe life into the idea of a second vote by saying that the Government should not respond immediately to the result of a negative vote, but there will not be a second vote under any circumstances and we should have the courage to face up to that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) also wrote recently that the British people are always right, and I agree with him. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me and the Mayor of London that, whatever the result—in or out—the British people will be right, and all of us, whatever school of thought we might hold to today, need to respect that?
I would not take such an absolutist view. The British people may or may not be right—that is a matter for a higher judgment—but, as a democrat, I believe that, whatever they vote for, it is incumbent on the Government and Parliament to abide by it. If in later years we discover that it was all a great mistake, well, c’est la vie. I cannot help feeling that the calculations of the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip have more to do with the succession to the Tory leadership than with the best interests of this country or of Europe.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am in my own time now.
I do not think that the deal that the Prime Minister came back with will be the key determinant of this argument. Rather, it is going to be about people’s overall impression of the EU and of Britain’s place in Europe and its family of nations. It will also be about the merits of the rival advocates, as well as of their arguments, as we attempt to clear the fog of claim and counterclaim. We currently have the strange spectacle of the Secretary of State for Justice being in open dispute with the Attorney General over the legal status of the agreement that the Prime Minister brought back over the weekend. That argument has been rehearsed again this afternoon, and I am sure it will complicate the issue for the next four months. Incidentally, I think the British people, rightly or wrongly, will be heartily sick of the whole discussion by the time we get to 23 June.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley said that this is the first chance he has had in his life to vote on this issue. This will be my second chance, if I survive to 23 June, which I sincerely hope I do, although I am sure that view is not universally held. It is such a critical issue for the future of this nation, and for our neighbours and friends, that we have to take it seriously. We cannot let it degenerate into an argument between two groups of zealots—the loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists on the one hand, and the self-satisfied political elite of the status quo in Europe on the other.
Finally, as others have said, we should have regard to the impact that the vote will have on the whole of these islands. If there is a negative vote, it will have an impact on parts of the UK and a direct impact—I am certain it would be a negative impact—on relations with the Republic of Ireland. There are various complicated and practical reasons for that. Given all the progress we have made in recent years, that is not a risk worth taking.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, Members have been taking full advantage of interventions and we are therefore running rather late, so I am going to have to reduce the limit to eight minutes. If Members continue to be so generous in taking interventions, I will have to reduce it further.
I am most grateful for your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd).
I beg a little indulgence for a moment. It is highly irresponsible to bring in the Northern Ireland peace process as yet another scare against voting leave in the referendum. There was an open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland when Ireland was not a member of the European Union and we were, and perfectly reasonable arrangements will be made with the Republic of Ireland if the United Kingdom votes to leave the EU. There are participants in the peace process on both sides of the debate, and they are talking perfectly constructively together. They will not allow this to become an obstruction to peace in Northern Ireland, and nor should we talk it up, because I think that that would be irresponsible.
I want to make the point that I am not advocating a second vote. If we get a vote leave in this referendum, as I expect we will, that will do for me. The point I am making is that article 50 is a provision of the treaties that we will have just rejected. The idea that we are bound to follow the article 50 provisions after we have just rejected the treaties in their entirety seems a bit odd. Given that the treaties were created by 28 member states negotiating together, 28 member states negotiating together to rescind our membership of the European Union might be a more sensible approach. However, that should be decided by Parliament, not by the Government acting on Crown prerogative in an act of petty vengeance to scare people.
The hon. Gentleman is saying that once we say no to the EU, we will tear the whole thing up and do it all on our terms, but he expects there to be a cordial relationship afterwards while we renegotiate on terms that are favourable to us. Are not those two things completely and utterly incompatible?
Let me put it another way to the hon. Gentleman. Is he seriously suggesting that after the British people have rejected the treaty on the functioning of the European Union and the treaty on European Union, our European partners are going to say, “You may have rejected all that, but you are bound by this”? That is ridiculous. It is absurd. It is far more likely that Parliament will want to discuss the matter, the Government will produce a proper White Paper and we will proceed in an orderly and consensual manner, not in a precipitate one. The only reason those in favour of remaining are raising this is to try to scare people. It is another scare story, and we are not having it.
The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge also talked about uncertainty. May I point out to him that every time we have a general election, there is a certain amount of uncertainty? My goodness, at the next general election, if there is any possibility of the Labour party being elected, boy, there will be uncertainty! There will be uncertainty in the markets, and there will be pound gyrations. Democracy is about uncertainty, but we get more uncertainty where there is no democracy: look at Greece; look at Spain; look at the eurozone. That is uncertainty, and it is the uncertainty that we want to get out of.
If we vote leave, we know what will happen. We will get our powers back. We will get control over our borders. We will be able to spend the money that we send to the European Union as we want to spend it, instead of subsidising our European competitors. Three hundred and fifty million pounds a week, or a net contribution of £10 billion a year—that is a lot of money. We will be able to pay for the roads in Scotland. We will be able to pay for universities. We will be able to pay for the investment in science and research that we need, and then some.
The real question in the debate is what happens if we vote remain. What new laws will be imposed on us after we vote remain? What judgments will the European Court of Justice visit upon us over which we have no control? What about the next treaty? We know that there will be another fiscal union treaty like the one that the Prime Minister vetoed a few years ago. The agreement states:
“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 economic and monetary union.”
It sounds as though we are giving up that veto. We will not be able to veto a fiscal union treaty if we have signed this agreement, particularly if it is legally binding and irreversible. We are going to be stuffed. In whatever way that treaty affects our interests—we can even have a referendum on it—if we abide by this agreement, we will not be able to stop it. Talk about uncertainty; I think it is safer to leave.
Let me declare an interest as a director of Vote Leave. Let me also praise my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) for raising the tone of the debate and giving us an historical perspective. He underlined the fact that we are at a turning point in the history of our country. I was struck by the shadow Foreign Secretary’s reminder that more than a generation has passed since the last referendum, when his father was opposed and my father was in favour. Today, the shadow Foreign Secretary is in favour and I am opposed. I shall not speak for my father in this debate, but there has been a reversal of roles. The real question is: should the debate be about the past or the future? We do not live in the world as it was after the second world war—pre-globalisation, pre-global trade, pre-computers and the internet, pre-space age and pre so many of the scientific discoveries that affect our world today.
We should be ready to recognise the EU institutions our continent has inherited as so last century, but I was going on to say that we must never forget the forces of history and the tragic errors of the past that have shaped the present on our continent, although we must also have the courage to embrace the change in our society and in the world that will otherwise leave us stranded with and clinging to outdated ideas and constructs. Our main contention is exactly that; the EU is an outdated construct.
That is a whole new argument, which I accept, but I am not going there now.
The referendum represents not just a turning point in itself, but just one point on a trend that is increasingly paralysing our entire continent, the unity of which is being shattered by the very institution that was intended to unite it. Let us look at the eurozone and at the Schengen free travel area and the migration crisis. Whereas in 1975 my party, myself included, was enthusiastic for membership of the European Communities, today my party—and, I believe, my country—knows that the world is utterly different.
Today, the strongest arguments for remaining appear to be ones saying that we are determined not to participate in the three main purposes of the EU: we will not join the euro, we will not join the Schengen free travel area and we will not be in a political union. What is the point of our being in this arrangement when we are so opposed to its principal purposes?
I must say that we have heard a certain amount of this debate before, as the Minister for Europe will recognise. Much of it is familiar from the Maastricht debates 20 years ago. We were told that we had opt-outs, but the problem is that they do not always work. We were told that about the social chapter, but we were overruled by the European Court of Justice on the working time directive. We were told then, “Europe is changing”, and, “It’s all going our way.” I cannot believe I have heard it again, but the Foreign Secretary actually said today:
“National where possible, Europe where necessary.”
John Major regarded that—subsidiarity—as his principal triumph, which was going to reverse the centralising tendencies of the European Court of Justice. We were told we would always be leading in Europe. Today, the Foreign Secretary said we would “fight” with “like-minded…states” and be
“leading…in a reformed EU”.
We have heard all this before—these are the same deceits—to persuade people to support something that we do not really want. We were told that if we vetoed Maastricht, it would be a “leap in the dark”. What did the Foreign Secretary say today? He said leaving would be a “leap in the dark”. The giveaway this afternoon was when he said:
“Of course there is more to do”.
You bet! If we stay in the European Union, there is going to be a lot more to do, because this agreement is of course so inconsequential, even if it were irreversible and legally binding.
What happens if we vote to remain? That is the question the Government need to answer. What will happen? Last time, we were told before the referendum that there would be
“no loss of essential national sovereignty”.
The word “essential” was useful, because it denuded that phrase of its meaning. We have the same weasel words coming from the Law Officers today.
If the British people are deceived again and we vote to remain, we will have resolved nothing. We will be back in the Chamber in five or seven years’ time either to demand another referendum or deciding just to get out. That is the trend: we will be facing the same problems and we will be afflicted by the same conflicts with our European partners, although by then the problems will be worse. I believe that leaving the European Union is the safer choice. Our security depends on NATO and our alliances, our own people and our resources, and working with allies. The idea that we can work with allies only if we stay in the European Union is yet another deceit being visited on the British people.
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), even though I do not agree with anything he said, apart perhaps from what he said about the speech by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), which was one of the best I have heard in this House. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said, it was a pleasure to listen to. I really feel that he raised the level of the debate.
I want to speak about patriotism. The British people are deeply patriotic. According to the recent social attitudes survey, the overwhelming majority of British people describe themselves as being proud of our country. I think that means that they want to see a strong country, a strong economy, a more secure country and a country that stands tall in the world. It is my view that there is a powerful, progressive, patriotic case for remaining in the European Union.
I believe, as do many in this House, that we are stronger, more prosperous, safer and more influential as a member of the European Union. The challenges that we face in the 21st century will not be solved by pulling up the drawbridge, and they do not stop at the white cliffs of Dover. We achieve more working together than we do alone. We have a proud history as a trading nation and a proud history of providing leadership in international and European co-operation.
We, the patriotic, progressive pro-Europeans, are the optimists about our role in the world. We believe that by working with others, we do not lose power, but assert and augment our power in the world. The anti-Europeans are the pessimists in this debate—pessimistic about what we as a country can achieve by working with others, and pessimistic in saying that we will always be the losers when we try to work with others. British Prime Ministers of different political colours have disagreed with that assumption. They have driven international co-operation and the establishment of international organisations. The great post-war Labour Government of Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin were instrumental in setting up NATO.
In a minute.
As the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex said in his powerful contribution, his grandfather, Winston Churchill, played an incredibly important role in preserving the peace in the post-war period. Edward Heath took us into the European Economic Community. Margaret Thatcher very successfully drove the creation of the European single market. Tony Blair, somebody of whom I am very proud because he won three elections for us, successfully pushed for the enlargement of the European Union.
I do not often agree with the current Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, but I thought he made a very powerful case on Monday for our membership of the European Union. That powerful case goes beyond the deal that he struck. He was absolutely right when he said in his closing remarks that
“this is no time to divide the west”
when we face
“Putin’s aggression in the east; Islamist extremism to the south.”
I agree with him too that there is “strength in numbers” and that the choice in the referendum is between
“an even greater Britain inside a reformed EU and a great leap into the unknown.”—[Official Report, 22 February 2016; Vol. 606, c. 25.]
Many column inches and much time on the broadcast media over the past few days have been dedicated to the divisions in the Conservative party over our membership of the European Union and to the intricacies of the deal that was struck at the longest English lunch in living memory on Friday in Brussels. However, I hope and believe that it is the bigger arguments about why it is in our interests to remain in the European Union that will, in the end, determine how people vote in the referendum on 23 June. I will make three key arguments that are at the heart of the patriotic and progressive case for our membership.
Let me take the economy. We trade more with the rest of the EU than we do with any big economy around the world, including the US, China or India. As a member of the biggest single market in the world of 500 million people, we are a gateway to the rest of that market, which is why we are able so successfully to attract inward investment from companies in the European Union and beyond.
On the outskirts of my constituency, Jaguar Land Rover has invested in a huge award-winning engine factory that, when at capacity, will employ 1,500 people. Its chief financial officer recently said that any split from the European Union would damage trade for UK business, and he cautioned against “barriers” that would arise in the event of the UK leaving the EU.
My hon. Friend makes an incredibly powerful point about the importance and interconnectedness of trade. Does she agree that the same interconnectedness applies to higher education? Universities share funding across Europe and come together in an interconnected way. By working together with research grants and research as one European Union, we share our expertise with that of others, and we solve global problems together.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and the University of Wolverhampton and Universities UK have made that point clear. They think that there is great strength in universities across our country working together with other universities and research institutes in Europe, and they benefit from the investment and funding that we receive by being a member of the European Union.
Alongside my colleagues, as a Labour MP I will be making the social Europe case for staying in the EU. Thanks to the previous Labour Government who signed up to the social chapter—I am proud of that Government and that we took that decision—working people across the country have employment rights and protections that they would not otherwise have, such as paid annual leave, and rights for agency and part-time workers. Many of those affected are women. As the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady recently said, those rights and protections will be on the ballot paper come 23 June. Frankly, I do not think that we can trust this Tory Government to maintain those protections if we were to leave the EU.
There is also a powerful security case for us to stay in the EU. Prior to the European arrest warrant, the French suspected a terrorist in our country of bombing the Paris metro, and it took us 10 years to extradite that suspect. In 2005, Osman Hussain, the terrorist who attempted to bomb the London underground and fled to Rome, was extradited back to the UK in under five weeks. That tells us something about the strength of pooling resources, expertise, and sharing information about criminals who do not respect borders.
Briefly, let me touch on the weaknesses of the counter-argument. Those who want to leave the EU have a responsibility to tell us what “out” would look like, and it seems that there is a choice between on the one hand not having access to the single market with British business being hit with trade barriers and tariffs, and on the other hand having access to the single market while still paying into the EU budget and accepting the free movement of people and all the rules, but without a seat at the table. There are major inconsistencies in that argument. As I pointed out earlier, the idea that somehow we are powerless within the EU, but that if we left we could get precisely what we want on our own terms, is not believable. I hope that the patriotic progressive case for our membership will win out, and that the British people vote to remain on 23 June.
Let me start by paying tribute to the Prime Minister—not something I have always done. He has delivered on our manifesto commitment to hold a referendum, and he is the first Conservative leader and Prime Minister to do so in more than 40 years. Even Margaret Thatcher, who I am sure all those on the Government Benches still adore, did not deliver a referendum and did not negotiate any pre-referendum reforms, bar getting the rebate back for the United Kingdom, so credit where it is due. The Prime Minister may not have obtained the impossible, but many of us think that he has obtained the improbable. He went to Brussels with demands that many people thought he would never get.
It is always difficult to set out the defined and true position at the outset of any negotiations, otherwise one would not negotiate the position one would want to find oneself in at the end of it, so I do not agree with that. I think the Prime Minister achieved more than many people thought he would achieve. Of course, for some people even if he had parted the English channel it still would not have been good enough. Perhaps some even might have wanted him to fail. Overall, it is a good reform package for the United Kingdom.
I agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) about tone. The parliamentary and national debate needs to be done in the right tone with the right language, in a measured and respectful way. I hope that will be the case. We have heard some reference to scaremongering today and in the media, but it was Nigel Farage, in a recent Oxford University debate, who said that the EU referendum issue would be “settled by security”. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), in the penultimate paragraph of his remarks, suggested that security was a key issue too. It is unfortunate that the issue of scaremongering is coming into the debate. It is legitimate to talk about national security, both for those who want to remain in the European Union and those who want to leave, and it is on national security that I would like to focus my main remarks.
The hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) wrote in the Daily Mirror this morning:
“The threats posed to the UK’s security are just like the threats posed to the rest of Europe”.
He is right. Common threats require a common response. Europe’s threats are our threats too. The UK’s threats are Europe’s threats. In an unsafe world this is not the time to be walking away from our friends and allies. This is a time to stand together. This is not the time for the United Kingdom to be quitting Europe. My view is that the UK is safer in a reformed European Union and the European Union is safer with the UK standing by its side, now with our own special status.
The Paris attacks have been mentioned a couple of times today and in the media over the past few days. Some say that it is less likely that the United Kingdom will be subject to Paris-style terror attacks if we leave. I disagree and think that is a very, very bold statement to make. Some say the Syrian refugee crisis has had an impact on terrorist incidents across Europe and will therefore have an impact on the UK. That may well be the case, and I will come on to those points in more detail later. Specifically on the nationality of those involved in the Paris attacks, however, the majority were EU nationals. In fact, they were led by a Belgian national.
Some have referenced open borders in the United Kingdom. We do not have open borders in the United Kingdom. That is inaccurate and, unfortunately, misleading. The fact is that under Schengen we do not have open borders. That is a fact.
We do effectively have open borders for Belgians. Belgian passport holders can come here without so much as a by your leave. They come through and we cannot refuse them unless we have specific evidence. If we could make them apply in advance and get clearance, as we have to before going to the United States, our borders would clearly be safer.
First, the reference to the Belgian EU nationals was to make the point that it was not Syrian refugees who undertook that Paris attack. Secondly, my hon. Friend may not want to make this point, but I will make it for him. The majority of terrorist threats in this country, as proven by the 7/7 attacks, are actually by British nationals, not EU nationals. Of the four involved in the 7/7 attacks, three were British nationals and one was a German national. It is not necessarily the case that coming out of the European Union will make us safer from attacks. I think there is a danger from some—not Members and certainly not my hon. Friend—of a Trumpification of the out campaign. There is a danger of the shadow of Donald Trump coming into this referendum campaign, which I think would be very unhelpful and dangerous.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, as he so often is. Rather than increasing the threat, Europe is helping us daily to decrease the threat to our borders. Whether it be through Border Force staff in Calais and other places, through Frontex, which has helped us with some of the most recent border issues, through collaboration between European police forces and the National Crime Agency and other UK constabularies, or through the closer working relationship between our intelligence agencies, Europe helps the UK’s national security every day of every week. As I said, suggesting that leaving the European Union will keep the UK safe from terrorism is a very bold statement.
This morning, writing in The Sun, the former Foreign Secretary, the noble Lord Owen suggests:
“Remaining in the EU is risking more than leaving”,
but where is the evidence? There is no evidence. That is another sweeping and bold statement, but no evidence is provided. What is more, I think that an exit from the European Union would embolden the UK’s enemies. In national security terms, who would benefit from the UK quitting Europe? One word and one country—Russia. It is the UK that has ensured that Europe acted quickly and decisively to impose sanctions over Russia’s territorial grab in Ukraine. It is Europe, alongside NATO, that is sending a clear and tough message to ensure that the territorial integrity and security of the Baltic states are assured.
On diplomacy, it is so often the United Kingdom that is the bridge between continental Europe and the United States, making sure that we get the right decisions on European foreign policy. If Members will forgive me, I want to quote from what I wrote recently for The Sunday Times:
“A decision to isolate Britain from Europe will have significant national security implications. First, a British exit would end Britain’s political and diplomatic counterbalance to France and Germany’s strategic clumsiness. … Second, Britain’s exit could also weaken Nato, with Germany and France extending Europe’s own defence structures and budgets, such as the European Defence Agency. In itself this is not a hostile undertaking, but soon, complementary defence could be replaced by defence competition”
to NATO. Some colleagues need to think carefully about that. It continued:
“Third, a British exit would rob the EU of Britain’s diplomatic advice and counsel…Over the horizon, this new weakness would present unforeseen and new national security challenges to Britain.”
Britain has a unique place in the world, and its diplomatic voice and reach is empowered by four essential global pillars: the United Nations, NATO, the Commonwealth and the European Union.
I would also like to refer to a published letter written by a former Chief of the Defence Staff:
“Britain’s role in the EU strengthens the security we enjoy as part of Nato, adds to our capability and flexibility when it comes to defence co-operation and allows us to project greater power internationally.”
I do not think we should dismiss the voice of former Chiefs of the Defence Staff. Yes, of course the United Kingdom could survive outside the European Union. Yes, we would still be part of NATO. Yes, we would still have our own excellent armed forces. The key question, however, is whether we are safer in the European Union or safer outside it. I would argue that we are safer in. That is also the view of our close friends and allies who share our intelligence—the “Five Eyes” nations—as well as of other nations with which we daily share intelligence, such as Germany, Denmark and so on. Let us look across the water to the US Congress, the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. All those institutions and bodies want to see a safer Britain in the European Union.
Order. Because Members are still accepting the maximum number of interventions, I shall have to reduce the speaking time limit to seven minutes. If speakers continue to take interventions, the limit will have to be reduced further.
In the weeks and months to come, ahead of the referendum on membership of the European Union on 23 June, I look forward to hearing, from all parts of the House, the positive and inspiring argument for our remaining a member of the EU.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who set us off at the start of the debate with what I think George Herbert Walker Bush would call “the vision thing”. That was refreshing. The hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) has left the Chamber, but I would say to him that, like his father, my grandfather died during the last war, in the Clydebank blitz. Neither side in this debate has a monopoly on loss or war legacy.
It is commendable, and refreshing, to see a Conservative Prime Minister stand in the Chamber and state his commitment to the European Union. However, if the Prime Minister intends to see a vote to remain delivered this summer, it is time for him to stop talking principally to his own party, and to start talking to the public in these islands. It is time for him to stop engaging only in the minutiae of his reform deal, and instead to offer a vision. As the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) said earlier, the Prime Minister has secured only gossamer-thin concessions. The grander vision is, I think, the key. It is time to celebrate what the European project has done, and can continue to do, for the United Kingdom, Europe and the world.
The Foreign Secretary said earlier that objective 1 status, which transformed the infrastructure of the highlands and islands, could be seen as bunging money to people. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is completely the wrong tone to adopt in a debate such as this, and that we need to recognise the positive contribution that the European Union has made to these islands?
That was certainly not the Foreign Secretary at his most sophisticated.
This debate should not be about appeasing troublesome Eurosceptics in the Tory ranks, or about establishing who the next leader of the Conservative Party will be. It is a debate about how we in these islands see ourselves, how we see our continental neighbours, and how the rest of the world sees us. What has been achieved in Europe since the formation of the European Union and its predecessor organisations is extraordinary. A continent that was apparently intent on destroying itself for decades—indeed, centuries—as nations fought with one another has been transformed into a continent that is synonymous with peaceful co-existence between nations.
When I listen to debates about Europe in the House, I often think how much we miss elder statesmen such as Heath and Healey. They were parliamentarians with a memory of war, who could have put into context for all of us what this project was about. They could have reminded us that it was about peace in Europe, and about establishing unprecedented stability between countries that had torn themselves apart through generations of enmity. Many Conservative Members will tell the House that the European Union was established on the basis of trade and trade alone, but I think that they forget their history. The Schuman declaration, presented by the French Foreign Minister in May 1950, proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community. Why? To lock the economies of Germany and France together into mutual dependency, making war impossible. That was a “first step” in the integration of Europe, and one that many at the time thought should be treasured. It was a remarkable first step.
Although the institutions and treaties have changed over the years, the principle that underpins them has remained the same. Whether it was delivering forgotten freedoms to ex-fascist countries such as Spain and Portugal, inspiring a new sense of hope and opportunity for the ex-Soviet states, or promising the seemingly impossible—the restoration of free movement across the former Yugoslavia—the dream of EU membership facilitated peace, progress and prosperity throughout the continent.
It will come as no surprise to Members to know that I want to see Scotland, one day, with a seat at the top table of the European Union as an independent member state. I want Scotland to have control of its own foreign policy and its own defence policy, to control its own taxes and resources, and to make its own welfare decisions. Like other small nations—Denmark, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden—we know that this is achievable while continuing to enjoy the benefits of a union which promotes human rights across the continent, advances social Europe, guarantees workers’ rights in so many fields, where we work together to combat terrorism and climate change, and which allows access to the world’s largest trading area.
Membership of the European Union continues to provide the peoples of Scotland with huge opportunities. The right as European citizens to live, study and work in any EU member state is not something that should be taken for granted. In 2012-13, over 1,400 students from Scottish universities were supported by the Erasmus programme to study elsewhere in the EU. Scottish companies have taken full advantage of the export markets; Scottish exports to the EU were worth £12.9 billion—some 46% of all Scottish exports—in 2013 alone.
The vision I and my colleagues on the SNP Benches have for Scotland is one in which we play a full and active role on the world stage, independent but not never insular. It was called subsidiarity by Sir John Major, a concept I think we probably believe in rather more than Sir John Major himself: devolving as much as possible, but co-operating and pooling resources whenever desirable.
The alternative vision offered by the Eurosceptics and Europhobes is a depressing one. Indeed the pessimistic vision of the Foreign Secretary is a depressing one. The prospect of retreating into ourselves, closing our borders and withdrawing from a union that has brought unprecedented peace and progress to this continent is a fate that has never, and will never, appeal to me. So let us trumpet an optimistic vision of Europe with verve and with enthusiasm and commend EU membership to the peoples of the United Kingdom with passion.
I agree that we must understand the lessons of history and if I, for one moment, thought that leaving the EU would make civil war in Europe the remotest bit possible, I would not be standing here advocating that we do leave. How could I, when I come from a post-war generation where my parents constantly talked about the war? It was the essential fact of their life. My parents were 25 in 1945. My mother had to flee Paris hours before the German tanks rolled in. Her best friend, who was Jewish, had to throw herself off a train and was killed as she was being taken to the death camps. My father also had to flee France. This was a defining moment in their life, and it is not surprising that that generation wanted to create more of a sense of European solidarity and never repeat the slaughter and horror of two world wars. We all know that.
There was also a lack of confidence, I think, in that post-war generation. In the lifetime of my parents and my early lifetime, in just 20 years the world’s greatest empire dissolved—our empire dissolved. And there was a lack of confidence about our economy. When I had my first job and I was sitting across the river looking at the Palace of Westminster dreaming one day of becoming an MP, I was having to work a three-day week and was working by candlelight. Then when I arrived here in the 1980s we were shadowing the Deutschmark and it was felt that, again, we would find life outside the European Economic Community, as it was then, or the European Union a cold and hard place, but now we are in a different world. We are now in a new world—I will not say a brave new world, but it is a globalised world—and we have regained our confidence as the fifth largest economy in the world.
Therefore, some of these arguments are based on the past and we must certainly learn the lessons of the past, but we must realise that there is now a different future, and that the EU may have played its part but it has moved on from what we voted for in 1975. It has moved on from what was an economic community into something much more unified in that sense, and much more powerful.
Interestingly, however, so few of the people here who advocate our staying in the European Union seem to have this vision; where are the speeches today or this week, or in the country that have that vision from those who favour remaining in the EU? Where are the people arguing for a single currency? Where are the people arguing for us to be part of Schengen? Where are the people arguing for much greater co-operation and, indeed, an ever closer union? Where are those voices in Parliament? Where are the voices of the Ted Heaths, the Barbers and all these great figures from our past?
I am not arguing for an extension of Schengen or for a single currency, but I am arguing for us to remain in on national security grounds. Does my hon. Friend, with all his experience, agree that if the United Kingdom were to leave the EU, the EU would be less safe and if the EU is less safe, just over the horizon, that is not in the United Kingdom’s national security interest?
That is a weak argument, perhaps one of the weakest that those advocating our staying in the EU believe in. I am not going to repeat all the arguments about our security ultimately depending on NATO, but I will give one example, from recent history, in order to reply to my hon. Friend. Does he think that the European Union attempting, in a rather cack-handed way, to create an association agreement with Ukraine was a good move to make? Has it made Europe a safer place? Has it not led directly—I do not approve of this—to the annexation of Crimea? An imperialist Europe is not necessarily a force for security; the force for security is the best national interests of the United Kingdom, working with our partners in NATO, and that has been the case since the second world war.
I am concerned, first, by the lack of vision on the pro-European side, which is something quite new in this House. It was certainly not the basis and foundation of debates in the 1970s, when principled cases were being made on both sides. On one side were the Benns, Foots and Powells, and on the other side were the Heaths and the Barbers. If there is not such a divide between us and if we are united in this House in not wanting to be part of an ever closer union, we do not want to be part of Schengen and we do not want to have a single currency, why are we told that Armageddon will take place the moment the people—not us but the people—vote to leave? Why do we get these apocalyptic visions of what would go wrong? Why are the Government so intent on not having a cool, calm, independent cost-benefit analysis of what would happen if we decided to leave? I suspect, having read things such as the Open Europe briefing, that the difference is marginal. Open Europe suggests that, in the best case scenario, we might gain 1.1% in gross national product, if we became a deregulated, open society and immediately concluded a free trade agreement, and that in the worst case scenario we might lose 2.2% of our GNP. It is therefore quite a narrow debate. If it is a narrow debate, can we not just raise its tone? Can we not say, “Whether we leave or stay in is probably not going to have a dramatic effect on our economy”?
In that sense, it is exciting to think that we might actually be able to run our agriculture. I represent a highly rural area. Our agriculture industry creates 3.5 million jobs, provides 62% of the food we eat and contributes £85 billion a year to the UK economy. It would be rather exciting if this House and our own Ministers ran agriculture. What about fisheries? Do we remember all the arguments made by our friend Austin Mitchell, who represented Grimsby? Do we remember what Grimsby was like, when one could walk across the harbour across the decks of all the trawlers? Do we recall what happened to our fishing industry? Do we recall that it was given away in the last two days of negotiations by Mr Heath? Perhaps it would be quite visionary and quite exciting for us to create a low-tax, deregulated economy. There is a world out there. Winston Peters, a former deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, has openly speculated about, as he says, forgetting the terrible betrayal of 1973 and creating a new free trade agreement not just with Australia, as New Zealand is now concluding, but with us as well. There is an exciting world out there, with India, China and so on. Do people not think—
I will not give way, because others wish to speak. My hon. Friend has already given me extra time just by standing up. [Interruption.] I will finish my speech, because I do not wish to abuse the procedures of the House.
On a final note, there is a world out there. Let us grasp it; let us trust the people; let us not be afraid and let us regain our freedom.
Order. We have 10 speakers and two wind-ups. It works out at six minutes each, and that is without interventions. I ask those who have spoken to think about those who have not to make sure that they also get on the record. If we can help each other, we will all get there.
I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate. I want to take the time allocated to talk about how I have personally benefited from being an EU citizen. My speech will not be about the big issues that some other Members have mentioned. I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) that this debate can get a bit theological, so I will try to keep it personal and talk about the points that affect me.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you may be too far away to see, but I have a scar on my chin, which I received when I was 17 or 18 while I was on a cultural visit—more commonly known as a lads’ holiday—in a southern European country. Unfortunately, halfway through the trip, I partook in one too many libations and ended up in a fight with the pavement. It is safe to say that the pavement won and I had to engage the local medical services. As I was younger than I am now, I did not have any travel insurance. However, the whole process at the hospital was made incredibly easy by the fact that I was carrying a European health insurance card in my wallet. That allowed me to be treated for free, very quickly, and I would say painlessly if they had waited for the local anaesthetic to kick in before stitching me up. I know that, compared with some issues that have been discussed today, that situation seems insignificant, but it is a practical way in which being an EU citizen has had a positive impact on my life. I am sure that it is an experience that has been shared by many other people my age.
I have been contacted by a number of young people who are slightly worried about what will happen when they leave school or are in their university holidays. They fear that a Brexit might mean that they will not have the opportunity to jet off easily to Magaluf or Zante for the aforementioned holiday. Will they have to go through the hassle of getting visas just for a week or two of sun, sea and other things? Such issues may seem insignificant in the Chamber, but they matter to young people, especially those who have been denied a vote in this referendum.
There are 170,000 EU nationals living and working in Scotland, improving our economy, enriching our culture and even legislating in our national Parliament—the Scottish Parliament. I have personal experience of the valuable contribution of EU citizens to our society, as one even assisted me in my election campaign as my election agent. I recognise the real concerns that have been expressed to me by constituents who are EU citizens. They worry about what will happen to them, their jobs, their family and their lives should the UK leave the EU. They have also expressed their frustration that they will not be able to vote in the referendum.
A large number of my constituents are farmers, and the European common agricultural policy provides vital funding for them. It helps farmers and landowners to maintain farming and forestry in vulnerable areas and provides competitive support to enable a wide range of agri-environmental, food, rural and community activities across Scotland. In the current financial period of 2014 to 2020, Scotland will receive about€4.6 billion from Europe to implement the CAP.
Farmers depend on our membership of the EU to survive and thrive. They are not only the people who produce our food and look after our land, but the lifeblood of our rural communities. To put at risk the substantial investment that Europe makes in our farmers through the CAP would be to rip the heart right out of rural Scotland.
Many Members have spoken about where they would like to see the EU doing less, but I would like to talk about one area in which I would like to see it doing more. Again, it is a practical matter. I would like to see a single digital market where customers can buy and then use digital content across borders. Why? I want to watch Netflix abroad. If my sunbathing or sightseeing is rained off, I want to be able to sit in my hotel room and watch my favourite show, without being told by my screen that the current programme is unavailable in my location.
In my brief time, I have spoken about why the EU is important to me as an EU citizen—not big issues, not theology, but reasons based on self-interest, which I am sure will have convinced some Conservative Members.
Thank you very much for calling me to speak in this interesting debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I believe that 23 June will be the most momentous day in this country’s history, or certainly in my lifetime. We have the opportunity to get our country back, and I very much hope for all our sakes that we take it.
I was inspired by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), because it was so positive. That is what the out campaign is. Today we have heard from the in campaign that leaving would be a leap in the dark. We have heard about the risks—shut the curtains, close the door. Not quite “Dad’s Army”-style “doomed”, but not far off it. Let me tell those who do our country down, as I believe they do by speaking like that, that we will have huge aspiration, hope and opportunity if we leave the EU. We have absolutely nothing to fear from leaving what has, in effect, become a welfare state or the equivalent.
We are now reliant on nanny—let us call the EU nanny. Nanny has bred us, suckled us, brought us up and given us things when we asked for them, even when we did not deserve them. When we reach a certain age and it is time to break free from nanny and the cot and to get out there and start to grow up, we are told that we may not do so—or worse, we have been bred to the point that we do not want to leave. Sadly, that is the position of this great country.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) mentioned his grandfather, for whom I have the most huge respect, as does the nation. I did not know him; I wish I had, but from the history books that I have read, I believe he would be on the side of those who want to get their country back. We often hear from the newspapers, commentators and those who want to stay in that we are all, as I recall the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) describing us, middle-aged grey-haired gentlemen. I hope that I have got that right. We are portrayed as swivel-eyed lunatics who want to leave the EU, dig a hole in the garden, stick up the Union Jack and sing “God Save the Queen.” Oh, if only it were that simple.
We do not want that at all, but we do want to be free to control our destiny, our sovereignty, our democracy. Every speech I have heard warning of the risks of leaving predicts that suddenly we will not trade with Europe, and all communication and intelligence will shut down overnight. We are told that there are 5,000 terrorists heading into the United Kingdom, or certainly to Europe and then, no doubt, on to us. Are our former partners in Europe not going to tell us? Are they going to sit there mute while London is blown apart, or Glasgow, Manchester or Birmingham? Those are, so the Europhiles say, our allies. They are friends; they are decent people. We do not dislike them. We love the Europeans. I am British and a European, and I am extremely proud of it. I want to be in Europe and to trade with Europe. I want to enjoy their culture, their languages, their mountains, their seas, their more efficient trains, their wider and faster roads and their beautiful wine; I want to enjoy it all, as we all do. But, like millions of people in this country, I do not want to be ruled by unelected bureaucrats.
I sit on the European Scrutiny Committee, which is a great privilege, under the most able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). He might like to hear about the conversation I had with my taxi driver last night as I was heading home—I always talk with the drivers, because they are always fascinating men and women. When he asked me who I was, I replied, “I’m an MP, but please don’t press the ejector button.” He promised not to. Then he said, “Tell me, guv, what do you think about the EU?” I said, “It’s simple. Do you want to control the future of this country, or do you want to hand it across to unelected bureaucrats and a political elite who are completely out of touch with the electorate?” He said, “Guv, do you know William Cash?” I explained that I did and that he is a great friend of mine. He said, “He sat in my cab 25 years ago and said the same thing.” That story is absolutely true. My hon. Friend, who is far-sighted, was right then, and he is right now. Let us get our freedom back on 23 June.
I realise that I am one of a sadly dwindling number of Members of Parliament who not only remember the ’75 referendum, but campaigned in it. Indeed, I feel a certain sympathy with those on the Government Front Bench, because in the years running up to the referendum I was a very beleaguered pro-European member of the Labour party, at a time when both the parliamentary party and the party membership as a whole were adamantly opposed to it.
I supported our entry into the European Community, as it then was, because many of the reasons given for our doing so were visionary, and many of them I heard articulated today most eloquently by the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and, to a lesser extent, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). I in no way resile from the vision I had when I supported Europe in those years. In the meantime, like many people, I have become frustrated with the way in which Europe conducts its business, getting bogged down in the minutiae of regulation, rather than pursuing the grand visions and aspirations we saw back then. However, at no stage have I ever believed that coming out of Europe would do anything to resolve those issues, and I have not changed my position now.
I will use the brief time available to me to state why I am still so firmly committed to our membership of the European Union. I welcome the referendum as an opportunity to get away from the minutiae of some of the debates we have had and to talk about the role that Britain has in Europe, and its potential role out of Europe, and exactly what considerations people will need to exercise when they cast their vote on 23 June. I still have those grand visions of Europe, but I understand, as I think we all do, that people will base their decision on what they perceive to be in their best interests and those of their country.
No area can understand and appreciate the value that Europe has brought better than the west midlands. The Centre for Economics and Business Research showed in 2011 that about 400,000 jobs in the west midlands were linked to trade with Europe, 200,000 of which were in manufacturing. That was before the huge investment that has come from the Tata family, first in Solihull and latterly in the i54 development outside Wolverhampton. They have made it clear that one of the prime considerations in that investment was our membership of the EU and its market. Toyota and Nissan have uttered similar sentiments about investment in other parts of the country.
We must remember that it is not just the major car assembly companies but the network of small manufacturing businesses that supply them that are so dependent on our trade with Europe. We must also remember that 80% of our cars are exported—half of them going to the EU. If anything prejudiced our ability to export them, the impact on areas such as mine in the west midlands would be devastating.
Nobody pretends that the EU is a perfect institution, or that exit from it would be an immediate catastrophe, but in these days of footloose international development, a major manufacturer wanting to invest in the car industry or in other manufacturing, if given the choice of investing in a mainland Europe EU market of 440 million people or a UK market of 60 million people outside the EU, would almost certainly opt for the former. That is a hard, real fact of political life, which we must live with. We must make sure that these things do not happen.
The other main point I want to make is that, if we look to the future, the global economies are going to be China, India and, no doubt, the USA, with possibly south America and even Africa coming up. Crucially, our ability to negotiate with them and to access their markets depends on our being part of the EU. To those who say we are a great nation, I say, yes, we are—we are a great nation because we are in the EU. There is no reason for believing that if we cannot shape the EU, we will be able to shape the approach taken by China, Brazil, India or the USA if we are outside it. The fact is that we gain strength in our international relations by being part and parcel of the EU and by working with like-minded people to realise an international trading framework based on the valued principles that we have in our western societies and democracies.
When was it ever said of the great figures of history that they learned to suffer tolerable evils and irritations because they thought change too difficult. That is not the tone of the great history of mankind that has led us to this place; it is the creed of slaves—the tone of failure—but it characterises the Government’s position and the campaign we are being offered by Britain Stronger in Europe.
We have chosen to place before the public an historic decision that will stay with us for generations, and it should be taken in a way that reflects the tone of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). While I may disagree with him, his speech at least had the merit of being a great speech by a great man, and it deserves to be remembered by history, if I may say so—unlike the rest of the remarks we have heard.
In that respect, I have to say that I listened to the Foreign Secretary’s speech with dismay, as he started once again by listing all his misgivings about the European Union and all the problems with it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills would expect me to mention the article he wrote in The Mail on Sunday, in which he said:
“It’s clear now that the United Kingdom should never have joined the European Union. In many ways, it’s a failing project, an overblown bureaucracy in need of wide-ranging and urgent reform.
Had we never taken the fateful decision to sign up, the UK would still, of course, be a successful country with a strong economy...That’s why, with a heavy heart and no enthusiasm, I shall be voting for the UK to remain a member of the European Union.”
I am deeply fond of my right hon. Friend, but that is not the tone I wish my country to follow at this time or the picture I wish to be placed before the public.
What is at stake in this debate is not whether we co-operate with the nations of Europe, but the basis on which we co-operate with them and with the world. Healthy co-operation is voluntary—I believe in that most strongly. Human prosperity, fulfilment and dignity are all underscored by liberty, and another name for liberty is self-government. That is what I came here to deliver—the ability to have the dignity of determining our own destiny at the ballot box. That is the great gift that we should hand on to our children. Whenever somebody says to me that we should remain in because we must think of what we hand on to the next generation and the one after, I always think that the great gift that history has shown we must always hand on to the next generation is the gift of parliamentary democracy and self-government, which lead to the flourishing of liberty, prosperity and humankind.
The terrain of this debate and the polls are leading to a real problem for what I will call the pro-EU BSE campaign, for the sake of brevity, and the Government. This recalcitrance is doing no good for our own country and no good for the nations of Europe. I do not have time to critique each detail of the Government’s position. Suffice it to say that when one finds oneself listening, as I did—like many Members, I am sure—to the presenter John Humphrys on the “Today” programme asking, in a sarcastic aside, “Are we still calling this a renegotiation?”, then one knows the jig is up. The Government’s position is not a fundamental renegotiation; it is a trivial one. Some of the benefits are worth having—I hesitate to say that they are not worth having—but they are marginal at best. When the front cover of The Week shows the Prime Minister pulling a tiny white rabbit out of a hat, we know the jig is up. When The Spectator shows the Prime Minister with a food t