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EU Referendum

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the EU referendum on the UK’s diplomatic relations (a) within the EU and (b) globally. (904400)

Other Governments respect the fact that this is a decision for the British people. Our EU partners agree that many of the reforms that we have secured in the renegotiation will benefit Europe as a whole, and more and more of our friends and allies around the world are telling us that they value this country’s membership of the European Union.

Order. It would be a courtesy to the House to tell Members what I think Front Benchers know—namely, that the Foreign Secretary is away on ministerial business.

I apologise for not doing so at the start. My right hon. Friend is in the far east on the final leg of a tour covering several countries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that whatever the outcome of the referendum in June, the threats we face mean that our bilateral intelligence-sharing relationships with other European countries will remain vital, and that, working with those outside the EU, European relationships will continue unimpaired to ensure we remain as safe as we can be from external threats?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to maintain strong bilateral relationships in intelligence sharing between the relevant agencies here, in Europe and around the world, while strengthening the intelligence sharing and sharing of information between our police forces. The recent renegotiation confirmed that responsibility for national security rests solely with national Governments, but EU membership enhances our ability to co-operate with other European countries to combat crime and terrorism and keep the British people safe.

What contingency planning is under way with our European and NATO allies for a new provocation from President Putin after our referendum? Putin is of course hoping and praying that Britain votes to leave the European Union and, as the Minister will know, there is a widespread view in security and foreign policy circles that Putin is planning just such a fresh provocation after the referendum, whatever the result.

Given the recent history of the Kremlin’s activities, not only in Ukraine and Georgia but the pressure brought to bear on the Baltic states and the use of the energy weapon against central European countries, we are right to be on our guard. This will be a matter of prime concern at the forthcoming Warsaw NATO summit, and it is important that NATO is prepared for hybrid aggression from the Kremlin that might involve information, the use of energy and the use of soft power, as much as conventional hard power.

Our EU partners will see the EU referendum as a question of our solidarity with them. What lesson will our Italian partners draw from our lack of absolute solidarity with the Italians over the case of Giulio Regeni?

My hon. Friend will want to know that the Minister for the Middle East recently saw the Egyptian ambassador about this case and emphasised that the British Government want to see a full and thorough investigation. Given Mr Regeni’s nationality, the Italian Government and authorities are in the lead, but we remain in very close contact with them and are giving every possible assistance to try to secure an outcome that will give some answers to Mr Regeni’s family.

When the Prime Minister described European discussions as “abrasive” and “difficult”, he was not talking about other European countries; he was not talking about debate across the Floor of the House; he was not even talking about debate within the Conservative party. Rather, he was talking about discussions within his own Cabinet. What does that fractious disunity do to the credibility of this Government’s foreign policy in Europe and beyond?

Our counterparts around Europe are robust democracies and they recognise that this country’s membership of the European Union has divided politicians of all parties for very many years, and that it is possible for people on the right and the left to come to opposite points of view. What the Prime Minister has secured—a firm Government position to support our continued membership of the European Union but with licence given to Ministers to express their dissent in a private capacity—is a fair outcome.

Does the Minister not feel that the robust democracies in Europe and beyond—not to mention the people of this country—are crying out for a debate on our future in Europe that rises above the internal divisions in the Conservative party?

That is precisely what the Government are leading at the moment. I think that at the end of this week, when the Electoral Commission designates the two campaign organisations for remain and leave, we will indeed see that debate continue, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his party will wish to play a constructive part in it.

There has just been a referendum in the Netherlands, where the people overwhelmingly rejected the extension of privileges to Ukraine and its membership of the European Union. How will our Government recalibrate our policy on that?

The Dutch vote was a consultative referendum on a Dutch parliamentary decision to ratify the European Union-Ukraine association agreement. It is a matter entirely for the Dutch Government and the Dutch Parliament. The United Kingdom remains a strong supporter of the efforts being made by Ukraine to defend its national sovereignty and integrity in the face of Russian aggression, and to implement much-needed, far-reaching political and economic reforms that will benefit everyone in Ukraine.

Does the Minister agree that the only thing that Nigel Farage, George Galloway and Vladimir Putin have in common is that they want Britain to leave the European Union? Does that not say a lot about the consequences of our possible departure from the EU?

There are indeed some strange bedfellows in that particular camp, and none of those three gentlemen is one from whom I would want to take advice about where the best interests of the British people lie.