Skip to main content

EU: UK Membership

Volume 740: debated on Monday 22 October 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for making the case for the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

My Lords, we are committed to playing a leading role in the European Union to advance our national interests. We play an active role within the EU on many issues—Iran, Syria, Burma, the single market and improving Europe’s competitiveness—and work closely with other EU countries to deliver those important objectives. There is no question of the UK disengaging or withdrawing from the EU. We will remain leading proponents of the EU’s most successful policies.

My Lords, although it is always a pleasure to face the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, I was rather hoping to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to answer this Question—I think it is the first Foreign Office Question that she has had the opportunity to answer. It is a pity, on a day when the Prime Minister is coming back to the other place to report on the European Council, that she is not here.

What the noble Lord said is all very well, but most of what we hear from the coalition is refusal to enter negotiations on questions that are central to our economic interests, such as the fiscal treaty and the banking union. We hear about opt-outs from justice and home affairs measures that are vital to fight organised crime. We hear about repatriation of competences.

Okay. We hear about a future renegotiation. Is it any surprise that the public standing of the EU is at a low ebb? When will we hear from the Government clear leadership that our membership of the EU is vital to our economy and essential to our place in the world? Since the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is answering for the coalition, how much longer are the Liberal Democrats prepared to put up with the Government’s policy of isolation, defeatism and retreat?

My Lords, I say on behalf of my noble friend Lady Warsi that she answered three debates last week and she will be here tomorrow. She has other responsibilities.

On the question of defending our position within the EU, the Government have made it clear through a number of senior Ministers, not just the Prime Minister, that we intend to stay in the European Union—rather more clearly than leading members of the previous Government in their last two to three years in office.

It is not complete nonsense. I am sure that when the noble Lord was a special adviser to Tony Blair he was often rather disappointed by the then Prime Minister’s unwillingness to make the case for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.

Perhaps I might push the noble Lord on his answers. Does he agree that as a condition of its survival, the European Union must become more integrated politically and economically? Notwithstanding what the noble Lord said, does this not inevitably mean that the UK will be progressively marginalised and, in the end, without significant influence within Europe?

My Lords, the eurozone may well have to become rather more integrated, but the European Union as it exists is not a simple first-tier/second-tier issue. In a couple of months’ time, we will debate the new Irish protocol. There are Czech protocols, Danish opt-outs and Irish opt-outs. When it comes to defence and foreign policy, Britain and France are very much at the core and Germany is occasionally on the edge. So it is not a simple matter of insiders and those on the fringes.

My noble friend’s credentials on Europe are of course impeccable, but will he reassure us that other senior members of the Government are not drifting almost accidentally and in a cavalier way into extreme referendumitis in order to appease some of their eccentric colleagues in the other place?

My Lords, I read the stories in the Sunday newspapers the other week. I have no idea how authentic they were.

My Lords, is the answer not that the Government cannot make the case for our membership of the EU because there is now an overwhelming case for us to leave it and thus create a great many jobs by relieving us of its suffocating clutches? Beyond that, is it not time for the EU itself to be wound up, with a similar benefit for the democracies of Europe? What is now the point of any of it? I hope that the noble Lord will not give me the nonsense about peace.

I am sorry that the noble Lord thinks that peace is nonsensical. It is not an unimportant issue for us. The noble Lord clearly thinks that international regulation of the open markets is not an important issue either. I am well aware that UKIP thinks that we should follow the example of Switzerland and have a sort of Swiss relationship with the European Union, although since UKIP also thinks that we should double our defence spending, I think the UKIP model is Switzerland with nuclear missiles and a large navy.

Would the noble Lord accept that there is fairly substantial inconsistency in what he said about the single market? The Government are always expounding the virtues of the single market, yet anybody who listened to Mrs Theresa May yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show” would have heard her calling into question fundamental aspects of that single market, such as the free movement of people.

My Lords, I did not see the Andrew Marr programme. I apologise; I was picking apples at the time. We are all clear that free movement is one of the four bases of the single market and needs to be maintained as far as possible.