Mr Redwood’s contribution to the European Union Bill, 7 Dec 2010

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): This Bill is born of a very serious mood in our country. A majority of people in Britain feel that a great amount of power has already passed to the European Union over the past 20 years, and they feel that powers are still drifting away under this new Government. They would like to see that progress arrested, and they would like to see powers brought back in certain crucial areas. They would like to feel that more of their lives were under democratic, accountable government here in Westminster than under the less accountable, less democratic government of the European Union. The Government would be wise to heed the seriousness of that view among many in this Parliament, representing many outside it.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s noble aim. He says that the aim of his legislation and policy is to give us all a greater sense of empowerment when it comes to matters of European governance and action. I would urge him to look again at his Bill, however. It is certainly cleverly contrived, and it is certainly contrived in a great deal of detail, but it is, in practice, the not-the-referendum Bill. On every area of competence and power that we see drifting away or being transferred from us as we have this debate, we are told, “That would not qualify for a referendum under this legislation.”

I believe that the Foreign Secretary has taken legal advice, and he wants to have a referendum on the transfer of competences rather than on the transfer of powers. I would suggest that that is a tad too clever. We all know that most of the competences have already gone. That was what Lisbon was all about. That was why he and I fought tooth and nail, together, against that treaty and in favour of a referendum on the treaty. Most of the things that the Government now wish to do are a shared competence with the European Union. What matters is not a further transfer of competence, but a further grab or transfer of power by the European authorities.

When the Conservatives were in office, we made it very clear that we wanted trading relationships and friendships, and a certain amount of common legislating in single market and related areas, but not a common Government or political union. To reflect that, the architecture that we persuaded the partners to accept had the third pillar areas of foreign affairs and home affairs, which were matters for independent sovereign states to decide, and we always preserved the veto on any common action. That has now been eroded. So, as we meet to debate the so-called referendum lock, we see powers on home affairs being surrendered, issue by issue, by this Government-as they were by the previous Government-which will result in a much more common criminal jurisdiction from the European level. The British people need a voice on that matter; they need to be asked about it. Some of them might even agree with it, but they want to be treated seriously, as grown-ups, and asked if that is how they want their country to be run in the future.

On foreign affairs, we are being told as we meet that we still have a veto on the big issues and that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary can play his part in shaping a common European action and diplomatic strategy. At the very same time as we have to cut severely the growth rate of our public spending and make some deep cuts in certain areas, which we do not like, we see the European budget going up rapidly, partly to finance a big expansion in the European diplomatic service. This is not being done in order to have holidays in the sun, as some national newspapers seem to suggest, but because the EU wishes to exercise power and authority on our behalf and on behalf of other member states.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I do not think that the Foreign Office has fully understood the consequences of encouraging this to go ahead, which is what it did. I am afraid that a great many of us voted for it in this House. The European External Action Service is ordering much more expensive cars, is going to have grander embassies and is going to pay much higher salaries than our own diplomatic service. That will be to the detriment of our diplomatic service because it will attract the talent away from our service and towards the European External Action Service.

Mr Redwood: It means that when a British Foreign Secretary makes foreign visits, he or she will be kept waiting while the EU ambassador is received and considered because the latter will speak with more authority on behalf of more people and more states.

It is the third area that we have always reserved for national veto and national competence-central economic policy making-to which I shall address the remainder of my brief remarks in this truncated debate. Literally as we meet here this afternoon, crucial and massive issues are being hammered out in secret around the Council table in Brussels. Quite likely to be on the agenda is the issue of European sovereign bonds and the effective creation of a European sovereign in financial matters that issues debt and guarantees debt on behalf of member states. Do we want that? Are we in it? Is it not a transfer of power if we go along with it? Is it not an issue on which we should be invited to express our views?

Another item on the agenda may be the future membership of the euro. The Council could be considering in secret whether all member states are able to stay in the euro and whether the strong or the weak members should leave. If they are to keep the euro area together, what will be the arrangements for the large transfer payments that need to be made if the single currency is to have some hope of a decent life in the future, as all successful single currency areas have much bigger transfers of tax revenues, subsidies and money around them than the euro area currently does?

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): My right hon. Friend portrays so accurately the realities that lie behind this Bill, which is about the economic crisis in Europe as well as many other matters. Does he agree that one serious current problem is the financial stability mechanisms and that if we do not assert our rights in this House and make certain that the courts cannot get their hands on an interpretation that would go the other way, we could end up paying for other countries beyond Ireland-Portugal, Spain and others?

Mr Redwood: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the transfer of power, if not of competence, is such a crucial issue and why we need to engage in a public debate at this very moment about how far this should go.

I hasten to stress to the House-particularly to my critics, who like to misconstrue what I say-that I wish our partners every success and prosperity with their single currency. I know that if that is the way they choose to run their economies, it is in our interests for it to work. We want them to be happier and more prosperous, and we like to benefit from trading with them, just as they like selling us a lot of their products. My worry is that in the process of our enthusiasm for that, we will draw in Britain-with her rather stretched budgets, even after the changes that the Government have rightly and wisely made-at a time when we do not have the financial strength to go to the aid of all these other euroland countries that are in some difficulty under the euro scheme.

I am a critic of the Irish loan. Of course I do not want to see the Irish economy go down, but I do not happen to think that lending the country lots of money at that juncture, as a result of a crisis deliberately created by the European Central Bank, was a terribly good way to behave. I do not believe that if Britain had declined to make some money available, the Irish loan would not have been negotiated. It would have been negotiated quite successfully by the architects of it-the powers behind the European Central Bank, who literally decided to withdraw funds from the Irish banks at a difficult time and made that decision public, thereby precipitating the crisis. We were engaged in a refinancing package for the European Central Bank. I think we should be told the truth; we should be told why it was a good idea for a country that rightly stayed out of the euro because it did not want the financial risk and hassle, to be drawn into helping finance the consequences of an ill-judged currency without a political union.

A successful currency needs a sovereign to love it and support it. That is why the sovereign’s face traditionally appears on the coinage and why there has to be a symbol to show that the whole weight of legal and economic authority stands behind a currency. If Europe is to have a successful euro, she needs a sovereign. I do not want my country to be part of the euro, and I think that around 80% of the British people agree with me. I think that even Opposition Members temporarily agree with me on this issue; they are not rushing to say that now is a good time to join the euro. We should be open and honest with the British people and say, “We wish the euro well”. We are doing it a great favour by not trying to join it-we would have been an over-mighty subject in it, which might even had led to it toppling earlier-and we are not currently in a financial position to make all the transfer payments available that are necessary for full members of a single currency area.

The House needs to understand that while we are debating some abstruse language and pledging this and future Governments to hold a referendum on treaties unknown about competences unspecified, a potentially massive transfer of power is under way yet again from the member states to the centre. There has to be; the thing cannot work without more central power behind the banks and the economic institutions.

The British Government say that they will accept a treaty extending the centralising powers in the economic sphere because the penalties on these will not apply to the UK Government. Well, I am delighted that the penalties will not apply, but I see no reason why the requirements should apply either, because we are not part of the euro. We should offer our support for a strengthening of economic governance for the euro area alone and make it clear that all the regulations and the directives apply only to that area. I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary got it wrong when he said that none of these apply to Britain; several of them do, although without the ultimate penalties. There could be other penalties, incidentally, which might apply to Britain.

When we surrender our veto and allow this treaty to go through on that condition-that it applies only to euroland-we should say that we want something back.

We should seek to establish that we believe the European Union already has too much power and that we want something back. Do we want our fisheries back; do we want control over our borders back; do we want control over elements of taxation that have already gone to Europe through common taxation and a series of court judgments?

Power is seeping away as we meet. A massive debate is under way. Will the Government please take this Parliament and the British people into their confidence? Will they take us seriously? Will they give us an adult debate on the reality rather than this show Bill?

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8 Comments

  1. Derek Buxton
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I fear you are being too kind to our “foreign secretary”, he is going along with every thing EU, bowing and scraping with the rest. Your leader too is a lover of all things EU, that is why he will not discuss with the people the ramifications of membership. In the few months in power several thing that should be for us to decide have been quietly given up to the EU without a peep, and there are more on the way. The same thing will happen until one day we will be totally under the thumb of Brussels.

  2. Freeborn John
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Good points Mr. Redwood. Mr. hague’s infamous disengenious language about competences and powers, ‘not letting matters rest’, ‘not seeking an immediate confrontation with Brussels’ etc. are as usual worthless. However there is one other factor of even greater importance that you do not mention in your speech. With no distinction between regular and constitutional law in the UK, there is nothing to stop a new government in the future repealing this so-called lock on their 1st day in office, and approving a new EU treaty the next day without a referendum.

    We need a written constitution in the UK that limits the power of the majority at Westminster, both today’s and that of future governments, to approve EU treaties without approval by the British people in a referendum. The prime minister of the day has a seat at EU Council meetings that negotiate these treaties and commands the majority in the Commons currently necessary to ratify the treaty. He will never command the majority in the Commons to vote against the treaty he has agreed with other heads of government in Brussels. As all the rubber-stamps votes in national parliaments to approve Lisbon shows, it is a foregone conclusion that prime minsters will command parliaments to ratify these EU treaties. Unless this referendum bill is part of a seperate body of constitutional law that future prime minsters cannot modify without a referendum, it is also a foregone conclusion that future prime ministers will repeal it using their commons majority to ratify whatever new EU treaty they agree in Brussels. Therefore, this Bill is unfortunately just another worthless ruse by William Hague.

  3. edgeplate
    Posted December 8, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    It comes down to the fact that neither the mechanisms, nor the will, exist in the EU for a repatriation of powers. Allowing the UK to repatriate powers would be against the very purpose of ever closer union. Other members would want the same and the political project would be derailed. No negotiation along these lines is worth anything without a walk away position of leaving the EU, otherwise, what happens, as seems likely, when the other members say no? Is it not true that the Conservative Party’s stated position is to remain in the EU?

    I see a cynical purpose behind this bill which is to create the false impression that people’s concerns are taken seriously, but to have an act in place which appears to address those concerns but is effectively worthless. The ceding of powers will continue in the background and nothing will trigger a referendum. This must be clearly understood by messrs Cameron and Hague, so it follows they have a clear intention to hoodwink us and go with the flow of further integration while pretending that they are not.

    It’s much the same sort of deception we’ve seen in the past, where new treaties were fobbed off as ‘a tidying up exercise’ or we were told that the EU wasn’t extending its powers in some way, and then when it did, we were told it was too late to do anything about it.

  4. Duyfken
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    A tremendously good speech, and my thanks for yet again standing up to the political bullies (now it’s Cameron and Hague) who by sleight of hand allow our freedoms to be continually eroded.

  5. Pete
    Posted December 9, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Well done for making these points. Somehow the EU project has so much momentum that it’s difficult to change, even though it’s not working well. Keep pushing and eventually it will happen, I suppose—especially now public opinion is moving against the EU in all the member states.

    Do you think the UK’s national interest is best served if the EU is dissolved, or if Britain simply leaves? I feel this is an important question that never gets much discussion. If the EU is dissolved, we are likely to end up paying some of the ‘clean-up costs’. These may be substantial as the EU would be expected to pay redundancy money to laid off staff, and it has to continue paying pensions to its retired ex-employees.

    On the other hand, if Britain just leaves, we have to negotiate trade arrangements with an EU that continues in existence. That may be difficult because the EU would be larger and more powerful than Britain. If we weren’t careful we could end up like Switzerland: not members, but forced to sign up to most EU rules anyway.

    Reply: Neither is about to happen. The UK is the most Eurosceptic of the EU countries, and that does not elect a Eurosceptic majority to Parliament.

    • Freeborn John
      Posted December 9, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

      “Reply: Neither is about to happen. The UK is the most Eurosceptic of the EU countries, and that does not elect a Eurosceptic majority to Parliament.”

      That is because the established parties conspire to deny the electorate any real choice. And also why cast-iron Cameron and vague Hague must lose the next election. 5 years of Labour is better than 500 years of Brussels, which is where the drift of the ConDem cartel would lead. Cameron and Hague have proved themselves to be the same-old liars when it comes to Europe as Blair and Brown, and for that they must be ejected at the next election.

  6. Austin
    Posted December 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Eurosceptic Conservatives should break with Dave and Hague and join forces with UKIP and any others who oppose British subserviance in the European Republic.
    Wouldn’t Mr. Redwood agree the time has now come for Britain to declare its independence from the EU before its too late?
    An independent Britain would be stronger than the house of cards EU which has become a Trojan horse for German ambition.

  7. Brian
    Posted December 26, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I am not one of your constituents, Mr Redwood. I wish I was. Instead, my MP is a senior member of the government who has recently been given additional powers/responsibilities. Unfortunately, this means that most of the concerns I address to him get the “party line” in response.

    I am sure that it is now the case that the majority of the British people now recognise the European Union for what it is. A failed “experiment” that has become a bureaucratic, totalitarian nightmare. The government of the day lied to the people. Subsequent governments have continued to lie. We Britons know that we are not Europeans. In the words of an illustrious predecessor, “We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.”

    I believe I am of a similar opinion as Austin. But my views are a little more strident. I would welcome a sufficient number of MPs to force the government to sever its links with the Evil Empire. In your speech you refer to 80% of the British people wanting powers back in Westminster rather than in Brussels. Will you form such a group? Even perhaps a separate party? Please give the British people some hope.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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