Mr Redwood’s contribution to the debate on EU Reform, 19 November

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I rise to talk about two large European powers that are both, in their own ways, reluctant Europeans. It is well known that the United Kingdom made an historic and important decision, under the previous Labour Government, not to join the euro. Many of us campaigned actively for that decision. We strongly believed that if the United Kingdom joined the euro it could probably bring the currency down. It would be extremely damaging to our own economy and financial system. How glad I am that we prevailed on that Government. If the United Kingdom had been in the euro at the time of the great banking crash of 2007-08, we would have brought the euro down. The House may remember that it was the United Kingdom that brought down the euro’s progenitor, the exchange rate mechanism, which a previous Government mistakenly went into. Just as the forces of the Great British trading economy—an international economy with a strong dollar base—brought down the ERM, so I think we would have brought down the euro.

Now that we have made that historic decision, I see no intention on the part of any serious force in the United Kingdom to reverse it. I am pleased at that. I confidently predict that no party with any serious chance of winning a single seat in the Westminster Parliament in 2015 will campaign on the UK joining the euro between 2015 and 2020. I confidently predict that the same will be true if we have a general election in 2020. I do not see the mood changing. We have learned our lesson. We have understood that it will not work as an economic project.

We understood also that it does not work from the point of view of our democracy. As soon as a country begins to share a currency with other member states of the EU it must share many other things. Those countries are on a long journey towards a united states of Europe. They are discovering that they will need to share their policy on tax and public spending. It is no longer possible for people in Spain, Italy or Greece to think that they have a democratic right to choose their level of public spending, public borrowing or taxation. They are under increasingly tough controls from the centre. Germany is right about that: strong financial discipline is needed in a currency union if it is to work.

That is exactly the kind of control that the United Kingdom would never accept. I do not see parties of the left accepting that Europe should tell us to spend less; and I do not see parties of the right accepting that Europe should expect us to tax more. Indeed, some of us on the right would not want to be told to spend less in certain areas; and some on the left would not want to be told to tax more, in certain ways. We as a democracy say that the fount of our democracy is the elected Members of this Parliament; and that controlling taxation and our budget are central to our great national story. Our mother of Parliaments emerged to control the finances of the King and to say to the King or Queen, “You shall not tax more—or not without redress of grievance, or without our having a say over how the money is spent.” That is why the United Kingdom will rightly remain a reluctant European. We cannot accept the continuing pressure from the logic of the euro, that we should give away those fundamental birthrights—the democratic right to elect people to tax and spend, and change them if they tax and spend too little or too much, or in the wrong way.

I remember, as part of the anti-euro campaign, hitting on the phrase that joining a single currency would be like sharing a bank account with the neighbours. I used to say that I get on well with my neighbours. We have Christmas drinks and the odd summer party, and enjoy each others’ company. However, I do not know about other hon. Members, but I am not ready to share a bank account with my neighbours. I just have this feeling that if I were the prudent one, when I wanted to draw out some of my money to spend, the neighbours would have spent it. They might have wanted a fancier house, and taken out a big mortgage; then when I wanted a mortgage I would discover that our mortgage capacity had already been used up. That is exactly what being in a single currency is like. My opponents in those debates used to look for what was wrong with my analogy. I thought it was broadly right, but even I thought it might be a little bit of a try-on. Now that we have seen the euro scheme I realise that it was completely apt. That is exactly the position of countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain, in relation to Germany. Germany says “We do not want you using the collective mortgage, because we know you will borrow more, and we have got to do the saving.”

There is therefore an unhealthy tension, which is why I must talk about two reluctant Europeans. The other big power in Europe that is proving to be reluctant about the scheme of full European integration, providing the political backing to the single currency, is none other than Germany itself. At the very time when some Germans presume to lecture the United Kingdom on being a reluctant European—a very counterproductive thing to do, because it encourages Euroscepticism no end when Germans lecture us in that way—we find that Germany is busily trying to restrain the others from the impelling political logic of the euro, which must be to complete the political union to provide the backing to the currency.

If we exchange banknotes in the United Kingdom, we see on the banknote a symbol of our country. We see the monarch’s portrait. It is there partly because we like our monarch, but also as a symbol that the whole taxable capacity, the whole parliamentary and political weight, and the whole authority of the United Kingdom Parliament stands behind that banknote. People trust it, trade it and use it because they know that that is true. In time of crisis Parliament stands behind the Bank of England; the Bank of England stands behind the banknote; and the taxable capacity of the country is there for whatever crisis might arise. The problem with the euro is that there is as yet no symbol or political union to stand behind the banknote. That is why it has been subject to crisis after crisis. Pictures of bridges had to be used on the notes, and they could not be like any actual bridge to be found anywhere in Europe, because that might offend people. An Italian bridge might mean the Spaniards would be jealous; or perhaps they would be grateful that their bridge was not being pledged on the banknote—I do not know. There would have been tension or difficulties even over choosing the symbols for the banknote, so they had to choose something more anodyne.

There is a much bigger and more important political reality behind that; we are discovering that the full taxable capacity of the German state does not yet stand fully behind the euro, and that the rich and successful countries do not want to pool their riches and success with the poorer countries in the Union. Until they do, the currency will be crisis-stricken. The development of a second euro has already happened. The second euro was the Cypriot euro. Unbelievably in a first-world currency, people who had been foolish enough to deposit euros in a Cyprus bank could not take them out. When it was allowed, they were not worth €1; they were devalued before people could have their money back. That had to happen because the German taxable capacity would not stand behind the Cypriot bank. There is no way that, if a city or part of the United Kingdom—it would be invidious to give names—got into balance of payments or financial difficulties, people’s pounds, deposited in a bank in a part of the United Kingdom, would be first frozen and then devalued before they could be taken out. Everyone would rightly be scandalised and think it absurd. Yet that happened in the eurozone, because our reluctant European, Germany, would not stand behind the euro.

My prediction is that Germany is on a slow but inevitable march to standing behind the euro. In a way, I hope it is, because I wish the euro well and it needs to be a grown-up currency with proper transfers behind it; but the more Germany is on that movement towards being the paymaster, founder and discipline-provider of the euro area, the less possible it is for Britain to belong to that system. That is why I welcome the magnificent contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), has once again made to our national debate, and why I hope people are listening outside the Chamber, in addition to those who have kindly come to listen. Today’s debate is about the mighty subject of our generation. We wish our continent and the euro area well, but the United Kingdom must now find a new relationship. Just as surely as Germany needs to become the centrepiece of the political union to make a proper reality of the euro, so the United Kingdom, unwilling and unable to join it, will need a new, looser and different relationship with that emerging superpower—which will be not an armed superpower but an economic one, with, at last, the taxable capacity of Germany standing behind the rest.

It is important for that to happen quickly. I do not want to live in a Europe where there is practically no growth year after year and where there are sometimes rather bad crashes. I do not want to live in a Europe where the banking system is still riven by difficulty and disaster because there is not full support from the euro-area in the way we would expect from an integrated economic zone. I want to live in a Europe that is more vibrant, more exciting and more interesting.

I am very pleased that my country has stayed out of the euro; I am very pleased that, with our own financial and monetary policies, we now have a growth rate of which we can be proud and that gives our people hope; and I am very pleased that unemployment is coming down. It would make things so much easier for us if Europe had a growth rate of which we could be proud, if its unemployment rate was coming down and if it could offer hope to its young people. Europe cannot do that unless it either completes its currency union properly or breaks it up as soon as possible. We cannot join Europe in the former, and we do not wish to lecture it on the latter, so can we please get on with negotiating a relationship that works for Britain? Can we privately, not publicly, remind Germany that if she wishes this mighty project to work, she has to commit herself to it as fully as we have to disengaging?

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4 Comments

  1. DaveM
    Posted November 19, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Good presentation – what was the reaction like?

  2. Eddie Hill
    Posted November 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Hear hear, amen and absolutely right!

    How enjoyable it was to read this post, not a SINGLE word of which requires any amendment or amplification and which I will be forwarding to everyone I know as required reading.

    I also greatly enjoyed your metaphor of sharing your bank account with your neighbours.

    What you don’t say is that, what with our EU contribution, both the regular payments plus the occasional additional £1.7 billion, plus our commitment to spend 0.7% of our GDP on “International development,” plus our contributions to NATO, the UN and the World Bank, plus much more that we probably don’t know about, our neighbours are already joint signatories to our bank account and appear to hold a moral sway over us with regard to us counter-signing the cheque.

    In the context of England as a nation state, and the maintenance of our culture and social cohesion, I usually extend that metaphor to include not wishing to share my house with my neighbours, coming to broadly the same conclusions as you do over sharing your bank account: i.e. I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you.

    I am convinced that these are perfectly valid metaphors which need to become part of the whole debate about migration, nationalism and what it all means for native populations. If we don’t have a mature debate about it soon, not only will our bank accounts be empty, our houses will be full!

  3. Shieldsman
    Posted November 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    “As soon as a country begins to share a currency with other member states of the EU it must share many other things. Those countries are on a long journey towards a united states of Europe. They are discovering that they will need to share their policy on tax and public spending.”
    I would describe the European Union as a Socialist Empire with visions of being a Utopia shared by all.
    Like all empires because of the disparities between the member states it is bound to fall apart. The Brussels legislature dictates that all member states abide by the same rules and that is not easy to wear.
    An excellent simile – being in the EURO is like sharing the same bank account.

    “The United Kingdom must now find a new relationship”. Too true and the sooner the better.
    One or two people have said that wishing to leave the EU is un-British.
    My idea of being British is to live in a Sovereign state presided over and governed by a Parliament elected by the people of the United Kingdom. Why else did we participate in two World Wars?

    On immigration, the ECJ ruled that under Directive 2004/38/EC – the so-called freedom of movement directive people who are not seeking employment and have no intention of taking paid employment, can’t claim jobseekers allowance.
    With regard to other special non-contributory cash benefits, treating residing in-work EU citizens differently from UK citizens could be discriminative.

    Whilst the UK remains in the EU, Directive 2004/38/EC is en-forcible.

  4. Rodney Robinson
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    What an excellent argument by John Redwood. I would like Britain to remain independent from the EU in every way while maintaining good relations.

  • 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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