Mr Redwood’s interventions during the opposition day debate on the European Union, 13 Dec

6.48 pm

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Of course, the Prime Minister stopped a treaty for the 27. Did the right hon. Gentleman see that the statement that was issued was made only by the 17 euroland Heads of Government? The other nine have not signed up to it. That is very clear in the statement, so it is misleading to say that Britain is isolated when the other nine think it is a lousy treaty as well.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will come to that. Even today, we are hearing of issues in Denmark and that Sweden is unlikely to sign up. In Poland, it has been pointed out that two thirds of each House will have to support what has been agreed if the country is to sign up, and it is unlikely to get that. We are hearing similar things in Finland, the Czech Republic and other countries, never mind what is going on in Germany and even France. This is potentially a watershed moment in British politics.

13 Dec 2011 : Column 714

Mr Redwood: The right hon. Gentleman is making a good point. Did he see that if, for example, Ireland or the United Kingdom joined the so-called stability pact, they would have to make massive cuts in public spending and massive increases in taxes? It is a sort of mutually assured austerity pact.

Mr Dodds: Yes. For precisely that reason, I believe that when the peoples of each country—and even some of the politicians, who are currently going around saying that the UK has done a terrible thing—begin to study the detail and realise the restrictions that will now be imposed on their freedom to set their budgets and taxes, to borrow and so on, they will seriously reconsider the proposal. Having caused the greatest economic catastrophe for many decades, by creating the euro and the one-size-fits-all approach, EU leaders have come up with a bizarre answer: no comprehensive solution to deal with the immediate and pressing crisis, and no overarching deal that will properly address the problems that Greece, Italy and Spain face, but a plan to deepen and extend European integration—a plan for more treaty change and more institutional tinkering.

After all the arguments about the Lisbon treaty, we were told that Europe had learnt its lesson and that there would no more institutional debates and treaty changes. Instead, Europe was to get on with the business of trying to create jobs, growth and economic prosperity, yet here they are, at it again. There is a one-track mind among many European federalists about deepening European integration, and political and fiscal union.

13 Dec 2011 : Column 718

Mr Redwood: Can the Minister assure me that the Government have no intention of agreeing to this fiscal pact or of letting them use EU institutions to enforce it?

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): The position on the use of the institutions was set out in some detail by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday. The truthful response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) is that we are at an early stage. The 26 countries agreed to a pact, but not to a legal instrument, and we do not yet know what action they plan to take. We want the new treaty—if it turns out to be a treaty—to work in stabilising the euro and putting it on a firm foundation, and we understand why those countries want to use the institutions, but it is new territory and raises important issues that we will need to explore with our colleagues in those other European countries.

In the months to come, our intention is to be engaged in the debate about how institutions that have been created and built to serve the interests of all 27 member states and not some subset should continue to operate fairly for all member states and, in particular, for the United Kingdom. We have been very supportive of the role that the institutions—in particular, the Commission—have played in safeguarding the single market, and we will look constructively at any proposals with an open mind, but we need to be clear that if this country had agreed treaty change without safeguards, there would be no discussions going on at all and no protection for important United Kingdom interests.

It is not the case that there was something extraordinary or wrong about the Prime Minister’s decision to veto agreement to a treaty at the level of 27 member states last weekend. The safeguards that he was seeking were safeguards not just for the United Kingdom, but for the whole of the European Union. They were modest, reasonable and relevant and, when they were not forthcoming, the Prime Minister made the right decision, which was to use our veto to protect our national interest.

As the right hon. Member for Belfast North said, we have heard before many of the dire warnings about isolation and retaliatory measures. We heard them when the euro was first created, and it turned out that far from joining the euro being a great opportunity for the UK and for UK business, we were well served by the decision to stay out of the single currency, and I have seen little evidence in the last couple of years to persuade me that—

Several hon. Members rose —

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. He has indicated several times that he is not prepared to give way at this point. I hope that we can hear what he has to say now, and he may feel like giving way a little later.

Mr Lidington: I have already explained why I do not intend to give way as frequently as I usually do in these debates. Several of my hon. Friends have had, and will continue to have, many opportunities to put their arguments to me. I am sure that they will seize themselves of those opportunities, but tonight I am conscious that this is one of the rare occasions on which the debate belongs to the Democratic Unionist party, and I do not want their members to be crowded out because the Front Bench goes on for too long.

The truth is that we have always had a Europe in which there have been multiple forms of co-operation. We are not in the euro and nor do we plan to be. It is good that we have our own economic policy, interest rates and ability to deal ourselves with the problems we face in our economy. The United Kingdom remains a key—indeed, a central—member of all initiatives on European foreign and defence policy co-operation, but we are not in the Schengen borders organisation. We are a key member of the single market, and in fact it is the UK that often drives change and improvement in the single market.

On the other side of the equation, at the same time that the European Council was in progress, the British Government were working closely with EU partners to shape a successful negotiation on climate change this weekend in Durban. Our intention is to continue to work hard with our many allies in Europe to advance our interests. That is not isolation: it is defending Britain’s national interest, and that is what the Government are going to continue to do. That does not mean, as some have said, pulling back from our relationship with the European Union. We remain a full member of the European Union, and that membership is vital to our national interest. Our national interest and the EU interest are not mutually exclusive; we have genuine common interests.