Mr Redwood’s speech on the EU Referendum Bill, 9 June 2015

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): This referendum gives the British people the great opportunity to restore their precious but damaged democracy. For all too long, the British people have had to watch as successive Parliaments have given away their birthright by transferring important powers to the European Union. Big decisions have been taken away from the sovereignty of the British people and given to the bureaucracy of the European Union.

I believe in the sovereignty of the British people and I would like to help them restore it. Before we joined the European Economic Community, the sovereignty of the British people was clear and it worked well. The British people could elect a Parliament. The Parliament was sovereign until it had to face re-election. That meant that the Parliament was responsive to the British people between elections because those elected recognised that if they did not please, did not serve well—if the chosen Government did not govern wisely—they would be thrown out by the British people at the end of the five years. So the sovereignty of the British people required a sovereign Parliament that they could dismiss and they could influence, and much of the architecture of this building and the political architecture of our country was based on maximising the access to MPs and maximising the influence of MPs over the wider Government.

Mr Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in what is now the European Union, it is quite usual for member states to pool sovereignty? Like the democratic process that he talks about, Members of the European Parliament are democratically accountable to their electors and can make decisions on behalf of their constituents in exactly the same way.

Mr Redwood: States cannot pool sovereignty. They are either sovereign or they have given their power away. The British people do not think the European Parliament exercises control or power over the Brussels machine in the way that this Parliament at its best exercises power over the British government machine. That can be seen from the way that the British electors do not turn out on anything like the same scale in a European election, because they do not believe in that Parliament and they understand that that Parliament has very limited influence over the unelected bureaucratic government in Brussels.

Now that we are in the EEC and it has evolved into the European Union, the fundamental condition that one Parliament cannot bind its successors has been removed. That has completely undermined one of the basic pillars of our democracy. We had the rule that any new Parliament can amend or repeal any law of a previous Parliament. It can reverse or change any decision relating to the future about the expenditure of moneys or the development of policy. The British people now do not have that full sovereignty. If they elect a new Parliament, the new Parliament discovers, as this one is doing, that there are a large number of areas where we cannot change things to reflect the will of the British people because it would be illegal under European law to do so. We find that, because so many vetoes have been removed, we can no longer prevent things happening from the European government that we do not want. Worse still, because there is a whole body of agreed European law and treaty that we inherit as a new Parliament and a new Government, there are very large areas where we cannot fulfil the will of the British people and we therefore cannot please them.

Fortunately, Britain still has a fairly powerful Parliament because we stayed out of the euro. Those countries that went into the euro are discovering that they now have puppet Parliaments. We see the terrible tragedy in Greece, where the Greek people have understandably said that they want a complete change of economic policy. They want to get away from unemployment and recession and austerity from the European Union and have a pro-growth policy at home, and they are told that they cannot do that because it is against European rules.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab): Did the right hon. Gentleman support Margaret Thatcher when she signed up to the Single European Act?

Mr Redwood: No, of course I did not, and I gave her very strong advice not to sign up to the Single European Act. She often took my advice. It was a great pity that she did not take my advice on that occasion, because I fear I was also right on that one. She was a very great lady who did hugely important things for this country—not least getting a lot of our money back, which Labour foolishly gave away, meaning that we are much worse off than we need be—but she was not always right. I think that on that occasion she thought it was going to help a market, whereas the truth, of course, is that we do not need European bureaucracy and a lot of laws to have a market; we just need buyers and sellers and one simple rule, which is that, if something is of merchandisable quality in Britain, it should be of merchandisable quality in Germany and France as well. We had that in the Cassis de Dijon judgment and we did not really need all the extra laws that were being imposed on us.

As we can no longer change things, the British people are going to get very frustrated. We saw their frustrations in the last election. Looking at constituencies that elected Conservative MPs and MPs of other parties, it was very clear to me that there was a strong majority feeling that this Parliament should be able to decide who comes to our country and who is given admission, and that this Parliament should decide how generous we should be on welfare benefits and to whom we should pay them. We might disagree among ourselves about how many people we invite in, how much money we give them and when we first pay them—that is a healthy part of our democratic debate—but the position we find ourselves in today is that we cannot decide those things, because the powers to control our borders and to settle our welfare system have gone to the bureaucracy and courts of Brussels and the continent. They are no longer present in the United Kingdom.

Whenever we have these debates, they often come down to a simple issue of trade. I would like to reassure anyone watching or listening to this debate that our trade is not at risk, whether we stay in or leave. There is no need to accept my word for that—I am sure that many people will not—but they may accept the word of the German Finance Minister, who has very clearly stated that he would like Britain to stay in, but that if we leave, of course Germany would want to trade with us on the same terms as she currently does. And why is that? it is because Germany sells us twice as much as we sell her.

I say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who would not take an intervention, that there is no way that Germany would want to pay a 10% tariff on exporting Mercedes and BMWs to the United Kingdom; and, because Germany will not want to pay a 10% tariff, nor will our motor manufacturers have to pay a 10% tariff. So worry not: our jobs and our trade are in no way at risk.

We should remember that Britain has faster growing trade with the rest of the world, where we do not belong to a special club, than it does with the rest of Europe, where we do belong to a trade club. There are many such trade clubs around the world, but very few of them are evolving in the European way of imposing more and more government and bureaucracy on their companies and traders, because they believe in prosperity and more free trade. We do not belong to any of those clubs, but we trade extremely successfully with the countries that are in them. If someone is in a club that genuinely promotes trade, they are happy to trade with people from outside that club as well, because they obviously need to be able to trade with the whole of the rest of the world.

Many of us feel that the EU as currently constituted is thoroughly undemocratic. It stifles and prevents the will of a once sovereign people from being properly expressed. It means that a Government cannot be elected on a prospectus that they can implement in all respects, because the European Union will not let them do so. Above all, the European Union represents the past: it is holding us back. It is something from the last century.

It is a complete myth that the European Union is a body that keeps the peace. The peace is being kept by NATO and by the fact that our partners—France, Germany, Italy and Spain—are all peace-loving democracies. I am amazed that pro-Europeans have such a negative view of our partner democracies in Europe that they think that, without a European bureaucracy, they would all be at war with each other. Of course, they would not, both because they now believe in peace themselves and because NATO and mighty America, as she has done since 1945, are guaranteeing the peace.

Let us get rid of these myths. Our economy is not at risk, and being out of the EU or in a better and new relationship with the EU is the future: it means we can be more prosperous, have more freedom and, above all, restore the sovereignty of the British people. We can restore our parliamentary democracy.


  1. DaveM
    June 9, 2015

    Excellent. Now, how do you get that published in The Sun, The Mail, and the Times?

  2. lojolondon
    June 10, 2015

    Great comment, John, thanks for speaking for us. Unfortunately I still have no doubts that the vote will be a stitch-up and Cameron will ensure we stay ‘in’.

  3. Brimstone
    June 12, 2015

    An excellent speech that lays out the argument clearly and succinctly. If only more people would listen or read.

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