On Tuesday the Commons completed the Referendum Bill by accepting some of the Lords amendments and dismissing their wish to change the franchise from the General election one. I reproduce my speech below (from Hansard) as it may be of wider interest:
John Redwood: I put my name to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) because I thought that Lords amendments 5 and 6 were ill considered and unwise, and that we needed to debate them for that reason.
Lords amendment 5 is easy to deal with and I have no particular problem with it, because it states the obvious—namely that, when the negotiations have been completed, the British Government should share their view of the outcome of those negotiations with Parliament and the people. Well, of course they will: it will happen naturally. There will be a statement, and I dare say there will be a written text as well. I therefore think that the amendment is an unnecessary addition to what was a simpler Bill before their lordships got hold of it.
Lords amendment 6 is far more worrying, because it is so sloppily drafted and because it leads to all sorts of arguments that are properly arguments for a referendum campaign rather than for good legislation to set up the referendum. The first part of the amendment says that the Government must publish information about the
“rights, and obligations, that arise under European Union law”
from our current membership. As has already been remarked, if that were done properly it would result in a very long book, given that we are now subject to so many legal restrictions and obligations as a result of an extremely voluminous consolidated treaty and thousands of directives. I think that to fulfil that remit properly, the Government would have to set out all the directives, and explain to the British people why there are now very large areas of law and public practice that we in the House of Commons are not free to determine as we see fit and as the people wish. While that might be a useful thing to do, I fear that the Government might fall short because they might not wish to give a comprehensive list of our obligations, and it is not good law to invite people to do things that they do not really intend to do.
I look forward to hearing the Minister clarify whether he will be publishing a full list of the thousands of legal restraints that now operate on this Parliament in preventing us from carrying out the wish of the British people, and also on the British people, who must obey these laws as they are translated into British law, or else obey the directly acting laws. Of course, all these laws, and our own laws, can be construed by European justice through the European Court of Justice, which, rather than this court of Parliament, is now the true sovereign in our country because we have submitted ourselves to the ultimate judgment of the European Court.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend attach the importance that I attach—and the Electoral Commission itself has attached—to the fact that the reports proposed by Lords amendments 5 and 6 should be produced on the basis of both impartiality and accuracy? We remember the review of competences: it was a whitewash. If these reports were anything like that, we would be significantly misleading the public, would we not?
John Redwood: Indeed. That is why I share my hon. Friend’s concern about Lords amendment 6, and fear that the Government might fall short of the full remit. Will they spell it out to people that we cannot control our own borders, our own welfare system, our own energy system and energy pricing, our own market regulations, our own corporation tax or our own value added tax, because all those matters have been transferred to the superior power of the European Union? That should be the very substance of the referendum debate about whether we wish to restore the full sovereignty of Parliament for the British people, or whether we wish to continue on the wild ride to political union that the EU has in mind, which will mean that even more powers are taken away.
The second part of Lords amendment 6 states that the Government must set out
“examples of countries that do not have membership of the European Union but do have other arrangements with the European Union (describing, in the case of each country given as an example, those arrangements).”
I have not read or heard anything so woolly for a long time. The amendment refers to all the countries that are not in the European Union but have some kind of arrangement with the European Union without even specifying a trade arrangement, although the Opposition seem to think that it relates to trade.
The Opposition try to perpetuate the myth that our businesses and people would be able to trade with the rest of the European Union only if we resubmitted ourselves to some of the powers of that Union through some kind of arrangement like those entered into by Norway and Switzerland. Have they not heard that America is a mighty trading partner of the European Union that does not have one of these special trading arrangements, and certainly does not pay a contribution to the European Union in order to sell goods and services to it—nor does China, nor does India, nor does Canada, and nor does Australia— and have they not heard that some individual countries have free trade agreements with the European Union which are arguably better than the arrangement that we have as members of the EU, because they do not have to pay anything like the very large levies and contributions that we must pay for the privilege of trading from within the internal market?
Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a powerful point. On the basis of what he has said, the debate will be about how “arrangements” will be defined in the report, and, indeed, that could potentially be open to challenge.
John Redwood: That is another reason why I am very worried for the Government. I do not wish them to get into legal trouble over this sloppy drafting.
Those of us who have decided that we wish to leave the European Union have been invited to predict what the Leave campaign will announce when it is finally recognised and officially up and running. I think it would be pretty safe to say that we will not want to recommend either the Norwegian or the Swiss model, because, in our view, the United Kingdom is a far bigger country with a different set of relationships around the world, and one that will have senior membership of the world’s main bodies including the World Trade Organisation. We therefore think that there will be a British solution to our relationship with the European Union, which will not, for example, include paying any contributions to that Union in the way that we currently have to.
Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman has given examples of a number of countries that he would not want Britain to be like in the event of an EU exit. Will he give an indication of the countries that he would like us to resemble more? That might help the Government to decide which countries we should be compared to in the information that they publish. It is easy to say who we are not going to be like; will the right hon. Gentleman tell us who he thinks we should be like?
John Redwood: I have already done that. When the hon. Gentleman studies the report of the debate—if he is still interested—he will see that I have dealt with exactly that point with great clarity.
There will be a British answer, but it will be closer to the answer of those countries that trade very successfully with the European Union without accepting the need to pay money into the EU by way of special contribution, and without having to accept great legal impositions. Of course, anyone who trades with the European Union must meet its standards in respect of the goods and services that it wishes to buy, just as when we trade with the United States of America, we must accept its standards for the goods that we wish to sell to it. However, that does not mean having to enter into a common Government arrangement of any kind, and it does not mean having to pay special taxes in order to trade, because most of the world trades perfectly successfully with the European Union countries without having to do any such thing.
I hope that the Minister will appreciate that those of us who are on the Leave side have read the words that the Lords have actually written, rather than the words that the Opposition wish the Lords had written, and have noted their vagueness. It would, I think, be extremely foolish to specify the Norwegian example—which is not an example that anyone I know wishes to copy— rather than considering some of the larger countries, Commonwealth countries and others that have perfectly good trading arrangements. It would also be wrong of the Government, in answering this exam question, to confine themselves to the issue of trade, given that trade is mentioned nowhere in the draft law that is before us. We do need to consider the political arrangements that we have with EU countries, through NATO and so forth; we need to consider such matters as pipeline agreements, aviation agreements, and all those other arrangements that are clearly covered by this sloppily drafted piece of law.
My final worry with this clause is its asymmetry. The Opposition have shown us how they wish it to be asymmetric. They wish the leave side in the referendum to hypothesise about what our relationship with the EU will look like in two or three years’ time, whereas they do not seem to think it is incumbent upon the “stay in” side to similarly hypothesise. I would not mind betting that there will be even more change if we stay in, because if we vote to stay in, the rest of the EU will take that as an excuse to demand that the UK conform to many more parts of the Union than we are currently prepared to.
We know from the Five Presidents’ Report of the EU published this summer that as soon as our referendum is out of the way by 2017, they wish to press on with their move to capital markets union, full banking union and, above all, political union. We on the Leave side will be asking those who want to stay in to describe to us how Britain would relate to the political union and the very much stronger union generally which the euro members envisage. We should be in no doubt that the euro members wish to use the institutions of the EU as a whole for their own purposes, and it would be very difficult for Britain to be alongside but only half in—in the EU but not in the euro.
I would therefore like to see a symmetrical request. It is important to spell out what staying in looks like, as I believe that staying in is a wild ride to political union. That may not be possible or to the Minister’s liking when dealing with this clause and whether we leave it as it is, but I can assure him that it will be a very important part of the referendum campaign from the leave side.