Yesterday, 81 Conservative backbenchers defied David Cameron over membership of the European Union. They voted for a motion calling for a referendum on whether the UK should: remain a member of the European Union on the current terms, leave the European Union or re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation. However, the EU referendum call was rejected.
During the debate Bill Cash made the following speech and interventions.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I beg to move, That this House calls upon the Government to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament to provide for the holding of a national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should
(a) remain a member of the European Union on the current terms;
(b) leave the European Union; or
(c) re-negotiate the terms of its membership in order to create a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.
The motion stands in my name and those of many other right hon. and hon. Members. I must start by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for providing time for today’s debate. It is an historic debate, and the amount of interest generated in advance of it has surely put beyond any doubt the fact that the public are concerned about this matter. It fully vindicates the establishment of the Committee, and its decision to facilitate the debate. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for Clacton (Mr Carswell), for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) and for Wycombe (Steve Baker), along with many others, for their tireless work and support from the very outset. With the leave of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) will briefly wind up the debate.
The motion reflects the wishes of the hundreds of thousands of people who have signed petitions calling for a referendum on the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union. Opinion polls clearly show that millions of others agree with them: in fact, the vast majority of the British people want a vote in a referendum. The arguments for and against the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union can wait until a future referendum campaign. The motion that is before us today simply paves the way for a referendum to be held on some future, as yet unspecified, date. Therefore, any argument that now is not the right time for a referendum to be held is, quite frankly, irrelevant. Even if the motion is passed today, a referendum is likely to be years away.
One reason for people’s increasing concern about our membership of the European Union is the growing sense that this country, indeed this Parliament, is becoming ever more impotent as more and more decisions are taken in Brussels and then passed down to the United Kingdom to implement, whether we like it or not. I want to mention one very important example of that from my constituency of Bury North. Before the last general election, the Conservatives pledged that if we won the election we would keep open the children’s department, including the maternity ward and special care baby unit, at Fairfield hospital in Bury, which was scheduled to close under Labour’s plans. Sadly, despite that pledge, and despite massive local opposition to the closure plans, these vital services are still destined to close, and one of the driving forces behind the closure plans is the effect of the European working time directive. Thousands of my constituents feel completely let down, and even at this late stage I urge the Government to keep that pre-election pledge and to ensure these services are retained at Fairfield hospital.
Mr Nuttall: I thank my hon. Friend. I will now press on.
A staggering 84% of the current voting age population have never voted in favour of Britain’s continued membership of the EEC, never mind the European Union. Furthermore, if I were a betting man, I would wager that some of those who voted yes back in 1975 may well have since changed their minds. The Common Market has fundamentally changed in size and powers as it has been transformed into the European Union, and without the British people ever being consulted, of course.
Mr Hague: I do not agree with my hon. Friend that that is what is happening day by day, or week by week. In foreign affairs, for example, we are absolutely clear, and all our embassies and posts throughout the world are clear, that we will not permit any competence creep following on from the Lisbon treaty.
My first reason is the same as the first one given earlier by the Prime Minister. The deficits of recent years, and the slowness of growth in all western economies, make this a difficult and uncertain time for many individuals and firms. The eurozone is clearly in crisis, and to pile on that uncertainty the further uncertainty of a referendum on leaving the European Union, when half the foreign direct investment into Britain comes from the rest of the European Union, and half our exports go out to the rest of the European Union, would not be a responsible action for Her Majesty’s Government to take. It would not help anyone looking for a job. It would not help any business trying to expand. It would mean that for a time, we, the leading advocates of removing barriers to trade in Europe and the rest of the world, would lack the authority to do so. It would mean that as we advocate closer trading links between the EU and the countries of north Africa as they emerge from their revolutions, helping to solidify tremendous potential advance in human freedom and prosperity, we would stand back from that. That is not the right way to respond to this dramatic year of uncertainty and change.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): In light of what my right hon. Friend said in advocacy of the single market as it now operates, will he explain why, between 2009 and 2010, our trade deficit with the 26 member states jumped from minus £14 billion to minus £53 billion, and with the eurozone from minus £4 billion to minus £38 billion in one year—last year alone? Why did that happen, and what is his remedy?
Mr Hague: The remedy is to restore the health of the British economy, to have a tax system, such as the Chancellor is creating, that attracts businesses to this country, and to create export growth from this country to the whole world, not just to the European Union. We cannot do that if we are not taking part in the free trade agreements that Europe is making with the rest of the world.
The second and third reasons—
Mr Alexander: I will make a little progress, then I will be happy to give way. Let me share with the House the description of Europe’s economic importance to Britain given to me in a recent parliamentary answer by none other than the Foreign Secretary:
“European markets account for half of the UK’s overall trade and foreign investments and as a result, around 3.5 million jobs in the UK are linked to the export of goods and services to the EU.”
He states that those markets provide
“the world’s most important trading zone, generating total GDP close to £10 billion in 2010”.—[Official Report, 12 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 256W.]
In what I hope was a drafting error rather than an economic forecast, he of course got the size of Europe’s GDP wrong by a factor of 1,000. It actually had a GDP close to £10 trillion in 2010. The importance of the European economy to the British economy is none the less clear.
Mr Cash: I would be most grateful if the shadow Foreign Secretary would answer the question that I put to the Foreign Secretary about the tremendous advantages that they claim for this economic miracle of Europe. How do you explain that under your watch, when you were in government—[Interruption.] Not yours, Mr Speaker. Can he explain why, under Labour’s watch, the trade deficit with the other 26 member states went up from minus £14 billion to minus £53 billion in one year between 2009 and 2010?
Mr Cash: Many people in the country, knowing of the integrity and the honesty that is reflected in my hon. Friend’s speech and knowing that this honourable gentleman—this honourable friend—has decided that he will resign his position as a parliamentary private secretary in the Foreign Office on a matter of such importance, will commend him for it.
Mr Holloway: Obviously, I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We do not have the right to give away powers entrusted to us by our constituents. To anyone who is still wondering which way to vote, I say: “Do not try to guess what the result of a referendum would be, and do not worry about wording or timing. You need only ask yourself two questions. First, is this the right thing to do in principle? Secondly, what do your constituents want you to do?” Here is our opportunity to show people that the system can work, that representative government continues to function in the land where it was nurtured and developed, and that patriotism—putting one’s country rather than one’s own interests first—is not foreign to the House.
Mr Walter: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—it was a political argument. What I am sad about is that there are those who want to destroy that legacy and the legacy of those who fought and voted for that lasting peace—a Europe in harmony, comfortable with itself and respecting differences of culture, language, history and nationality, but confident in its ability to work together.
Mr Cash: I just want to mention to my hon. Friend that my father was killed in the war in Normandy and I am sure that he, together with all the others, also appreciated that what they were doing was fighting for freedom and for the democracy that is being put at risk by opposition to this motion.
Mr Walter: I hope that that is not correct and I remind my hon. Friend that he and I first met when we were both on a committee of the European Movement, which, of course, had just campaigned for a yes vote in that very referendum.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): A few months ago the Prime Minister asked me after a debate to write to him about my views on the European Union, so I wrote him a pamphlet called “It’s the EU, stupid.” That was a reference not to him, but to Bill Clinton’s recognition that the economy is at the heart of the issue. In just the same way, I believe fundamentally, as I have set out in the pamphlet—I will quickly encapsulate some of the thoughts it contains—that this is first of all a matter of principle. The referendum issue has been going around since before the Maastricht referendum campaign. I voted yes, as it happens, in 1975, but since then we have seen the accumulation of powers and the broken promises, betrayals and prevarication. The argument is that it is never the right time to deal with these issues, but that is the problem, and the British people feel that they have been betrayed by a failure to deliver on those promises.
Steve Baker: I would have voted yes in 1975, but does my hon. Friend agree that the EU has gone far beyond that which is necessary to guarantee peace and prosperity?
Mr Cash: Yes, indeed, and I will go further: the EU has created a situation in which it actually damages our economy. That is the problem, and that is the reversal of the situation, with massive over-regulation—£8 billion a year, according to the British Chambers of Commerce—over the past 20 years in this country alone.
As I said earlier in my interventions on the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary, we are running the single market on a deficit that has gone up in the last year alone by as much as £40 billion, so it would be inconceivable for us not to take a rain-check and say, “We cannot just continue with this and pretend that nothing is going on.”
If ever there was a time to tackle the issue in principle, it is now, and that is what the motion is about: whether there is a case for renegotiation or for leaving the European Union. On renegotiation, we must establish the fact in line with the wishes of the people of this country—not because the Whips have said, “You’ve got to do this, that and the other” or, with great respect, because the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary have said so, but because we have a sacred trust, as elected Members of this House, to do what is right, in the interests of the British people as we see it for our constituents, and in the national interest. This is exactly that issue tonight.
The Prime Minister has given two speeches over the past year or so—one was about rebuilding trust in politics, and the other was about a European policy that we can believe in. I strongly recommend that people tonight, tomorrow or at some point read those speeches again and ask themselves, “What is going on in this debate today?” We know that the Whips have been strongly at work, but I had all that over Maastricht, we have had it over the years and it becomes something that we have to get used to. The reality is that we are doing the right thing for the right reason. That is the point.
Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he not think that, because the debate has been generated by an e-petition, because it has been made possible by the Backbench Business Committee and because it is an issue that does not divide Members along party lines, it is totally wrong for both party leaders to apply the three-line Whip?
Mr Cash: I absolutely agree. In fact, I think that three parties are involved, and the point applies to all of them. I should like to return to the Prime Minister’s statement today and to test it against what has been going on. He said to us: “Members of my party fought the last election committed to three things,” including, “stopping the passage of further powers to the EU.” The Foreign Secretary, in his article in The Daily Telegraph the day before yesterday, said that he objected to the Lisbon treaty, and he will remember that he, I and many Conservative Members fought, united together, against it line by line—every aspect of it—and fought for a referendum. Yet, we have been watching the implementation of further powers—I do not want to get into the semantics or legal niceties of the word “powers”, because I know them as well as anybody else in the House—and every aspect of that Lisbon treaty day in, day out, and many of the problems that we are now experiencing are a result of its implementation.
The Prime Minister went on to say that we have instituted “a referendum lock to require a referendum, by law, for…such transfer of powers”, and I have a ten-minute rule Bill on that tomorrow. It would reverse section 4 of the European Union Act 2011, which I opposed on the Floor of the House. I see the Foreign Secretary smiling, because he knows what I am going to say. The real test, as I said to the Prime Minister during his statement, is about fundamental change—constitutional, political and economic. That is the test that needs to be applied, and it was endorsed—by the way—by the Lords Constitution Committee only last year.
Fiscal union, of which I shall explain more tomorrow, is such a fundamental change, but the Government quite deliberately ensured through section 4(4)(b) of the 2011 Act that there would be no referendum when the provision in question applied, in their terms, only to the eurozone and not to us directly. At the very time when we were being told that, however, I and others objected because we felt that such a provision would affect us enormously. We were told that it would not, but now we are told day in, day out how much it does affect us, and that therefore we must not do what we are doing tonight, for the very simple reason that, somehow or other, it will undermine our economic activity with the European Union. That is absolute rubbish. The reason why we are in such difficulties with deficit reduction is that there is no growth, and there is no growth because 50% of all our economic laws come from Europe. It also accounts for 40% of our trade, a point that the Foreign Secretary made, but the fact is that we have a massive trade deficit, as I have already described.
The EU is a failed project. It is an undemocratic project. This vote—this motion—is in the national interest, because it is for democracy, for trust in politics and for the integrity of this House.
The House proceeded to a Division.
The House having divided: Ayes 111, Noes 483.
Question accordingly negatived.