The Prime Minister made a statement, yesterday, at the House of Commons, on the most recent European Council. Bill Cash made the following intervention:
The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): (…) Before turning to the main focus of the Council, which was the situation in the eurozone, let me say a word about the discussions on Tunisia and Libya, on the situation in Ukraine and on the nuclear talks with Iran. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Sally Adey, a British holidaymaker who was among at least 20 tourists and two Tunisians brutally murdered in the terrorist attack at the Bardo museum last week. I have written to President Essebsi to assure him that Britain will stand with the people of Tunisia as they seek to defeat the terrorists and build a peaceful and prosperous future. The EU has agreed to offer practical assistance, and Britain will play its part, deploying SO15 and military counter-terrorism experts and continuing to provide assistance in aviation security and tourist resort protection.
The suggestion that some of the terrorists involved had been trained in Libya is the latest evidence of the very difficult situation in that country. The Council agreed on the need for a political solution, supporting UN-led efforts to bring the different parties in Libya together to agree a national unity Government. Britain has provided Libya with aid and military training, and we will continue to do all that we can to assist. I know that some people are looking at this situation and asking whether Britain, France and America were right to act to stop Colonel Gaddafi when we did. We should be clear that the answer is yes. Gaddafi was on the brink of massacring his own people in Benghazi, and we prevented what would have been a wide-scale, brutal, murderous assault. It was the right thing to do, and we should be very proud of the British servicemen and women who carried out that vital task.
Turning to the situation in eastern Ukraine, the Council welcomed the significant reduction in fighting and the progress on the withdrawal of heavy weapons. But as President Obama, President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and I agreed earlier this month, it is essential to send a clear signal that sanctions will not be eased until Russia delivers on its promises and the Minsk agreements are fully implemented. The European Council did exactly that. The conclusions say that “the duration of the restrictive measures…should be clearly linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk Agreements.” The conclusions also underline our readiness to take further measures if required.
One of the best things we can do to help Russia’s neighbours is to help them to fight corruption and strengthen their democracies. Just as the Know-How fund, set up by Margaret Thatcher, did a great job of helping eastern European countries after the fall of the Berlin wall, so we need the same approach today. At the Council, I announced a good governance fund with an initial £20 million to support reforms in countries in the eastern neighbourhood and the western Balkans. This will complement support from other donors, accelerating efforts to fight corruption, strengthening the rule of law, reforming the police and justice systems and supporting free markets by liberalising key sectors such as energy and banking. The fund will be up and running by the summer. As well as covering Ukraine, it will initially cover Georgia, Moldova, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Turning to Iran, I met Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in the margins of the Council to discuss progress in the vital talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. We are absolutely clear and united in our purpose. Iran must never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. But there is a peaceful path to civil nuclear energy, and we believe that a comprehensive, durable and verifiable deal is possible, but only if Iran shows greater flexibility and takes some tough decisions during the talks this week. We also discussed proposals for co-ordinating Europe’s energy policy, ensuring transparency of gas supply agreements and that Europe’s energy policies are consistent with reaching the vital deal at the climate change summit in Paris this December.
Turning to the eurozone, the Council welcomed the agreement between Greece and the euro area to extend their programme. Let me say again—this is the last of these statements in this Parliament and I have probably uttered this sentence 11 times: Britain is not in the eurozone and we are not going to join the eurozone. But we do need the eurozone to work properly. A disorderly Greek exit from the euro remains a major threat to Europe’s economic stability and it could be very damaging to the British economy. Protecting our economy from these wider risks in the eurozone means sticking to this Government’s long-term economic plan. Five years ago, Britain’s economy was close to the edge. We had the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history. We had a deficit that was forecast to be bigger than that of Greece or of any other developed country on the planet. Five years on, the deficit has been halved and our national debt is falling as a share of GDP; we have the fastest growth of any major western economy; we have 1.89 million more people in work; and we have more jobs created in Yorkshire than in the whole of France, and more jobs created in the UK than in the rest of the European Union put together. We need to stay on this path, not abandon it just as it is leading our country to prosperity.
Just as we are acting in our national interest at home, so we have acted to protect our national interest in Europe, too: we have cut the EU budget for the first time in its history; we got Britain out of the euro bail-out schemes; we vetoed a treaty that was not in our national interest; we stopped attempts to discriminate against EU countries outside the eurozone, not least with our successful legal challenge last month; we have made vital progress on cutting red tape and completing the single market; at our G8 in Lough Erne, we kick-started the talks on what will be the biggest bilateral trade deal in history, between the EU and the US; we have put power back in the hands of our fishermen so they can sell what they catch; we have negotiated a new single European patent that will reduce cost for entrepreneurs, and part of that patent court will be based right here in London; we have ensured new safeguards to protect our vital financial services industry; we have returned over 100 powers from Brussels to Britain, giving us more control over our borders, policing and security; we have clamped down on benefit tourism; and in foreign policy, we have worked together with our European partners to get things done and keep our people safe, on matters ranging from sanctions on Russia and Iran, and practical assistance to help countries in north Africa fight terrorism, to international action to help those in desperate need around the world, including in west Africa, where British aid workers are risking their lives, helping to stop the spread of Ebola.
In the coming two years, we have the opportunity to reform the EU and fundamentally change Britain’s relationship with it. We have the opportunity to build a European Union that is more competitive, more flexible and more accountable to the people, where powers flow back to member states, not just away from them, and where freedom of movement is no longer an unqualified right. And for the first time in 40 years, we have the opportunity to give the British people their say on Britain’s place in Europe with an in-out referendum. If I am Prime Minister, that is what I will do. Those who would refuse to give the British people their say should explain themselves to this House and to the country. I commend this statement to the House.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend for what he has just said, and for stating unequivocally in his Bloomberg speech that it is our national Parliament that is the root of our democracy, for which people fought and died, but in what specific respects will he repatriate the powers of the British people to govern themselves and return the powers of sovereignty to this Parliament so that we can govern this country as we wish?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have already returned a power to Britain by getting out of the bail-out fund. We have returned 100 specific powers as a result of the opt-out on justice and home affairs. I have been very specific that when it comes to the free movement of people, and particularly its interaction with our welfare system, we need powers to be returned to this country. Specifically, I have said that people coming from European Union countries to Britain should not be allowed to claim unemployment benefit, that they should have to leave after six months if they do not have a job, that they should have to pay in for four years before getting anything out of the tax credits system and that they should not be able to send child benefit or other child tax payments to families back home. Those things require serious change in Europe, including treaty change, and that is what we will secure, and what a contrast with the Labour party, which will do absolutely zip.