The Prime Minister made a statement, yesterday, at the House of Commons, on last week’s European Council. Bill Cash made the following intervention.
The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): (…) Britain had three objectives at last week’s European Council: first, for eurozone members to take the urgent action needed to deal with the immediate crisis; secondly, to secure a comprehensive growth package firmly focused on Britain’s priorities; and thirdly to send a clear message to the rest of Europe about what we expect from the budget negotiations to come. I shall deal with each before turning to future policy and the Government’s response to the banking scandal.
First, on the eurozone, Britain has been clear that in the short term we want urgent action by eurozone countries and authorities to defend their currency and deal with the instability. In the longer term, we recognise that the remorseless logic of a single currency means that the eurozone may need closer economic and fiscal integration. Britain is not in the euro, and we are not going to join the euro, so we should neither pay for short-term measures nor take part in longer-term integration. The summit made some progress. On shorter-term measures, eurozone members agreed to use the bail-out funds to support intervention in bond markets; to put eurozone money directly into struggling banks; and to ensure that official loans to Spanish banks would not be given preferential treatment over private sector loans. Under the last Government, we could have been liable for financial support for these measures, as members of the EU bail-out fund, but this Government have repatriated that power so that the British taxpayer is not involved.
On longer-term issues, eurozone members agreed important steps towards closer integration following a discussion of a report by the President of the European Council and others. It is vital for Britain—and, we would argue, for the strength and prosperity of the whole European Union—that they do this in the right way. We therefore secured agreement that as this work goes ahead, the “unity and integrity of the single market” will be fully respected.
On the specific proposal of a banking union, we ensured that Britain will not be part of any common deposit guarantees or under the jurisdiction of any single European financial supervisor. I am very clear that British taxpayers will not be guaranteeing any eurozone banks, and I am equally clear that, while we need proper supervision of our banks, British banks should be supervised by the Bank of England, not by the European Central Bank. The original draft of the growth compact included a whole section on economic and monetary union which implied that a banking union might apply to all 27 countries. A number of countries worked together to ensure that that whole section of the growth compact was removed.
Our second objective involved growth. The growth programme includes commitments to deal with weak lending, including through an increase in funds for the European Investment Bank. Alongside this are clear commitments to complete the single market in areas such as services, energy and digital, in which Britain will be one of the prime beneficiaries. The agreed plan included dates and times by which those steps should be concluded. We also agreed to go ahead with the European patent court. Businesses have complained for decades that they needed 27 patents to protect their intellectual property. That problem will now be solved. In finalising the agreement, Britain had two objectives: that the new patent should be redrafted so that it did not get snarled up in the processes of the European Court of Justice, and that a significant part of the court, covering pharmaceutical and life science industries, would be based in London. I am pleased to say that we secured both those outcomes. That will mean millions of pounds and hundreds of jobs for Britain.
Our third objective involved the EU budget for the next seven years. We want a budget that is focused on growth, not a focus on growth in the budget. EU members as a whole are €3.5 trillion more in debt now than when the last EU budget was negotiated. We have to face up to that tough reality. I made it clear that without the British rebate, we would have the largest net contribution in the EU as a share of our national income. Without our rebate, our net contribution would be double that of France and almost one and a half times bigger than that of Germany. So the British rebate is not up for renegotiation. It is fully justified.
On foreign policy, the Council welcomed the EU oil embargo against Iran, which came into force yesterday. On Syria, we called for united action by the United Nations Security Council to place more robust and effective pressure on Assad’s regime, including the adoption of comprehensive sanctions.
Europe is changing rapidly and fundamentally, and that presents real challenges for all countries. Those inside the eurozone have to face fundamental choices about whether to limit their national democracy and provide financial support to the weaker members. And like others outside the Eurozone, we in Britain also face big choices. As Europe changes to meet the challenges of the eurozone, so our relationship with Europe will change, too. There are those who argue for an in/out referendum now. I do not agree with that—[ Interruption. ] I do not agree with that because I do not believe that leaving the EU would be best for Britain. Nor, however, do I believe that voting to preserve the exact status quo would be right. As I wrote yesterday, I do not believe that the status quo is acceptable, but just as I believe it would be wrong to have an immediate in/out referendum, so it would also be wrong to rule out any type of referendum for the future. The right path for Britain is this. First—[ Interruption. ]
Mr Speaker: Order. Members are a little over-excitable. They must calm themselves, and the Prime Minister’s statement must be heard.
The Prime Minister: First, we must recognise that, in the short term, the priority for Europe is to deal with the instability and chaos. Secondly, over time, we must take the opportunities for Britain to shape its relationship with Europe in ways that advance our national interest in free trade, open markets and co-operation. As I argued yesterday, that should mean less Europe not more Europe, less cost, less bureaucracy, and less meddling in the issues that belong to nation states. Thirdly, all party leaders will have to address the question. It follows from my argument that, far from ruling out a referendum for the future, as a fresh deal in Europe becomes clear, we should consider how best to get the fresh consent of the British people.
Finally, as I have said, as the eurozone moves towards a banking union, we must ensure that Britain takes responsibility for sorting out its own banking sector. On the unfolding banking scandal here in the UK, we need to take action right across the board, including introducing the toughest and most transparent rules on pay and bonuses of any major financial centre in the world, increasing the taxes that banks must pay, ensuring tough civil and criminal penalties for those who break the law and, above all, clearing up the regulatory failure left by the last Labour Government.
The British people want to see two things: they want to see bankers who acted improperly punished; and they want to know we will learn the broader lessons of what happened in this particular scandal. On the first, the Serious Fraud Office is looking at whether any criminal prosecutions can be brought, and at whether the full force of the law is being used in dealing with this. On the second, I want us to establish a full parliamentary committee of inquiry involving both Houses, chaired by the Chairman of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee. This committee will be able to take evidence under oath; it will have full access to papers, officials and Ministers, including Ministers and special advisers from the last Government; and it will be given by the Government all the resources it needs to do its job properly. The Chancellor will be making a full statement, but this is the right approach, because it will be able to start immediately, it will be accountable to this House and it will get to the truth quickly, so we can make sure this never happens again. I commend this statement to the House.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): I was heartened by my right hon. Friend’s interview on the referendum question, but given his negative answer to me on 23 May on that same question, will he take the advice of the London taxi driver to whom I have just spoken, who just said, “The British people are not stupid; they understand the position. Give them renegotiation, give them a referendum, get rid of the coalition agreement—then, he will be re-elected by a massive majority.”
The Prime Minister: I can see that it must have been a particularly satisfying and heart-warming taxi ride for my hon. Friend. As I have said, I do not think that an immediate in/out referendum is the answer, but ruling out a referendum is not the answer either. There are opportunities to build the sort of settlement we want in Europe and the Government believe that we should take advantage of them.