Tonight we celebrate a historic moment in our history. I want to tell you that I sat down this weekend and reflected on all the millions of words I have read and absorbed about the European issue – the passion, the convictions, the contempt, the arm-twisting, the battles against the Establishment and against our own Government.
I asked myself why? What was it all about? I came to a simple conclusion. The word is freedom. Freedom for the British people and our constituents. Freedom from fear and freedom of conscience. Freedom in the market place and freedom in the ballot box.
Twenty years is a long time ago and, by comparison, most of the other great constitutional struggles in our history – which released the British people from tyranny or avoided oppression and reaffirmed their freedom – have been resolved in far shorter time.
We are still not there yet, but the Maastricht Treaty and the vote on the 4th November 1992 was indeed a watershed, although, as in the great Norway debate of 1940, the Government won the vote but lost the confidence of the nation until Churchill took the helm.
Looking back over the centuries, the opposition to this Maastricht Treaty, which undermined our sovereignty and our Parliament, ranks with the parliamentary battle against Charles I and the Civil War – over ship money and over the Divine Right of Kings.
It ranks with the removal of the Stuarts at the end of the seventeenth century.
It ranks with the repeal of the Corn Laws and the battle for the Reform Act of 1867 and the vote for the man in the street.
It ranks with the battle over Home Rule and the breakaway of the Liberal Unionists over the issue of Westminster sovereignty.
It ranks with the battle against appeasement in the late 1930s.
All these issues ultimately turned on one fundamental question – who governs Britain and how – all fundamental, constitutional issues of the first rank.
This was why the Maastricht Treaty was so important and so dangerous. It created European government with or without the opt-outs, a fundamental step towards a federal Europe that Barroso has now demanded. David Cameron has himself stated that there should have been a Referendum on that Treaty.
The passing of the European Communities Act 1972 was based on a great deceit – that we would retain the veto. Maastricht represented the fundamental erosion of British political will. Imagine what would have happened had the state of Europe as it now exists and is seen on every television screen in the country and throughout Europe been projected into the living rooms of the people of this country and of Europe at the time the Maastricht debates were being conducted – yet all this was predicted and they ignored us.
The all-embracing nature of that Act is what is now at stake as the encroachments on the voters’ right to decide in General Elections how they are to be governed has brought Britain to its knees.
What we are celebrating tonight is a collective act of political will by courageous and principled Members of Parliament who, despite the determination of the Government and the Establishment to induce and bully them into betraying their conscience and their convictions, stood out, stood firm and laid the foundations for the political war of attrition which has persisted to the present day.
People fought and died on the field of battle for our democracy. How much easier it is for us, how much less a risk than those for whom the ultimate sacrifice was the loss of life itself.
Looking around this room brings back floods of memories.
Some regrettably cannot be here, but they are not forgotten.
Attempts have been made to rewrite the history of those exciting and momentous days.
They will never be able to capture the sense of dedication and camaraderie that existed in Room J or in Great College Street or the Maastricht Referendum Campaign.
And there was the battle with the whips, including some who now profoundly regret their misguided devotion to the establishment and all those who ignored our warnings at the time but who cannot even now bring themselves to see with clarity the need for a decisive break with the existing treaties.
So where does Maastricht place us now?
It is still embedded in the treaties and is the foundation stone of the destruction of our national independence and self-government.
It has been embellished, it has been deepened by Nice, by Amsterdam and decisively, by Lisbon.
And it has failed. The reasons for the failure are the direct consequence of the structure underpinned by the Treaties themselves which deny the oxygen of self-determination in British national, business and domestic life, sacrificed on the altar of the political ideology of European Government now predominantly on German terms. It is riddled with fraud – the accounts have not been signed off for 18 years and in order to bail out the system they print money in a never ending cascade.
It has now failed spectacularly in Europe as a whole, as predicted 20 years ago – riots and unemployment, the German question, our trade deficit of over £30bn per year with the other 26, whilst we have a general trade surplus of a similar amount with the rest of the world and overregulation of the SMEs – that Maastricht matters as much now as it did on 4th November 1992.
At last we are at the crossroads. As I wrote in Visions of Europe (August, 1993) in the chapter “A Brave New Europe”:
“It is this fundamental contradiction between promise and performance which is undermining the Community and therefore the Community as a whole which is falling into a pit of corrosive contradictions… Maastricht … once ratified, can only be unravelled by unanimous requirement, which is to say the least impossible, or, when monetary union collapses (as did the Exchange Rate Mechanism) there is widespread chaos with massive political and commercial instability throughout Europe.”
We are still fighting the same battle, but now our predictions are realised and our warnings are acknowledged – almost too late.
It is worth remembering that we nearly got there when the Party united over the Lisbon Treaty and with the vote to have a referendum, but then the cast iron guarantee was cast aside.
But there was a revolt – a highly significant revolt – 50 Conservative MPs voted to preserve our sovereignty, echoing the same amendment I proposed on the Single European Act as long ago as 1986.
Yet the momentum created by the Maastricht Rebellion, epitomised on 4 November, is still with us.
We did not vote against the confidence motion at the end of the Maastricht saga for one very simple reason – as I said at the time to John Smith across the chamber: if we had voted with Labour to defeat the Government on that fateful night, we would have guaranteed that under his government after a General Election he would have adopted his failed federal agenda and we would now be subsumed in the same perils as the rest of the European Union and the eurozone itself.
By the rebellion 20 years ago, we established the benchmark against which the change in the Conservative Party and in the country can be measured.
Indeed, now 94% of the British electorate insist on a referendum, and only this weekend 56% say that we must leave the European Union altogether.
So where do we stand today, especially after the demand by Barroso and the Euro-fanatics for a federal state? They are so wilfully blind that they will drive this agenda forward by hook or by crook.
The Coalition Government is paralysed by not only the Liberal Democrats, but by self-doubt and the Euro-elite in the high echelons of Government but also by the desire to retain the keys to No. 10. Certainly we have witnessed the first veto, by David Cameron, of any kind since 1972, over the fiscal compact. This compact itself is unlawful as was the breaking of the Stability and Growth Pact by Germany and by France and the first bailout arrangements described by Madame Lagarde at the time as the violation of all the rules in order to save the euro. The proposals for the banking union are also unlawful. What we are witnessing in the EU is the breaking of the ultimate test of government, namely its own adherence to the Rule of Law, on a massive scale in pursuit of an unwanted political ideology, which is itself patently failing. They insist on rigid adherence to the acquis, as they put it, from which they will tolerate no deviation yet they themselves wilfully break the very rules on which they rely to justify their centralised integrationist process. But there are signs of hope and new horizons.
Above all else, we have now for the first time in 40 years since our entry into the European project won a vote in Parliament over the European budget – with the determination of those of us from the Maastricht days and new valiant MPs who have come into Parliament, such as Mark Reckless, particularly in the new intake of 2010 and who have been prepared to defy the Whips.
The tide and times have changed thanks to the Maastricht rebellion and, as I said to David Cameron recently, the tectonic plates are not merely moving, they have moved and will be followed by a tsunami.
And yet the Government is in a vacuum without a European policy which has any coherence whatsoever, shared as it is with the federalist Liberal Democrats.
The issue cannot be resolved by nibbling at the treaties, nor can it be resolved by pleading for a referendum on what would amount to a list of demands, which is no more than like running with the hare and the hounds whilst continuing to concede the principle of the Maastricht framework which itself denies the consent of the British people by its adherence to European government.
It is, as I said at the beginning of my speech, about fundamental constitutional change on a historic scale.
The time is now right to throw down the gauntlet to the European Union, not for prevarication or negotiations conceding the principle of the existing Treaties. As I said at a meeting at the Party conference this year, we must have a referendum before the next General Election, at least in 2014, and to run parallel to the European elections and that this must be on the principle of fundamental change in our relationship under the EU and the principle of the consent of the British people – back to trade and political cooperation only.
Since Barroso, there is no turning back, and you and I, all of us, the British people, have crossed the Rubicon and, in Caesar’s famous words, the die is cast. The Prime Minister meanwhile still stands uncertain on the bank of the river while the British people have reached the other side.
There is nothing effective that the Government can realistically place on the table which the European elite would even countenance, which is why the issue cannot be about a referendum for negotiations about subsidiary issues, which will simply turn into smoke and mirrors. A list of trade-offs followed by a nibbling at the Treaties, the pretence of a negotiated victory and putting this cop out to a further referendum will not tackle the real question of democratic consent. This approach is an utterly vain and pointless exercise, which will merely delay the important and historic need for a fundamental referendum on our relationship with the EU.
The Government’s position as I said to the Prime Minister recently is like John Major’s policy on the Euro and the ERM – a policy of ‘wait and see’ until it is too late. Just as our economy was destroyed by the delay of abandoning the ERM, so will this delay destroy our Parliament and our nation, if he does not lead and act decisively now.
We must demand a referendum on nothing less than the breaking of our fundamental relationship with the failed European Union.
The British people are with us and the spirit which infused the Maastricht Rebellion and the debate on 4th November must prevail.
The referendum question must be confined to establishing that the British people want only trade and political cooperation – in other words, back to the common market, and not within the legal framework of the existing treaties.
We know where we are.
We know that the European elite will not listen.
As Winston Churchill said: “So the Government go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful for impotence.”
This is the vacuum which successive Governments have created and within which this Coalition Government exists as it strives to retain the keys to No. 10.
The black hole of this failed European project – with its bailouts, the rise of extremism, unemployment, the destruction of the small businesses which pay by their taxes for the public sector and the total failure of democracy of the EU, its bullying, its threats, and its failure to deliver the stability and peace which it promised, as predicted – is now apparent for all to see.
If we do not take a stand, as we did on that November day, we will be sucked into that deeper and blacker dark hole forever.
We want an association of sovereign nation states and as Winston Churchill said, we should be associated but not absorbed. Above all else it was political will on 4th November and in the Maastricht rebellion that led to the circumstances on which we now have the opportunity to save our country. The Coalition, however, shows no signs of measuring up to the present challenge, so the issue from now on will turn on political will and on the British people themselves – as William Pitt said:
“England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.”
That is why we must strain every nerve at this most propitious time to obtain that referendum at the next European elections on 2014, on the fundamental issue of our relationship with the European Union in principle and on the issue of consent.
And within the House of Commons, as was made clear on 4th November 1992 and thereafter, as a small band of MPs stood by and carried the responsibility and their natural duty against the Whips with courage and foresight in line with the most famous of Churchill’s tenets:
‘First – country, second – constituency, third – party’.
I end with part of a poem which was sent to me the day after the debate on 4th November 1992. In its own words:
The twenty-seven’s duty sticks
To bear the insults, bear the kicks
That liars hurl at honest men,
And carry forth their banner when
Their promised allies fall away,
And only truth remains to say
“Fight on! And in the battle’s heat
Not one should contemplate defeat,
A nation holds her breath for you;
She cannot speak, but trusts you to.”