During a debate on European Affairs, held yesterday in the House of Commons, Bill Cash made the following speech and interventions:
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Philip Hammond): I beg to move,
That this House has considered European affairs.
In just under four months’ time, the British people will face a choice—one that has been denied to them for many years—that we pledged to give them in our election manifesto and that we are now delivering; a choice that will have profound consequences for this country for a generation or more—whether to remain in the European Union on the basis of the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister or to leave.
The last time the British people were consulted on this question, 40 years ago, the answer was a clear yes, but much has changed in that 40 years, and the fact that we are holding this referendum now is recognition of a growing unease at the direction in which the EU has evolved—a growing sense that Europe was pursuing a goal that Britain did not share, and that we risked being dragged into a level of political integration for which few in Britain have any appetite.
For 25 years, I have shared that sense of unease. I have always considered myself a sceptic, and I consider myself a sceptic today. Like most people in Britain, I do not feel any warmth or affection for the EU or its institutions. I am irritated by the tone of much of what I hear coming from Brussels and instinctively suspicious of anything that sounds like a “grand projet”. But we do not live in some ideal world; we live in the real world, and the EU is part of that real world. The question that we have to answer is not: do we like it? The question we have to answer is whether we are stronger, safer and better off in the EU rather than out of it. Stronger, because our global influence is enhanced by being a leading member of the world’s largest trading bloc. Safer, because working together with EU partners strengthens our defences against organised crime and terrorism. Better off, because Britain benefits from having a domestic market of 500 million consumers and the clout that a quarter of the world’s GDP gives the EU in negotiating trade deals.
Let me recall what we set out to achieve and what has been delivered. First, we set out to protect British jobs and ensure a level playing field in Europe for British business, because the creation of the eurozone and the greater level of co-ordination needed between eurozone countries created a very real risk either that non-Eurozone countries such as Britain would be dragged into integration that we do not need and do not want, or that our businesses would suffer discrimination because of our decision to retain our own currency. So alongside the crucial exemption from steps of further integration, we needed to negotiate clear safeguards for the pound, the exemption of British taxpayers from eurozone bailouts, protection against discrimination for Britain’s world-leading financial services industry, a clear role for the Bank of England, and a clear commitment that we will have a full say in the functioning of the single market while not being part of the single currency. This deal delivers all those demands in a legally binding agreement, underpinned by the commitment by all EU member states to enshrine those UK safeguards in treaty change.
Sir William Cash rose—
Mr Hammond: I thought my hon. Friend might take his cue from my using the words “legally binding” again.
Sir William Cash: But what the Foreign Secretary is not doing is using other words that are part of this package—not only “legally binding” but “irreversible”.
As he knows, the question of whether this is irreversible is highly contentious. It is clear from the evidence that has been received, and indeed from the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, that it is not irreversible.
Mr Hammond: I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. The decision is irreversible unless Britain chooses to allow it to be reversed, because it could be reversed only by all 28 member states agreeing. I can assure him that, certainly for as long as this Government are in office, Britain will never agree to that happening. (…)
Sir William Cash: On the broader foreign policy question in relation to Russia and all that, would the shadow Foreign Secretary like to comment on whether he thinks the Budapest agreement in the 1990s was a good idea?
Hilary Benn: To be perfectly honest, I am less interested in what happened in the 1990s. I am more interested in what is going to happen in 2016, which is the big decision that the British people will have to take. I argue that our national security is served by our membership of both the EU and NATO. Co-operation across Europe is essential if we are to deal with terrorist threats. The European arrest warrant is a really good example of that. The case of the failed 21 July 2005 bomber who was returned here from Rome, where he had sought to escape British justice, demonstrates the benefit of working with our allies. That is why the director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, warned recently that British exit would
“make Britain’s job harder to fight crime and terrorism because it will not have the same access to very well developed European cooperation mechanisms that it currently has today”.
Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), because both of them have sought and achieved a level of debate that this subject certainly deserves. I wish to say something to my right hon. Friend, and I am sure he would agree with me on this. As he knows, I have utter admiration for his grandfather, being one who was born on 10 May 1940, when he assumed the prime ministership of this country and when Hitler invaded Holland and France. However, many of Sir Winston Churchill’s pronouncements on the issue of Europe changed as time progressed. In particular, he said at one point, much later than 1948, that we should be “associated but not absorbed”. The movements that were taking place and which were apparent to Sir Anthony Eden and to others in the late 1940s and early 1950s did have a significant impact on the thinking of our great, great former Prime Minister Sir Winston himself. In saying that we should be associated but not absorbed, he had understood that there were movements afoot that were not in the interests of the United Kingdom.
Sir Winston also said that we should tell the truth to the British people. He went on to make it clear that what he meant by that was that the British people will follow you if you tell them that truth. Sadly, I believe that what has been happening in the recent months, and in the whole of this debate, is just as I indicated in my response to the Prime Minister’s statement on 3 February, when I said that he was bypassing not only his promises, but his principles. I also said that I thought there was a problem with this expression “legally binding and irreversible” and with the stitch-up, as I put it, with respect to the political decision that I anticipated would be taken in a few days’ time and which of course was taken on 10 February. I thought this expression “legally binding and irreversible” would lead on 23 June, which has turned out to be the referendum date, to something on which the voters would not be able to rely. It is strong words to say that I believe the voter is already being cheated in this respect.
I say that for this reason, and with prudence and with care: right at the heart of this is voters’ trust. I also said that on 3 February. The truth is that, for all the arguments that have developed over these words “legally binding and irreversible”, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary very carefully avoided using the word “irreversible”. He mentioned “legally binding”. Indeed, the conclusions to the summit on 17 to 18 February specifically referred to “legally binding” and specifically did not refer to the word “irreversible”. There is a good reason for that, as we have said on numerous occasions in the European Scrutiny Committee. We have said it in our reports recently and in our cross-examination of the Foreign Secretary the other day. This is all about voter trust.
Let us take as an example the removal of the words “ever-closer union” in respect of the United Kingdom. As I had to point out to the Foreign Secretary, that is not in the preamble; it is in article 1 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Therefore, any removal requires treaty change, but we are not being given treaty change. We are relying on an international agreement. I will not say that such an agreement does not have a certain legal character, but it does not bind the European Court of Justice. It does not guarantee that other member states may veto any treaty change that might follow. It also does not guarantee what the European Court of Justice may say about it. It does not take into account the fact that other states will be holding referendums on this subject, of which Ireland is one such example, the outcome of which cannot possibly be predicted—not as said by a Member of Parliament on the “Today” programme yesterday.
Mr Jackson: Like many Conservative Members of Parliament, we wished the Prime Minister well as he went forward with negotiations. Obviously, we are very disappointed with the gossamer-thin substance of the agreement with which he came back a week or so ago. Is not the offence compounded by the fact that we were led to believe in the Bloomberg speech in January 2013 that we were looking at a fundamental renegotiation of our relationship with the European Union, and that clearly and sadly has not happened?
Sir William Cash: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, I made that very point on 3 February in my response to the Prime Minister’s statement. The Prime Minister also said that our democracy in our Westminster Parliament was the root of our freedom of choice—that was the essence of what he was saying. I also have fears about the framework of this agreement and the developments by successive Governments in successive treaties. For example, I voted yes in 1975. While I pursued the Government and harried them over the Maastricht rebellion, the situation changed dramatically when the Maastricht treaty was brought into being.
Alex Salmond: I know that some of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues are less surprised than I am, but am I right in hearing that he voted yes in 1975? What measure of responsibility does he take for all that has happened since?
Sir William Cash: Very little. As I have said, these were decisions that were taken in 1972 on the basis of a White Paper, which said that we would always retain a veto. That is the difference. In fact, it has been whittled away by successive Governments and I have opposed them from the moment that I saw the Maastricht treaty to the present day, as the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well.
I want to go back to this problem of voter trust. The current Eurobarometer poll suggests a minus 60 factor in trust throughout the whole of Europe. Only 43% turn out in the European parliamentary elections. There is no connection between the citizen and the European Union. This is not about Europe. Many of us on the Conservative Benches love Europe. As someone who has two Spanish grandsons, one Spanish granddaughter, a Greek granddaughter, a daughter born in France, and a son once married to an Italian, I simply say that we do not have to be anti-European to be pro-democracy. That is a very powerful and important point for us all to bear in mind.
I am deeply worried about this refusal to engage with this word “irreversible.” It cannot be guaranteed. It is like buying a shiny second-hand car on a post-dated cheque with a dud guarantee. That is what we are being offered on 23 June. Unless the voter knows that they are actually going to get what the Foreign Secretary described as the “whole package”, and that they can be guaranteed that it will be given and that it will come into effect, they have no reason to have any confidence in answering the question of whether to remain in Europe or to leave. That is a severe indictment, which is why I say that the Government are effectively cheating the voter on that day.
There is also the issue about the democracy of this country. We agreed in our vote in 1972, and in subsequent accession treaties and other treaties that were added into the European Communities Act 1972, that we would voluntarily accept this as a diminution of our sovereignty in the sense that it was being put through the parliamentary system. The other day, the Prime Minister referred to an illusion of sovereignty. I do not wish to elaborate on that other than to say that it is not an illusion. Sovereignty is about the right of the people to choose, in general elections, the kind of laws under which they wish to be governed. In this House of Commons, it is not illusion. It is a fact as well as being a question of jurisprudence. That is why it is so important. People fought and died—as my own father died in the last war—fighting for the right of the British people to resist tyranny. It is a great mistake to talk about sovereignty in terms of an illusion.
There is also the question of how much influence we actually have in the European Union. I could give some further description of the voting system, but much of what happens is decided in smoke-filled rooms and not by voting itself.
Sir William Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that if we remain we would in effect be in the second tier of a two-tier Europe dominated by other countries?
Mr Jenkin: That is a whole new argument, which I accept, but I am not going there now. (…)
Sir William Cash: May I refer the hon. and learned Lady to chapter 12 of “The Rule of Law” by the late Lord Justice Bingham, in which he severely criticises other members of the Supreme Court for taking what he would describe as a wrong view of the whole question of sovereignty?
Joanna Cherry: I am very well aware of Lord Bingham’s opinion of the views expressed in the Jackson case. I am not saying they are binding precedents, but that they are opinions. My point is that the opinion of Lord Hope of Craighead in Jackson and of Lord President Cooper in the 1953 case are very well founded in Scottish historical tradition. (…)