Here is my speech in the Europe debate on 30 January
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister’s speech last week was much delayed, much anticipated and over-hyped. It is already clear that the blip in the opinion polls is much less than he had hoped for. I therefore look forward to the internal debate in the Conservative party over the coming two years, and to the Prime Minister continuing to try to appease and assuage the egos of many Conservative Back Benchers.
Much of that sclerotic decision making in the EU happens because of unanimity rules. Can we therefore take it that the Prime Minister has called for more qualified majority voting? Conservative Back Benchers are shaking their heads, but Ministers cannot tell us the answer, because they do not know what the negotiating position will be.
Similarly, the Prime Minister questioned whether we can justify an ever-larger Commission, but the Commission gets larger because of EU enlargement and the accession of more member states. If the Prime Minister does not wish the Commission to become larger, the long-standing policy of successive Governments for further European enlargement has presumably been ditched. Alternatively, is the Prime Minister arguing that there should be a limit on the number of commissioners and saying that there might be future circumstances in which there is no British commissioner? We do not know the answer to that question because, again, the Government are unable to tell us.
Mr Redwood: Does the hon. Gentleman recollect that the Labour Government sold the pass on the number of commissioners by saying that not every state should have one? Perhaps that was one of the few sensible things they did to drive home the point that the Commission is a European government, not a representative government.
Mike Gapes: Why did the Prime Minister not give more information in his speech rather than putting up the straw man and attacking the EU for increasing the number of commissioners relentlessly, when that is in fact a consequence of our previous enlargement policies?
The Prime Minister said that the European treaty laid the foundations of ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe. It is interesting to note that he did not point out that British Conservative negotiators of the Maastricht treaty insisted on keeping the phrase “ever-closer union” because they deemed the words to be vague and therefore something they could live with.
I campaigned and voted no in 1975, in my misguided youth. At that time, the Wilson Government, like the previous Heath Government and pro and anti-European campaigners, said the vote was about more than a common market, namely political union and other aspirations for co-operation. Whatever position the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk took in 1975—I do not know whether he was old enough to vote at the time—it is not true that we had a referendum and joined an organisation that was just about trade. It was more than that. I could go on to comment on other aspects of the Prime Minister’s speech, but I will not because of limited time.
It is clear that instead of addressing the economic crisis that confronts the whole of this continent, and the wrong, misguided austerity economics that is creating tens of millions of unemployed people and the immiseration of millions in many European countries, we in this country are now going to have an obsession with the minutiae of a probably unrealisable renegotiation about unrealisable repatriation powers. We need Ministers to go to Brussels and argue, in all the forums of the European Union, for different economic policies. In the meantime, we need Ministers to bring in different domestic economic policies to again achieve growth, prosperity and jobs in this country.
The economic policies we are pursuing here are potentially leading, as we now know, to a triple-dip recession. We have a massive trade imbalance with the European Union, which is partly due to the failures of our domestic policy, but is being compounded by the wrong economic policies being pursued by the austerity programme within the eurozone. As a result, the Government’s British economic strategy—export-led growth to get us out of the situation we are in, presumably capitalising on the benefits of the devaluation of the pound that has been going on for some months—is not getting us the growth we need, partly due to domestic reasons and partly due to problems in the eurozone economy. There is a very good paper by Simon Tilford from the Centre for European Reform—I do not have time to quote it, but I recommend that hon. Members read it—about the problems confronting our country partly because of the wrong policies within the EU’s economies.
We need to have concerted economic plans for recovery in the next five years, not concerted plans to create economic uncertainty and damaging policies that will reduce the amount of inward investment into the UK economy. The Government have taken a dangerous leap in the dark, creating enormous uncertainty for anybody who wishes to plan to invest in this country. They are putting jobs and prosperity in Britain at risk, and in time they will come to regret it at the next general election.