Eurozone Crisis

Here is my speech in the pre EU Council debate on Thursday 26 January 2012

12.30 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The decision by the Prime Minister to walk away from potential agreement at the European Council in December is a disaster for our country and for its long-term influence in the European Union. No previous Conservative Prime Minister, whether John Major or Baroness Thatcher, had taken such an approach, and we are about to see the consequences of the current Prime Minister’s decision in the developments going on in the European Union this week. ECOFIN met this week to consider the fourth draft of the agreement—on which the House of Commons Library has produced a helpful note—for the proposed inter-governmental arrangement on the future of the eurozone. That fourth draft agreement made some progress at this week’s meeting, but two issues were left for the bigger meeting that will take place in the next few days: further discussion about qualified majority voting and debt and deficit criteria; and the attendance of non-eurozone member states at the summit.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I must say that I find my hon. Friend’s speech somewhat astonishing in blaming Britain for the problems in the eurozone. The problem, as the Father of the House said at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, is that the Germans are refusing to bail out the weaker members.

Mike Gapes: If my hon. Friend looks at Hansard, he will see that I was not blaming Britain for the problems in the eurozone, but saying correctly that our influence in the European Union will be reduced because of the misguided tactics adopted by the Prime Minister.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Gapes: I will make some progress first.

As a result of the European Union Act 2011, the Prime Minister has boxed himself into a position in which there must be no potential for a referendum in this country. As he was trying to assuage his 81 Europhobic Back Benchers, he took the easy option of making a political decision rather than one in the national interest, which would have been to remain in the negotiations and to carry on trying to influence the outcome. As a result, when discussions conclude on the arrangements, if they are based on the fourth draft agreement—I quote the House of Commons Library Paper—

“the Heads of State or Government of contracting parties whose currency is not the euro who have ratified this Treaty and have declared their intention to be bound by some of its provisions”

would be invited

“to a meeting of the Euro Summit”.

However, those who did not agree to the intention to be bound by the provisions and were not participating would have no automatic right to attend. The Library paper states:

“This would appear to exclude the UK as a non-Euro, but crucially also a non-contracting State.”

There is a potential, therefore, for us no longer to be in the room, even as an observer, because of our misguided decision in December to walk away from the process.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that it is wrong not to be in a room that is about as robust as a sinking Italian cruise liner?

Mike Gapes: I suspect that when the eurozone finally resolves the crisis, whether this week, which is doubtful, or on 1 and 2 March, which might be more likely, and when the 20 or so countries—perhaps 25 or 26, depending on how many of the existing 17 euro countries and the others eventually sign up to the package—agree to abide by the provisions, our influence will cease to be as strong as it has been. As a result, one other thing will develop: the pre-meeting discussions that take place within the European People’s party network, the conservative group that dominates the politics of the European Union—the right of centre, not the left of centre, are in control in the EU—the Sarkozy-Merkel meetings, or meetings involving Poland and the new right-wing Government in Spain, will not include the UK. When the bigger countries pre-cook the agendas, we will not be there and we will not be heard. That is potentially very dangerous.

Mr Redwood: Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that one has to pay to play? If we were in the room, the other countries would expect us to divvy up, as they are short of money.

Mike Gapes: More than half our trade is with the European Union. Our companies, and the future of the City of London and its relationship with the eurozone economy, are greatly affected by what happens in Europe. Those who want to move out to the middle of the Atlantic or who believe that somehow we can reinvigorate the Commonwealth and go back to imperial preference, are not living in the real world for the British economy. Our national interest is to have prosperity and success. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear, it is in Britain’s national interest for the eurozone to succeed and for the current crisis to be resolved. Clearly, Conservative Members do not agree with the Chancellor’ words. They wish to see the eurozone fail—[Hon. Members: “Rubbish!”] Well, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) seemed to say that. If he disagrees, he can intervene again. They want to see the eurozone fail because they believe that somehow that will be in the national interest of this country. It will not.

Several hon. Members rose

Mike Gapes: I have no time left.

It is time that the country looked to its long-term national interests, as opposed to the short-term party interests of this dysfunctional coalition. Those long-term national interests are in working consistently and positively in Europe, and recognising that we have potential allies in Europe. However, our misguided negotiating tactics have forced those potential allies away from us. This is the most self-defeating, insane strategy. It is not in our long-term national interests, and it is a shame for our country.

12.38 pm

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