I have played a major role in the debates on the European Union Referendum Bill which was debated over three Fridays in November.
Here are my major contributions to the debates
8th November 2013
22nd November 2013
29th November 2013
Here is what I said in my final speech on the Third reading of the Bill on 29 November.
Mike Gapes: I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) for giving us the opportunity to have this extensive three days of discussion of the European Union and issues relating to it. I hope that we will have opportunities later this year and next year to continue such discussions so that we can at last begin to get through the fog of distortion that unfortunately is too prevalent in our newspapers.
I am pleased that the Foreign Secretary is in his place, and I will be quite happy to take interventions from him, even though he was too frit to take one from me. I want to remind the Foreign Secretary about referendums and the Conservative party. He was a Minister in John Major’s Government, who did not give a referendum on the Maastricht treaty. Just a few days ago, John Major was quoted as saying that the Bill was not worthy of his support, and that leaving the European Union would be “folly beyond belief”. Will the Foreign Secretary now intervene and tell me whether he agrees that leaving the European Union would be “folly beyond belief”? If he does not want to respond on that issue, he might wish to comment on Lord Heseltine’s statement that the whole process, which has been instigated by the Conservative party, is “an unnecessary gamble” with Britain’s future.
If the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) wishes to intervene rather than shouting at me, I will be happy to take an intervention. If anyone on the Government Benches wishes to intervene rather than muttering and shouting, I will happily give way. If not, I will carry on.
The hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who unfortunately seems to have been in some kind of retreat since he lost the vote on his amendment, will be aware, as will other Members, that I voted for that amendment. I was the only Labour Member to do so. That has caused some confusion on the UKIP website, where messages are going out praising those brave souls who voted for a referendum in 2014. Of course, that includes me, and that is a bit contradictory given some of the other messages about me on the UKIP website; but they will get their line right eventually.
The hon. Gentleman did something very important in highlighting the fact that if we are to have an in/out referendum we should not create a situation of three or four years of unnecessary uncertainty. It has been said of Nissan, but it could apply to many other companies wishing to invest in the European market, whether from South Korea, China or the United States, that potential investment could be put at risk. Such companies could choose to go to another English-speaking country in the European single market, such as the Irish Republic or other countries where they could create investment with certainty beyond 2017 and into the future.
I do not wish to delay the House for too long, but I want to make some important points about this very bad Bill. The Bill has been amended only very specifically with regard to allowing people who are residents of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to vote in the referendum. The original proposal presumably resulted from an oversight by the Government, who forgot about Gibraltar being part of the European Union in terms of voting in the European Parliament elections. However, British citizens in other British overseas territories will not be allowed to vote in the referendum, although their relationship with the European Union is central to many aspects of their life and their future, and UK membership has big implications for them as well. A few weeks ago, a Committee considered the relationship of the overseas territories of the UK, France and others to the European Union. Our overseas territories people have been rejected by a Conservative whipped vote against one of my amendments. As a result, this message should go out very clearly to British overseas citizens: “The Conservative party does not have your interests at heart—it doesn’t support you.”
Similarly, 1.4 million British people live elsewhere in the European Union. Many of those people—I have received e-mails from some of them—have been living in other European countries for more than 15 years and are therefore unable to register to vote in a European election or any other election in this country. They are excluded from the terms of this referendum, and their future could be put in jeopardy. If someone is living in Spain and suddenly their home country is no longer part of the European Union, and their citizenship is then of a non-EU state as opposed to an EU state, there could be huge implications for their future in Spain or in any other EU country. We are denying those people democracy.
Some people are claiming that I am being undemocratic because I am trying to subject—[Interruption.] Yes, some of them are over there on the Conservative Benches. These are the same people who voted against the right of British people living elsewhere in the European Union to have a vote in the referendum. That is what is undemocratic. Conservative Members do not believe that British people living elsewhere in Europe should have a say in this referendum. Only 20,000 people are currently registered as overseas voters, and therefore more than 1 million British people would not be able to take part in this process. Frankly, that is a disgrace.
There are other anomalies such as the situation of people who are married to citizens of other EU countries and living in Britain, with their children in schools or universities here. Those people have an intense interest in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union. Yet, although we allow them to vote in European Parliament elections, we are to take away the right of those new Europeans to vote in a referendum on the relationship between the EU country from which they originally came and that in which they now live. That is another democratic disgrace. It is typical of the Conservative party. Instead of caring, it has decided to follow the little UKIP tail, which is now wagging the dog that is the Conservative party.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) has highlighted how the question has been drawn up for party political reasons. The Daily Mail revealed a few months ago that the original wording had been changed in order to make it more friendly for the Eurosceptics. Frankly, that is typical of this whole exercise. This Bill is not about democracy or giving the British people a choice; it is about the internal mechanics of the Conservative party and managing its internal divisions.
As has been said, this Parliament cannot commit a Parliament that will be elected in 2015 to doing something. The people behind this Bill and the Ministers involved know perfectly well that it is the decision at the 2015 general election that will make the difference. This is a political ploy to try to assuage the Europhobic wing of the Tory party and to keep them on board. The Foreign Secretary and other Ministers are playing a game with their colleagues.
I will not vote against this Bill today, because I believe that the House of Lords now has to subject it to the scrutiny that we have only been able to touch the surface of. The House of Lords needs to take up the issues in greater detail than we have been able to, look at the inadequacies of this woeful Bill and expose its contradictions. I do not know how long it will take the House of Lords to do that—this House might get the Bill back at some point—but it needs to do its job properly and not be bounced or have closure motions pushed on it to prevent it from properly scrutinising the provisions.
I am pleased to have played a small part in trying to ensure that this Bill has received proper scrutiny in this House, which is what parliamentary democracy is about. The day we move to plebiscitary democracy will be the day we undermine the rights of Members of Parliament and that would be terrible.
Wayne David: My hon. Friend is making a very important point. Does he agree that it is disgraceful how the Europe Minister has dismissed out of hand, in a shameful way, the excellent points my hon. Friend has made and the excellent amendments he has tabled in order to facilitate this and previous debates?
In conclusion, I want to get to the heart of the issue and consider what the terms would be of any renegotiated settlement relevant to a 2017 referendum. We do not know when that will happen; it might happen during the British presidency, but the situation, like many other things in the Bill, is ambiguous. A few months ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is a cross-party Committee with a wide spectrum of views on the issue of Europe, produced a report on which we agreed unanimously, in which we said that
“we are clear that UK proposals for pan-EU reforms are likely to find a more favourable reception than requests for further ‘special treatment’ for the UK. We are sceptical that other Member States would renegotiate existing EU law so as to allow the UK alone to reduce its degree of integration, particularly where this could be seen as undermining the integrity of the Single Market. The Government must reckon with the fact that the body of existing EU law is a collective product in which 27 countries have invested. Our sense is that other Member States want the UK to remain an EU Member. However, we do not think that a UK Government could successfully demand ‘any price’ from other Member States for promising to try to keep the UK in the Union.”
That is the essence of the point. The Government—at least the Conservative party—are trying to sell us a pig in a poke; they are trying to sell us a blank sheet of paper and they have not defined their terms for renegotiation. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee that that process would not even start until after the general election.