Speech at a debate with Phil Harris, North Norfolk Labour Candidate and Andrew Duff, LibDem MEP at Fakenham.
I’d like to thank you for inviting us here tonight to talk about what I think is one of the most important issues of our time – our future relationship with the European Union.
Before I start the main thrust of my remarks, let me make it clear that in the referendum for the European Constitution – should it ever happen – I will not only vote NO but campaign strongly for a No Vote. Not because I am anti-Europe. I’m not. Indeed I resent it when people on Andrew’s side of argument try to persuade Eurosceptics as some sort of narrow minded nationalistic sect. I haven’t an anti European bone in my body. I’ve lived in Germany and did my degree in German. Indeed, as the saying goes, some of my best friends are Germans. Just because you question the actions and motives of European institutions does not mean you are anti European. So I hope we can avoid the usual kind of name calling on this issue tonight.
There are three entirely legitimate views to have about our future in Europe. Either you take the UKIP view that we should withdraw, or you take the Conservative view that what we signed up to was a free trade organisation where independent nation states trade with each other and cooperate where necessary on other issues. Or you take Andrew’s view. Now I respect Andrew’s position.
He is an articulate exponent of Britain effectively joining a new European Federal state, a United States of Europe. He wants us to join the euro and sign up to a Constitution. An entirely legitimate argument to make - but one I fundamentally disagree with. So I applaud him for at least being honest. What I cannot bear is the sort of politician who tries to hide his own views in case his local electorate might disagree with him. Indeed, I find it very odd that our local Liberal Democrat MP is not with us tonight. Indeed, I think it a disgrace that he refuses to debate any issue with me in advance of the General Election
Unlike Andrew Norman Lamb won’t tell us his views on the European constitution. He said in a letter to a constituent: “I have not read the draft constitution. I have based my judgement on analysis by various commentators.” What an abdication of political leadership!
Isn’t it the job of an MP to give a lead, to tell his constituents his views on issues of such national importance? Even if you haven’t read every word, surely you have a gut feel, surely you ring up your colleagues like Andrew and get a full briefing. This from a man who last year made a speech in North Norfolk questioning the success of the euro, and the very next week made a speech at the LibDem conference saying Britain should sign up to it. Yet another example of the Liberal Democrats trying to face both ways at the same time.
So let’s look at the constitution, something with the Prime Minister tells us is merely a “tidying up exercise”. At least Andrew has the honesty to tell us it is something rather more than that. Indeed it is. If adopted, it will move the EU even further away from our vision of a free trading, decentralised, deregulated and democratic Europe of nation-states. I’m not going to give you any scare stories – I’m just going to give you a few examples from the draft constitution itself…
First of all, it is deeply undemocratic. Article I-19 (2) refers.
The Article sets out that the EU parliament should be composed of "representatives of the Union's citizens" and limits its size to 750 members.
Crucially, it then requires that "representation... shall be degressively proportional", with a minimum threshold of six MEPs per Member State. No Member State can have more than 96 seats.
This means that Malta, with a population of 380,000, and Luxembourg with 440,000 (approx) will each have six MEPs. On the other hand, the North East Region of England, with a population of 2.5 million, gets three. That is democracy, EU style.
Articles I-11 (3) and I-14 (1) require, respectively, that the Member States “shall co-ordinate their economic policies within the Union.”
These Articles, therefore, are of immense importance as they give the Commission direct power to interfere in and dictate the economic management of member states. And, because the voting method is not specified, the "default" applies, as per Article I-22 (3), making proposals subject to QMV
The UK is, in effect, obliged to subsume its general economic management to the EU, and pursue the "common objectives" set by the EU. Given the vital nature of economic management, can it be said that any country which is not able to define its own economic policy is truly independent?
So much for the Prime Minister’s red line on tax. And I’m interested to read that Andrew, who was part of the group which drafted the constitution, proposed that the EU “shall establish a system opf own revenue resources which may include the levying of taxes and duties.”
I’m beginning to think the LibDems are some sort of tax junkies – hooked on tax rises to feed their addictive habit of promising a land flowing with milk and honey to an electorate which is beginning to see through this imagined utopia – the LibDems want a new local income tax, a regional income tax, a tourist bed tax, a carbon tax, a tax on the rich and now they want a Europe tax, set by the European Commission.
Now if as a government you lose your right to set tax rates and decide how to spend the money raised you have lost your right to govern – because that’s what government is. You say what you are going to do, and how you’re going to pay for it.
Article I-6 then, with admirably brevity, gives the Union a new "legal personality". But why is that necessary or desirable, if not to emphasise that, with legal personality, it really is a State?
With startling and I would say commendable clarity the Constitution, and the law of the Union, are declared to "have primacy over the law of the Member States" (Article I-10); and Member States are required "to take all appropriate measures to ensure fulfilment of their obligations flowing from the Constitution or resulting from the Union's acts". Domination by the Union is of the very essence of this Constitution.
Those who run the dominating Union institutions are not, like our Westminster government, subject to the discipline of having to face our next general election. We cannot dismiss them by our votes even though expanded membership of the Union and extension of majority voting mean that our Westminster government and Parliament will have less and less control over what is decided; we, having none, will be increasingly deprived of our democratic power; and our national sovereignty, already sadly diminished, will be constantly and dangerously disappearing.
What is said about foreign policy is a masterpiece of confusion; and what is said about defence promises an alarming future for those who regard our defence as a national priority in which we must be free to make our decisions.
This Constitution would provide 2 European Presidents, of the Commission and of the Council. Remarkably, the proposal for a President of the Council was supported by our UK government. But the oddly organised State to be established by this Constitution would be, even more than now, in form and substance a true State and one which, on the international stage and in international negotiations, could gradually - or perhaps very quickly indeed - reduce and displace the role and status of our own government and state.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this Constitution does not address the real issues which people in this country are concerned about. It does nothing to encourage deregulation, it does nothing to limit the insidious growth in bureaucracy and it does nothing to encourage our UK Parliament to do its job properly and properly scrutinise the Directives which emerge from Brussels. However, as an aside I should say that it is often the UK Civil Service who take a 10 page directive and turn it into 70 pages of oppressive regulation. One local example I have come across is to do with the EU Waste Directive – RELATE STALHAM ANECDOTE.
Constitutions are meant to establish States and it is on that basis that I reject the European Constitution. I do not believe we should be trying to establish a European State as some sort of bulwark to compete with the United States. Britain is an independent, sovereign nation, which operates the fourth largest economy in the world. We should have the self confidence to reject this Constitution in the belief that our future lies in a community of free trading nation states, rather than a United States of Europe.