HC Deb 12 June 1996 vol 279 cc297-9
8. Mr. Macdonald

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will conduct a study into the consequences of a British withdrawal from the European Union. [30850]

Mr. Rifkind

We have no such intention. We need to promote and protect our interests from within the EU, not from outside.

Mr. Macdonald

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that withdrawal from the European Union would be a disaster for Britain? Does he further agree with the chairman of the European committee of the Confederation of British Industry that the growing support for such a policy among Tory Back Benchers is causing serious damage to British business interests in Europe?

Mr. Rifkind

It would be profoundly against the interests of the United Kingdom ever to contemplate withdrawal from the EU. There are members of all parties who have long held the view that withdrawal is an option that they would favour, but that is for them to explain to their respective parties.

Sir Richard Body

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that an educational charity has been searching for a long time for an economist of some standing—from either the business or the academic world—to produce a cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the European Community leading to a favourable conclusion? So far, the charity has failed to find such an expert. Can my right hon. and learned Friend help that charity, or the rest of us, by naming someone willing to carry out that task?

Mr. Rifkind

In his characteristically objective pursuit of the truth, my hon. Friend will wish to be fully informed about the benefits and any possible disadvantages of the European Union. I am sure that the European Commission would be happy to help him, but many others are able to provide a positive endorsement.

Mr. Charles Kennedy

What are the consequences of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer— one of the prime movers in the Maastricht agreement— producing a paper in which he examines the mechanics and practicalities of withdrawal? Is that not extremely damaging?

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman has not seen it or read it.

Mr. Kennedy

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames may not have read the treaty, but neither did the then Home Secretary, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) is not on strong ground there. Is it not extremely damaging to the international reputation of this country that the former Chancellor is now taking that view? Is it not time that the Government showed some leadership against the malcontents on their Back Benches, who are damaging not only the Government—that is their problem—but the rest of us in the process?

Mr. Rifkind

I see that matter as no more significant than the fact that the Leader of the Opposition campaigned for Britain to withdraw from the EU and now wishes to support our membership. These are characteristics that occasionally appear in the House.

Mr. Dykes

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give a date when British Ministers will start saying that our membership of the EU is a good thing, as the only one who does so at present is the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mr. Rifkind

As I said that some 30 seconds ago, my hon. Friend has been overtaken by events.

Mr. Salmond

When the Foreign Secretary was Secretary of State for Scotland, would he have encouraged his parliamentary private secretary to attend meetings to discuss the mechanics of withdrawal from the EU, as the current Secretary of State has done?

Mr. Rifkind

I see no objection to private discussions taking place. The idea that the Government—or, indeed, the hon. Gentleman—should dictate to colleagues which meetings they attend for the purposes of intellectual discussions seems to be an extraordinary display of totalitarian tendencies which I am surprised to see from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it serves no purpose that, every time someone criticises the way in which European institutions work or suggests an alternative way in which they might be reformed, a group of Europhiles immediately accuse him of wanting to leave the EU? Would not the CBI do a greater service to British business if it explained the issues and invited contributions from all shades of opinion on Europe, instead of campaigning manically for one particular view?

Mr. Rifkind

I certainly believe—as, I am sure, does my hon. Friend—that the real issue is not whether the United Kingdom should or should not be in the European Union, but what kind of European Union we wish to see develop. That is a legitimate debate not only within the United Kingdom but throughout all the member states.

Mr. Robin Cook

If the Foreign Secretary's robust statement of commitment to the European Union represents Government policy, can he explain why half the Conservative Members not on the payroll vote voted with the Euro-sceptics yesterday? Will he take this opportunity to tell them that they should listen to the chorus of dismay from business leaders? Will he tell the most vocal of them to give back the funds that he has taken from Sir James Goldsmith, who made his financial mark by buying up companies and is making his political mark by buying up the Conservative party? If he will not do those things, or cannot convince his Back Benchers, will it not be all too plain that the only referendum that will give Britain a fresh start in Europe is a general election that will enable the people to get rid of this divided and incompetent Government?

Mr. Rifkind

I notice that the hon. Gentleman wished to draw attention to the fact that Sir James Goldsmith and the Referendum party appear to have certain links with certain of my hon. Friends. Curious links between different political parties do not affect only my party. I noticed recently that Mr. Zyuganov, the Russian communist candidate, said that he was looking forward to meeting the Leader of the Opposition because he believed that the Russian Communist party and new Labour had so much in common. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to encourage an investigation to expose those extraordinary and sinister links.

Mr. Garnier

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the consequences of leaving the European Union would be that it would be much more difficult to improve relations between Spain and Gibraltar? Will he ensure that efforts are made to relieve the present border hold-ups there? It is good for Gibraltar and for Spain that they should get on well, but it is also good for the European Union.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. and learned Friend is indeed correct. Our common membership of the European Union makes entirely indefensible what would, in any event, be very unattractive: restrictions on movement between Gibraltar and Spain. I saw the Spanish Foreign Minister in Madrid last week and I am pleased to say that, over the past few days, the restrictions seem to have diminished considerably. I hope that that represents a new and permanent arrangement.

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