HC Deb 04 March 1997 vol 291 cc711-3 3.32 pm
Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require Her Majesty's Government to carry out research into alternatives to the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.

The future of our people in Europe will be determined by the age-old principle: united we stand, divided we fall.

The British are ambivalent about Europe. Nothing that has yet been proposed will resolve their feelings. Indeed, the referendum that has been proposed will tell us only that we are divided, which we already know. We need solutions to the dilemma. Most of all, we need real changes in Europe that can harness the support of all the people in our country. We owe it to those whose livelihoods depend on Europe to ensure that we achieve the changes in Europe that would bring more of the country alongside them.

How do we scale the mountain necessary to persuade our friends in Europe that we need change, and that their venture, European unity, is likely to crumble to dust unless they address and resolve some of our difficulties with European development?

The only way to move mountains is with power, and the only power that we have among the 15 members of the European Union is ultimately the strength of our arguments.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Valedictory speech.

Mr. Booth

It may be a valedictory speech, but it is an important one.

The first step is to find the national argument that can win all the support of Britain—and the unity of the nation is vital. Those two aspects must go together, and my Bill is one part of the argument: a piece in the jigsaw to win. I seek to support our leaders when they argue our case for change in Europe. Officials in the Foreign Office agree that, if we are to negotiate changes to answer legitimate complaints, we need to strengthen our negotiating arm. This is no time to groan; it is time to be constructive on Europe.

Our problem is not Europe itself. Our problem is that we were not there in 1957, as part of the foundation of the venture, and it has been made worse by the fact that policies have been made and directions taken since then that have made the problems chronic and the solutions therefore more difficult to find. I do not share the view that there is no solution, however; I believe that we must find a solution.

The problem is not about sceptics. In a sense, there is no such thing as a sceptic: there are only people who complain, and yet find no answer. My modest Bill is my contribution to what I believe to be one of the most important debates that the House has had in 700 years. I seek to strengthen the hand of our leaders in two ways—first by giving them a strong card to play, and secondly by increasing unity behind the Prime Minister in his quest to promote a partnership among free nation states. Negotiation, even between friends—even in a family of nations—can be tough. I make no apology if my proposals sound tough; if on occasion it is necessary to be cruel to be kind, it is sometimes also necessary to be tough to achieve harmony.

My Bill proposes that the Government should research viable alternatives to our membership of the European Union. Others may be suggested, but I happen to believe that there is only one that would be in keeping with the worldwide horizon of the British people—the development of global free trade through the World Trade Organisation. That would make regional trade arrangements, such as the European model, a stepping stone to world prosperity, and greater prosperity beyond that. When I went to Geneva to research the matter earlier this year, I was satisfied that the WTO would, in the end, have the strength to give Britain a viable alternative to the EU.

How can that help us? Why does a viable ability to leave the EU without damaging our economic interests strengthen our negotiating power? There are two reasons. First, I do not believe that there is a Member of Parliament who has not been faced with the argument that the train has left the station, and that we have no choice but to stay or else become Norway mark 2. I believe that the one chance of a new start in Europe is to demonstrate that our whole regional exercise in Europe could, in the next decade or so, be shunted into the sidings by global free trade and global arrangements. Making their arrangements more effective could be seen by those in Europe as vital to avoiding relegation to the second league.

Secondly, we sell ourselves short all the time. Our partners in Europe have strong reasons to keep us in their sphere of influence. We are their export market: in every case, we are just about their principal export market. Two years ago, Germany exported £6 billion more to us than we exported to it. It needs us in Europe, and we should use that card. Rather than promoting our departure, it is likely that my proposal will cement the ties that we have in Europe, through a stronger negotiating position and the ability to reflect the changes required by our people. If Europe can deflect itself from various policies that we find irksome, everyone will win.

There is no time in this short speech for me to list the changes that are needed, but the European Court, the common agricultural policy and fisheries policy would be on my personal shopping list. I stress, however, that I am not presenting the Bill to promote our departure from the EU. On the contrary, I am presenting it to say that those who often appear deaf to the British point of view should listen to our plans. I am presenting it to be constructive and positive. We must show our friends—yes, friends—in Europe that some change will assist them too, because it will buttress a common venture. I believe that the tide of freely expressed anxiety—the tide demanding change—will sweep away even the finest ambitions unless Britain is in Europe, to play our part and to contribute our version of common sense. Rhetoric helps no one, but successful negotiation among friends certainly does.

I commend my Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hartley Booth, Mr. Bob Dunn, Sir Ralph Howell, Sir Sydney Chapman, Sir Teddy Taylor, Mr. Nicholas Budgen, Mr. William Cash, Mr. Andrew Robathan, Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Mr. David Amess and Mr. David Lidington.