European Community

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:23 am on 12th November 1982.

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Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Flint West 11:23 am, 12th November 1982

Both are away today. But it remains true that there are no opponents of British membership of the EEC on the Conservative Benches this morning. No Conservative Government will call British membership into question, and there will be no Labour Government to do so.

I want to contrast two developments in the EC during the period that we are discussing. The first is the gradually strengthening political co-operation in the Community evidenced by the support given us by fellow members during the Falklands crisis. The second is the national veto on Community decisions.

It is a great mistake to get emotional about the support that we received from the Community at all stages of the Falklands crisis or about the less consistent support that we have had from the United States of America. I acknowledge freely that we got even firmer support throughout from New Zealand. But what is of abiding importance is that, on the whole, the interests of Community members in matters outside the area of Europe such as Latin America, the Far East or the Middle East are more likely to be similar to or at least consistent with our own than those of the United States or of any other non-European power.

When we add to this natural convergence of national interests the habits of co-operation and the machinery of co-operation that the EC provides, it becomes clear that the EC is the natural foundation on which we can build a structure of political influence. It is equally and dismayingly clear that an American Administration—even one which is so close to the philosophy of our own Government—is bound to be subject to increasingly strong pressures which will cause its actions to conflict more and more frequently with our interests.

I am as anxious as anyone to restore good relations between Great Britain and the United States and between Europe and the United States. Just because there is no natural identity of interests in Latin America or the Middle East, it does not mean that our fundamental identity of interest in the maintenance of political freedom against totalitarianism is diminished. But I note with no surprise that those who have been loudest in denouncing our European partners for even the slightest sign of hesitation in supporting us to the hilt over the Falklands have also been the shrillest in their denunciation of the United States for abandoning us at the United Nations.

Once again we are being treated to mock heroics about the glory of being alone against the world. This is nonsense. There is nothing Churchillian about it. When we were alone after our humiliating defeat at Dunkirk, Churchill's reaction was to find us allies as quickly as he could. Britain needs political co-operation in the EC. We need to get it working as well as we can and to use it to improve our relations with the United States.

I do not suggest that the existence and use of the veto in the EC inhibits political co-operation. But there is a link between the two. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), I am not sure that the regular use of the veto is in the interests of the United Kingdom. As the White Paper points out, on 18 May the Council of Ministers overrode the objections of the United Kingdom in applying the common agricultural policy price regulations. That touched off a great debate on the veto, and United Kingdom Ministers have left our partners in no doubt about the importance which they attach to the Luxembourg compromise, even though it has no legal validity under the Treaty of Rome and is merely a generally accepted convention.

Now the Danish Government are standing out alone against an agreement reached by all the other members after the most agonising debates—and in the nick of time—on a common fisheries policy. Once again those who were loudest in denouncing the overruling of the British veto are demanding, in effect, that the Danish veto—or refusal, which amounts to a veto—be overridden.

The question is very complicated, but it boils down to the fact that a large section of the popular press and all too many hon. Members on both sides of the House take so narrow, so intense and so short-sighted a view of our national interests that they positively welcome the prospect of physical action against Danish fishing vessels, or against imports of French turkeys and UHT milk—or, as some of our farmers did at one stage, against Irish cattle; or, as some might want to take in the future, against Italian washing machines and foreign cars; or, as the French have done already, against Italian and Spanish wines.

It is time to state—