Referendum Bill

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:12 am on 24th February 1995.

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Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane , Rotherham 10:12 am, 24th February 1995

The Prime Minister said that Europe could have a new president last summer provided it was not Mr. Dehaene. I do not know whether that was barter or corruption—he was simply exercising his veto, which every other European state accepted. The Prime Minister thought that Mr. Santer was the right man in the right place at the right time—he does not appear to be any longer.

As Edmund Burke said, the essence of all social cohesion is a form of compromise. In my sincere judgment, the Bill's promoter and supporters are not interested in compromise. They want Britain out of Europe, while the rest of the peoples of Europe and a majority of people in this country want Europe to develop.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker have been fierce with me about straying from the Bill, but the hon. Member for Billericay spoke at length on the subject of a single currency. I wish to mention it briefly—I promise that I shall not take more than 30 seconds. I understand why some Conservative Members want to keep their hands on our currency. It is, and has been in recent years, the private plaything of speculators in the City—the surest way to quick money in a sick City of London.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remember that Harold Wilson blamed the decline of the pound on the unnamed gnomes of Zurich. Today we can name the gnome of Davos, the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), whose remarks in Switzerland earlier this month about how the Government would veto developments in Europe, led to the crisis of confidence in the pound. We can name the gnome of Great George street, the right hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), the Chief Secretary of the Ritz, who single-handedly drove down the value of the pound with his remarks about a European currency and eternity.

Those Cabinet members are the toast of every German banker—between them, they speak not a word of German, yet they serve the deustchmark better than Herr Tittemeyer, the president of the Bundesbank, or Chancellor Kohl. Truly, we can say with Schiller, "Mit solcher Dummheit Kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens"— against such stupidity, even the gods fight in vain.

The exercise that the right hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate and for Thanet, South engaged in was not just about Europe, just as today's referendum debate is not about Europe—it is about the war of succession inside the Conservative party. It is a war of position, a search for the right words for populism, a rehearsal for nationalist flag-waving, which will do our country great harm.