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Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:11 pm on 25th June 1996.

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Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North 9:11 pm, 25th June 1996

I am very happy to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who has spoken even more eloquently than usual. I am also happy to have heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). He speaks quite well, but today he spoke exceptionally well.

I do not have an interest to declare. I am a farmer but do not have any beef. I have had beef cattle and I understand how desperate many of our beef farmers are, especially those who are producing prime beef, have been fattening beef, or have bought expensive beef and are not getting a high price for it on the market. Life is very difficult for them.

I have criticised my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government and my party and those on the Front Bench because I have been concerned that we would be sucked, drawn into and consumed by something that we now look upon as a country called Europe. I have also been concerned that if my party were not successful, we would not be drawn into a country called Europe, but dragged kicking and screaming into it by both Opposition parties.

We have reached a watershed. The Conservative party is now at ease within itself. It is at ease with the public at large, and has a policy on Europe, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out on many occasions. He believes in a Europe of nation states. I, along with my hon. Friends, believe in a Europe of nation states. The nation state comes first with me and Europe second, but I see no reason why we should leave the European Union if we can achieve a Europe of nation states.

I spoke to a very senior member of the Government soon after the crisis broke and asked what we could do about this desperate situation. I was told, "Actually, they have us by the short and curlies." We were in a difficult position, and that is the problem. All the power rests in Brussels—all the power rests on the other side of the channel. That is the reality. Opposition Members who criticise the Government and say that they would have done better must realise that the whole basis of their case has been disingenuous. They know where the power lies, but they have the cheek and the gall to criticise the Government.

The Government should be congratulated on the way that they have handled what has been the most difficult issue to face the country since the Falklands dispute. It required verve, nerve, imagination and courage, and the Government have shown them all. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, with whom I have had regular conversations during the crisis. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary—who has been receptive to all points put to her—and my hon. Friend the Minister of State. They have had a difficult task—they have been in the eye of a storm—but have remained calm and resolute in difficult logistical circumstances and have tried to deal with the frustration of farmers. The Government have kept their cool and have come forward with the right policies.

Apparently, we should have "made friends" with the Europeans, as if Europe is about making friends. We are friends and partners with Europe, but Europe is not about "making friends"—it is about power politics, and it always has been. Anyone who thinks that Europe is about "making friends" and getting our own way by doing so is absurdly naive. The idea that someone who holds that view should get hold of the reins of government of this great country and go and try to "make friends" with Europe is absurd. Does one think that the French got an extra, redundant, unnecessary and extravagant Parliament in Strasbourg by "making friends" with Europe, or by standing firm? Does anyone think that the Italians, Spaniards and Greeks illicitly, illegally and improperly gained an extra tranche of milk quota by "making friends" with the rest of the Community, or by holding it to ransom? How naive, pathetic, stupid, wet and ridiculous can one get.