Clause 8 — Commencement

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 5th March 2008.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee) 4:00 pm, 5th March 2008

I will in a moment.

I think the hard-core opponents of the treaty know that perfectly well. I have heard a lot of people say, "I am not against the European Union, I am against the treaty," and there are a handful of them whom I believe, but I do not believe many of them. At the very least, the people who want the referendum believing that they will win a no vote—and none of them would demand a referendum if they thought they would lose it—know that it would cause a deep, deep crisis in our relationships with the rest of the European Union.

Among the European politicians whom I know are many friends of Britain, who would despair on finding that yet another neurotic spasm was taking place in the British political system, and that we were asking for everything to be reopened. There are provisions in the new treaty allowing members who want to leave to do so. We could start a negotiation on the basis of an association agreement. It takes a long time to secure such agreements, but Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein have managed to achieve them, and we could do the same if that is where we wish to be. But if there were a no vote, our role in the European Union would be finished and the House would be left with the consequences. The majority of us would not agree with the position we were in. It would be quite a decisive moment for our foreign affairs policy and our role in the world.

I am not impressed with our position in foreign affairs. Both main parties supported the invasion of Iraq, the biggest foreign policy disaster in recent years, and we have a totally discredited American President and Administration. The President now has more support in the House of Commons than he has in Congress, and we do not know where we shall be with whoever wins the next American election.

The European Union is finally getting its act together in improving its decision-making capacity so that it can move on to deal with economic reform, energy security, climate change, international development and our relations with the Russian Federation. All those are areas in which we need a common position. I would include foreign and security policy in other areas as well, but let us start with Russia. The EU is trying to achieve what we ought to regard as a triumph: an enlarged Union of 27 nation states, including states of the former Soviet Union, ready to move forward. And what do the Eurosceptics say? "We will carry on as we are, left with George W. Bush, and try to detach ourselves from the European Union as it embarks on these great issues"? They do not even know themselves what they would negotiate if they found themselves in an isolated position.

I shall not go any further into the merits of the bigger issues, but they would all be affected by a no vote in a referendum, which would repudiate Government and the parliamentary majority. There are big, big issues facing the United Kingdom in foreign affairs, and I think that we have been handling them badly for most of the past 10 years. They should be resolved in this House of Commons by a Government who are accountable to parliamentary representatives. To resort to the populism of allowing the media to believe that they can determine such matters in referendums would take us into even worse waters than I believe we are in at the moment.

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