European Affairs

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 3rd June 2010.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Labour, South Shields 1:31 pm, 3rd June 2010

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is unusual in the House for the Foreign Secretary-at least it was under his previous roles-to lose an audience during a speech, but I will seek to address many of his points, focusing my remarks on the agenda for the European Council in two weeks. Of course, this quarter's pre-European Council debate is unusual in that it is scheduled in the middle of the Queen's Speech debates, but it comes at an important time for Europe.

I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for his explanation of the Government's approach. We want the Prime Minister, when he attends the European Council, to represent the interests of the country in a strong, outward-looking European Union, supporting an agenda of economic reform and social justice at home, and hard-headed internationalism abroad. The Foreign Secretary bravely said, in the Queen's Speech debate last week, that he now favoured a policy of enlightened self-interest. We congratulate him on moving from unenlightened to enlightened self-interest-it is a step forward-but I hope that he will allow me, in the nicest possible way, to remind him of Harold Macmillan's point that a Foreign Secretary is always caught somewhere between a cliché and an indiscretion. I hope that his repetition of his commitment to enlightened self-interest will not capture him in that trap.

It is not enough to say that one is enlightened. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary need to show it, and show it quickly, on the big issues facing Europe. They must put to one side institutional squabbles and focus on the substantive issues facing the European Union: a steady process of building economic growth alongside deficit reduction; developing the EU as a low-carbon economic zone of the future able to lead the international green economy; and supporting a strong European foreign policy that uses our weight in Europe to advance British interests. The Prime Minister's press conference with Chancellor Merkel last month-his first foray into European politics as Prime Minister-was not encouraging. We are told that the Prime Minister is a fan of Disraeli, who said that

"petulance is not sarcasm, and insolence is not invective".

The Prime Minister's remarks in Berlin verged on both petulance and insolence.

I will focus on the Council's agenda, but first I must pick the Foreign Secretary up on one thing. These debates are not traditionally partisan affairs, and my remarks will not be dedicated in that dimension. Pre-European Council debates-not European debates in general-have generally been focused on the agenda of the European Council. The shadow Foreign Secretary said-[Hon. Members: "You're the shadow Foreign Secretary!"]I mean the Foreign Secretary. It sticks in the gullet, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am happy to admit it. However, in a few weeks, I hope I will get used to referring to the right hon. Gentleman as the Foreign Secretary.

I think I quote the Foreign Secretary correctly. He said that the United Kingdom got "nothing in return" for the 2004-05 budget deal. He also said that he was a long-standing supporter of enlargement, and he congratulated the previous Government on achieving enlargement. He knows that the budget deal agreed was necessary to make enlargement possible, and I say to him in the nicest possible way-well sort of-that he cannot keep on attacking the 2004-05 budget deal while professing his loyalty to the project of European enlargement. That project requires commitments in substance, and sometimes in budgets, as well as in words, and it simply is not good enough for him to keep on saying that we gave away the house in 2004-05 when it is not true. The EU achieved a historic agreement to expand, which he says he supports.

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