Loans to Ireland Bill

Part of Loans to Ireland Bill (Allocation of Time) – in the House of Commons at 2:29 pm on 15th December 2010.

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Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 2:29 pm, 15th December 2010

The hon. Gentleman is right that the single currency gives Ireland no mechanism to devalue its currency, and that that causes it a problem. However, there are two extremes to that argument. The first says that the eurozone is unfinished business; what started as a currency harmonisation needs to move to the next stage. I heard the president of the European Central Bank say on the radio last night that the next stage should be political integration. My party does not agree with that; nor I am sure does the hon. Gentleman's. Further integration is one extreme that we should not go to.

The second extreme says that if Ireland simply withdrew from the euro or the eurozone, its problems would be solved. I do not believe that to be the case. The eurozone has to recognise the problem that its countries cannot devalue and must find a mechanism that ensures that this problem does not keep happening to country after country. Mr Jenkin has a view, as do many of his colleagues, on the answer to this ongoing problem. I do not agree with him, but I believe that it is central to stop this happening to other countries, and to stop it being a regular event. The fragility of the recovery, especially in Europe, emphasises the need for decisive action to resolve the underlying difficulties faced by eurozone countries.

The situation in Ireland is a huge embarrassment for the Chancellor, exposing as it does his poor judgment and rich hyperbole. At the time of the comprehensive spending review, he claimed that our country was on the brink of bankruptcy. He now proposes a loan of an amount that is well over half the cumulative debt interest savings that he claimed he would make over the spending review period. There is also the paradox of his support for Ireland's banks, but his opposition to the previous Government's successful measures to protect British banks.

Finally, there is the Chancellor's frequently expressed belief that Britain should look to Ireland for inspiration, which he expressed both before the banking crisis, when he urged us to emulate the "Irish miracle", and since the crisis, with his desire to copy some of Ireland's painful austerity measures. His gloriously misjudged 2006 article in The Times is now well known:

"Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking".

He is in good company. I shall quote from the Prime Minister in the Belfast Telegraph on 26 October 2006.