I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his statement. On the tragic news from Afghanistan, all our thoughts are with the family and friends of the soldiers concerned. The news reminds us once again of the risks our troops face—day in, day out—and of our duty to do everything we can to protect them.
Let me start with the Prime Minister’s announcement on the banking inquiry. It is right for him to reconsider the position of last week on the need for a full inquiry. I welcome that recognition. I have to say, however, that I am not convinced by his way forward because I do not believe it measures up to the scale of what is required. However able or distinguished they are, politicians investigating bankers will not command the consent of the British people. People are understandably angry about the way their banks let them down, and I do not believe that the proposed way forward is the way we can build the consensus required for real change. After all, there have already been a number of Select Committee reports into the banking crisis.
I appreciate that the Leveson inquiry has been uncomfortable for politicians on all sides, but that is the way it should be. We will continue to argue for a full and open inquiry, independent of bankers and independent of politicians. That is the only way, in my view, that we can rebuild trust in the City of London and financial services.
Turning to the European Council itself, let me associate myself with what the Prime Minister said on Syria. Agreement—but, in truth, little progress—was reached at Geneva on Saturday, and the divisions within the international community on this issue mean that too little is being done to bring the escalating violence to an end. In that context, will the Prime Minister update the House on the position of Russia, which is clearly imperative in this regard, on a future for Syria without President Assad.
Turning to the main issues of the summit, it took place against a backdrop of the continuing crisis in the eurozone, a faltering global recovery and a double-dip recession here in the UK. The central challenge, then, was how we can have a Europe not of austerity and unemployment, but of jobs and growth. I am afraid to say that on that central issue, the Prime Minister cannot be part of the solution because he is part of the problem.
On growth, the Prime Minister used an instructive phrase in his post-summit press conference, when he said:
“Just as we have to tackle the euro crisis, so we have to tackle the growth crisis”.
Having at last admitted that there is a growth crisis, he added:
“Britain has been driving this debate.”—[Laughter.]
I do not think it was meant as a joke, but it suggests someone quite out of touch with reality. As he was speaking, the figures were coming in, showing the double-dip recession, created by him in Downing street, was worse and deeper than we thought. The UK is one of only two countries in the G20 in double-dip recession. There can be no solution to the growth crisis unless we tackle the crisis of demand in the European economies and globally? Will he tell us whether he advocated at this summit any measures to tackle the crisis of demand in the European economy, as well as the long-term measures he mentioned?
The Prime Minister talked about the banking regulator. How will he use his popularity and influence in Europe to secure specific legal safeguards between now and December’s final proposals to protect the very important British interest in the single market? He then talked about the patent court, and said, with his customary humility, that the outcome showed that he was succeeding. Only this Prime Minister could pretend, having argued that the court’s headquarters should be in London, that it was a diplomatic triumph that it had ended up being based in Paris.
As for the eurozone and bank recapitalisations, it is welcome that direct help can be provided for eurozone banks, but does the Prime Minister really believe that the funds that eurozone countries are making available are adequate? There are many reasons to believe that that is not the case.
Finally, there is Europe and the Prime Minister’s position—or should I call it his weekend hokey-cokey? On Friday, he ruled out a referendum. He said:
“‘I completely understand why some people want an in/out referendum… I do not think that is the right thing to do..”
Hours later—what a coincidence—100 Back Benchers and the former Defence Secretary called for an in/out referendum. Then, hey presto, on Sunday—[Interruption] —the Prime Minister hinted that he might rule one in. Then the Foreign Secretary—[Interruption.]