EU: Financial Stability and Economic Growth — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:06 pm on 3rd November 2011.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Opposition Whip (Lords) 4:06 pm, 3rd November 2011

I am not giving way. The single market is a difficult bargain. The Government say that they want to promote it, but when a lot of people are worried about its social effects, how will they be effective in promoting it at the same time as they are trying to withdraw the United Kingdom from our social and employment obligations? This is a fundamental issue for the coalition and a fundamental contradiction in its policy.

I agree with right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and with other noble Lords who said that the single market in itself is not enough. We need a European plan for growth. It is not difficult to put that together. Hundreds of millions of pounds lie unused in structural funds, many in the United Kingdom. What will the Minister do about that? The European Investment Bank already does far more to support small businesses in Britain than anything the British Government do. We could expand that role very considerably.

Several noble Lords have said they think devaluation is needed as part of growth. May I draw their attention to an article in this morning's Financial Times? Its respected economics editor, Mr Chris Giles, points to some striking figures, comparing the net trade contribution to GDP since 2008 for the UK and Spain, both hit badly by the banking crisis. For the UK, with 30 per cent devaluation, trade has improved our GDP by 2.5 per cent; for Spain, stuck in the eurozone single currency, its trade contribution to GDP has improved by 6.3 per cent. Devaluation is not the cure.

I said that this debate was timely and serious. It really is serious, because as the eurozone hovers on the brink of an existential crisis, we should recall the words of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that if the euro fails, Europe fails. For Germany, that would be unthinkable. Such an outcome should be unthinkable for the United Kingdom, too.

Let us recall that the euro was not conceived as a foolish political venture that took priority over the single market, as some noble Lords appear to think. Instead, it was the only practical means to sustain the single market once capital movements were liberalised under the 1992 programme that was so strongly advocated by the Government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. Free capital movement made it impossible to continue with the system of managed exchange rates under the ERM. At the end of the 1980s, Europe faced a simple choice between reverting to free-floating exchange rates, which risked competitive devaluations and a return to protectionism-destroying the single market in its wake-or going for a single currency. Europe chose the single currency.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned Bretton Woods, where Keynes's essential argument was that free trade and open markets are far more important to economic dynamism than flexible exchange rates; and it is very difficult to have both at the same time. That is why the present situation is such a threat to Britain's vital interests. Let us not kid ourselves: if the euro fails, we will not see a return to the status quo ante. I do not agree on this point with the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for whom I have the most wonderful respect and admiration. The likelihood is that if the euro broke up, the single market would break up as well, in a new Europe of competing currencies. Member states would take protectionist measures against each other to prevent what they see as unfair competition.

For Britain, which conducts so much of its trade and which has so much investment dependant on the single market, this would truly be an economic catastrophe. It would not be just an economic catastrophe. The collapse of the euro would, as Mrs Merkel said, put the European Union itself at risk. I believe that the single market is the foundation stone of the European Union and, as I have argued, the euro is its essential cement. Pull that away and in place of the remarkable unity that we have seen in Europe since the Second World War, we retreat to a Europe of fractious nation states.

This is what it would be: we in Europe decide to become Westphalian pygmies at the moment that Brazil, India and China become globalisation giants. What hope would there be for our ability to promote the values that we share, with Europe and not with the United States, to back international development, reduce world poverty, tackle climate change, advance democracy and human rights and help to solve the problem of failing states? What would happen then in that disastrous situation to the ideals of the founding fathers of the European Union who fought for a Europe whole and free, at peace in a co-operative partnership of nations where elements of sovereignty were pooled in the cause of democracy, freedom, prosperity and social justice?

Britain will be an enormous loser if the European project founders. It must not happen. We must strain every sinew as a Government and as a Parliament to avoid that terrible catastrophe. In doing so, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that we are not traitors to our national interests but are giving a practical expression to modern patriotism.