EU: Recent Developments — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:59 pm on 16th February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:59 pm, 16th February 2012

That is a nice compliment from the noble Lord. What worries me is when people say, "Yes, we want Europe because it is good where we can have political co-operation on where we agree. Yes, of course the single market matters, but let us draw a clear line at that". Whereas in the post-war era it is said that we had the myth of Britain standing alone at Dunkirk, which kept us out of effective engagement with Europe for 30 years, we are now recreating a new myth about Britain's role in the world, whereby Britain alone in the new globalised world of the 21st century can thrive without the "shackles"-as the anti-European Union people put it-of engagement in Europe.

Of course Britain has global reach and global interests, and it can be an influential and effective networker in this new global world, but there is the idea of Europe as a shackle, that the single market is no more than a monster of bureaucratic regulation, that free movement of labour stops us having our own immigration policy, and that the things that people do not like-such as the rights culture and the health and safety culture-are all because of Europe.

I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Flight, was almost cheering when my noble friend Lord Monks said that four weeks' statutory holiday for people would be scrapped if we were no longer part of Europe. That is a dangerous and seductive myth that may well seriously cloud our judgment as a nation as to where our future best interests lie. We must recognise that the health of the European Union is absolutely central to our global interests. British-based businesses sell a higher proportion of their exports into the single market than German exporters do of theirs. That is partly because, due to the single market, Britain has become such an attractive base for inward investment. It is because of the base of the single market that we can specialise and compete in world markets.

We do not strengthen our position in the single market by diplomatically putting ourselves out of the room when, for all the paper promises made, key economic questions affecting this country will be discussed. It is nonsense to think that the world will pay more heed to a Britain that accounts for-what?-2 per cent of world GDP than the European Union, which still represents the biggest economy in the world. People who think that Europe is putting us in shackles to meet the challenges of the global economy have to explain why Germany is one of the world's most successful exporters to China and the emerging economies.

The anti-Europeans have a vision of how Britain can make its living in the 21st-century that is deeply antipathetic to the instincts of those on our Benches. We believe in a European vision of a modern social market economy, a Europe that takes the high road to competitiveness and combines the opportunity for successful private enterprise with decent regulatory standards and essential public investment in low-carbon infrastructure, research, education, early years, a modern welfare state, and so on. The vision against that is essentially the vision of an offshore Britain, a deregulatory tax haven, a Hong Kong-type vision, which would be a disaster for most of our people but for the City of London as well.

The coalition would like to think that we can have the best of both worlds, to keep the benefits of the single market while avoiding most of Europe's obligations and political commitments. Of course, we should try to do our best to shape Europe in a British image, and there is a huge agenda of European reform that we need to pursue, but if we are saying that we will stay apart for ever from the single currency, we will have nothing to do with the fiscal stability union, we will be no longer in Schengen or part of the justice and home affairs parts of the treaties, what other nation in Europe shares that vision of Europe's future? Where are we looking for allies if we are trying to stay out of everything?

The European Union is an exercise in pooled sovereignty or it is nothing. If we are not prepared to join in and do our bit, we will ultimately make ourselves irrelevant. We cannot indefinitely achieve our objectives by staying out of the room when we do not like what is being discussed, and we cannot achieve them by opting out of so much that it begins to look as if we might as well not be in.

We have to resolve this issue as a country: is our future European or not? That is the lead that we are looking for from the Government.