European Union Referendum Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:11 pm on 13th October 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative 1:11 pm, 13th October 2015

My Lords, I can certainly speak another language: my home is in France, so I can tell the noble Lord that all is not lost.

I start by saying that I warmly welcome the Bill and warmly commend the Prime Minister for saying clearly that fundamental reform of the European Union is needed. So far, it is not entirely clear what reforms he has in mind. Perhaps my noble friend will tell us in her wind-up speech today. The problem is that if it is not made clear, it will come to be believed—quite wrongly, I am sure—that he is engaged in a fishing expedition and that whatever fishes he happens to catch, whatever tiddlers they may be, he will say that that is what he always wanted. It would not be good for the negotiation if that impression were to get about.

The bottom line is that the European Union is a political project, not an economic project. That is not a disgrace, but it is a fact. It is a political project known as “ever closer union”. It is a project which we do not share. The Prime Minister says that he wishes to have an opt-out from ever closer union. In a sense, we already have one. The fact that we are not members of the eurozone—we have retained our own currency and have not accepted the euro—shows that we do not accept it, but actually, an opt-out for the United Kingdom, even if it is formally stated, is totally meaningless. What is needed is for the European Union explicitly to resile from ever closer union—the creation of a united states of Europe—as its objective. Otherwise, as long as the European Union maintains this objective, there will continue to be European Union legislation to which we are subject, whether or not we formally have an opt-out from ever closer union. That is a meaningless phrase.

It should not be too difficult for the European Union to resile from that objective because, although it is profoundly desired by the European elites, it is not desired by most of the peoples of Europe. Indeed, one of the least attractive and most pronounced characteristics of the European movement is a contempt for democracy. The existence of a democratic deficit within the European Union has been well acknowledged on all sides.

Of course, there is a counterpart to this democratic deficit, which might be called a bureaucratic surplus. It is a particular problem for this country. The regulatory burden imposed by membership of the European Union in the case of the United Kingdom has been calculated to cost something like £25 billion a year. That is a huge burden and no economic advantages outweigh it. I have no doubt that overall the European Union does more harm economically than good for member states as a whole, not just for this country. That is perhaps not surprising because, since it is a political venture, whether there is an economic benefit would be purely coincidental. You only have to look at the performance of the European Union, particularly the eurozone, to see that it has not been a howling economic success.

It is said that by leaving the European Union we would still be bound by European Union regulations but would no longer have any influence over them. That is tosh for two reasons. First, while we have never had as much influence over European Union regulations as we fondly believe, since crossing the watershed of the creation of the eurozone our influence is dramatically diminished and will diminish further. There is now a eurozone bloc vote, which means that we have been and will continue to be overruled time and time again. Secondly, 85% of our GDP has nothing to do with the European Union. Our exports to the European Union are roughly 15% of our GDP, and the other 85% is either the domestic economy or exports to other countries. Although we would certainly have to accept European Union regulation when trading with the European Union—just as we must accept American regulation when trading in the United States, which our banks do a great deal—the great bulk of our economy would not be bound by this morass of European Union overregulation.

It is also said that outside the single market we would be unable to export to the European Union. Of course, that, too, is tosh. Exports to the European Union from outside it have in fact, over the past five years, increased by twice as much as exports from the United Kingdom to the rest of the European Union. In any event, I have little doubt that outside it we would be able to negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union. The United Kingdom even now is a £300 billion a year market for the rest of the European Union. That is exactly the same as the rest of the European Union sells to the United States. We are massive, and that is why comparisons with Norway do not really apply. We would do a far better deal than Norway could because of the size of the UK market, which is so important to the rest of the European Union.

I recall that many people in business and banking said that if we did not join the euro and stayed with sterling it would be a disaster for the United Kingdom. They now say exactly the same about membership of the European Union. The same suspects say exactly the same thing. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. Let us not be afraid. There will be a whole lot of scare stories. We have heard some today. Above all, let us not be little Europeans. Let our horizon be global. The future growth of the world economy is going to happen much more outside Europe, as countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere grow faster as they gradually catch up with the western world. We in this country have better worldwide links because of our history—and, to some extent, the language, but they are interconnected—than any other country in Europe.

Let us concentrate on them. The time has come to rediscover our national self-confidence, to abandon a political project that we do not share and to embrace a global future.