European Council - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 4:35 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 4:35 pm, 22nd February 2016

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the agreement reached in Brussels last week, but first let me say a word about the migration crisis which was also discussed at the European Council. We agreed that we needed to press ahead with strengthening the EU’s external borders to ensure that non-refugees are returned promptly and to back the new mission to disrupt the criminal gangs working between Greece and Turkey who are putting so many people’s lives at risk. I made clear that Britain will continue to contribute, and will step up our contribution, in all these areas.

Turning to Britain’s place in Europe, I have spent the last nine months setting out the four areas where we need reform and meeting all 27 other EU Heads of State and government to reach an agreement that delivers concrete reforms in all four areas. Let me take each in turn.

First, British jobs and British business depend on being able to trade with Europe on a level playing field, so we wanted new protections for our economy to safeguard the pound, to promote our industries—including our financial services industries, to protect British taxpayers from the costs of problems in the eurozone and to ensure that we have a full say over the rules of the single market while remaining outside the eurozone. We got all those things. We have not just permanently protected the pound and our right to keep it but have ensured that we cannot be discriminated against.

Responsibility for supervising the financial stability of the UK will always remain in the hands of the Bank of England. We have ensured that British taxpayers will never be made to bail out countries in the eurozone. We have made sure that the eurozone cannot act as a bloc to undermine the integrity of the free trade single market, and we have guaranteed that British business will never face any discrimination for being outside the eurozone. For example, our financial services firms—our number one services export employing over 1 million people—can never be forced to relocate inside the eurozone if they want to undertake complex trades in euros just because they are based in the UK.

These protections are not just set out in a legally binding agreement; all 28 member states were also clear that the treaties would be changed to incorporate the protections for the UK as an economy that is inside the EU but outside the eurozone. We also agreed a new mechanism to enable non-eurozone countries to raise issues of concern, and we won the battle to ensure that this could be triggered by one country alone. Of course, none of these protections would be available if we were to leave the EU.

Secondly, we wanted commitments to make Europe more competitive, creating jobs and making British families more financially secure, and again we got them. Europe will complete the single market in key areas that will really help Britain: in services, making it easier for thousands of UK service-based companies like IT firms to trade in Europe; in capital, so that UK start-ups can access more sources of finance for their businesses, and in energy, allowing new suppliers into our energy market, meaning lower energy bills for families across the country.

We have secured commitments to complete trade and investment agreements with the fastest-growing and most dynamic economies around the world, including the USA, Japan and China, as well as our Commonwealth allies, India, New Zealand and Australia. These deals could add billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to our economy every year, and, of course, they build on the deals we already have with 53 countries around the world through which Britain has benefited from the negotiating muscle that comes from being part of the world’s largest trading bloc.

Country after country have said to me that of course they could sign trade deals with Britain, but they have also said that their priority would be trade deals with the EU. By their nature, these EU deals would be bigger and better, and a deal with Britain would not even be possible until we had settled our position outside the EU. So for those Members who care about signing new trade deals outside the EU, we would be looking at years and years of delay.

Last but by no means least on competitiveness, one of the biggest frustrations for British business is the red tape and bureaucracy, so we agreed that there will now be targets to cut the total burden of EU regulation on business. This builds on the progress we have already made, with the Commission already cutting the number of new initiatives by 80%, and it means that the cost of EU red tape will be going down, not up. Of course, if we were to leave the EU but ultimately achieve a deal with full access to the single market, like Norway, we would still be subject to all the EU’s regulations when selling into Europe, but with no say over the rules. As the former Europe spokesman for the Norwegian Conservative Party said:

‘If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area’.

Thirdly, we wanted to reduce the very high level of migration from within the EU by preventing the abuse of free movement and preventing our welfare system acting as a magnet for people to come to our country. After the hard work of the Home Secretary we have secured new powers against criminals from other countries, including powers to stop them coming here in the first place and powers to deport them if they are already here. We agreed longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages and an end to the frankly ridiculous situation where EU nationals can avoid British immigration rules when bringing their families from outside the EU.

This agreement broke new ground, with the European Council agreeing to reverse decisions from the European Court of Justice. We have also secured a breakthrough agreement for Britain to reduce the unnatural draw that our benefits system exerts across Europe. We have already made sure that EU migrants cannot claim the new unemployment benefit, universal credit, while looking for work. Those coming from the EU who have not found work within six months can now be required to leave. At this Council we agreed that EU migrants working in Britain can be prevented from sending child benefit home at UK rates. This will apply first to new claimants and then to existing claimants from the start of 2020. We also established a new emergency brake so that EU migrants will have to wait four years until they have full access to our benefits.

People said it was impossible to achieve real change in this area and that a four-year restriction on benefits was completely out of the question, yet that is what we have done. Once activated, the emergency brake will be in place for seven years. So if it begins next year, it will still be operating in 2024 and there will be people who will not be getting full benefits until 2028. All along we have said that people should not be able to come here and get access to our benefits system straightaway—no more something for nothing—and that is what we have achieved.

I am sure that the discussion about welfare and immigration will be intense, but let me just make this point. No country outside the EU has agreed full access to the single market without accepting paying in to the EU and accepting free movement. In addition, our new safeguards lapse if we vote to leave the EU, so we might end up with free movement but without these new protections.

The fourth area where we wanted to make significant changes was to protect our country from further European political integration and to increase powers for our national Parliament. Ever since we joined, Europe has been on the path to something called ever-closer union. It means a political union. We have never liked it, we never wanted it, and now Britain will be permanently and legally excluded from it. The text says that the treaties will be changed to make clear that, and I quote,

‘the Treaty references to ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom’.

So, as a result of this negotiation, Britain can never be part of a European superstate.

The Council also agreed that ever-closer union, which has been referred to in previous judgments from the European Court of Justice, does not offer a legal basis for extending the scope of any provision of the treaties or of EU secondary legislation. People used to talk about a multi-speed Europe. Now we have a clear agreement that not only are different countries able to travel at different speeds but they are ultimately able to head to different destinations too. I would argue that that is a fundamental change in the way this organisation works.

We have also strengthened the role of this House and all national Parliaments. We have already passed a referendum Act to make sure that no powers can be handed to Brussels without the explicit consent of the British people in a referendum. Now, if Brussels comes up with legislation we do not want, we can get together with other parliaments and block it with a red card. We have a new mechanism finally to enforce the principle that, as far as possible, powers should sit here in Westminster, not in Brussels. So every year the EU now has to go through the powers it exercises and work out which are no longer needed and should be returned to nation states.

In recent years we have also seen attempts to bypass our opt-out on justice and home affairs by bringing forward legislation under a different label—for example, attempts to interfere with the way the UK authorities handle fraud were made under the guise of EU budget legislation. The agreements at last week’s Council ensure that this can never happen again.

The reforms we have secured will be legally binding in international law and will be deposited as a treaty at the UN. They cannot be unpicked without the agreement of Britain and every other EU country. As I have said, all 28 member states were also clear that the treaties would be changed to incorporate the protections for the UK as an economy outside the eurozone, and our permanent exclusion from ever-closer union.

Our special status means that Britain can have the best of both worlds. We will be in the parts of Europe that work for us, influencing the decisions that affect us, in the driving seat of the world’s biggest single market and with the ability to take action to keep our people safe, but we will be out of the parts of Europe that do not work for us: out of the euro, out of the eurozone bailouts, out of the passport-free, no-borders Schengen area, and permanently and legally protected from ever being part of an ever-closer union.

Of course, there is still more to do. I am the first to say that there are still many ways in which this organisation needs to improve, and the task of reforming Europe does not end with last week’s agreement. But with the special status this settlement gives us, I believe the time has come to fulfil another vital commitment this Government made, and that is to hold a referendum. So, I am today commencing the process set out under our referendum Act to propose that the British people decide our future in Europe through an in/out referendum on Thursday 23 June. The Foreign Secretary has laid in both Houses a report setting out the new settlement that the Government have negotiated. This fulfils the duty to publish information set out in Section 6 of the European Union Referendum Act 2015. As the Cabinet agreed on Saturday, the Government’s position will be to recommend that Britain remains in this reformed European Union.

This is a vital decision for the future of our country. We should also be clear that it is a final decision. An idea has been put forward that if the country votes to leave we could have a second renegotiation and perhaps another referendum. I will not dwell on the irony that some people who want to vote to leave apparently want to use a leave vote to remain. But such an approach also ignores more profound points about democracy, diplomacy and legality. This is a straight democratic decision—staying in or leaving—and no Government can ignore that. Having a second renegotiation followed by a second referendum is not on the ballot paper. For a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would not just be wrong, it would be undemocratic. On the diplomacy, the idea that other European countries would be ready to start a second negotiation is for the birds. Many are under pressure for what they have already agreed. Then there is the legality—I want to spell out this point carefully for the House because it is important. If the British people vote to leave, there is only one way to bring that about, and that is to trigger Article 50 of the treaties and begin the process of exit. The British people would rightly expect that that should start straightaway.

Let me be absolutely clear how this works: it triggers a two-year time period to negotiate the arrangements for exit. At the end of this period if no agreement is in place, then exit is automatic unless every one of the 27 other EU member states agrees to a delay. We should be clear that this process is not an invitation to rejoin; it is a process for leaving. Sadly, I have known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings, but I do not know any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows.

I want to explain what would happen if that deal to leave was not done within two years. Our current access to the single market would cease immediately after two years were up, and our current trade agreements with 53 countries around the world would lapse. This cannot be described as anything other than risk, uncertainty and a leap in the dark that could hurt working people in our country for years to come. This is not some theoretical question; this is a real decision about people’s lives. When it comes to people’s jobs, it is simply not enough to say that it will be all right on the night and we will work it out. In the weeks to come we need properly to face up to the economic consequences of a choice to leave.

I believe Britain will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union: stronger because we can play a leading role in one of the world’s largest organisations from within, helping to make the big decisions on trade and security that determine our future; safer because we can work with our European partners to fight cross-border crime and terrorism; and better off because British businesses will have full access to the free-trade single market, bringing jobs, investment and lower prices.

There will be much debate about sovereignty—and rightly so. To me what matters most is the power to get things done for our people, for our country, and for our future. Leaving the EU may briefly make us feel more sovereign, but would it actually give us more power, more influence and a greater ability to get things done? No. If we leave the EU, will we have the power to stop our businesses being discriminated against? No. Will we have the power to insist that European countries share with us their border information so we know what terrorists and criminals are doing in Europe? No, we will not. Will we have more influence over the decisions that affect the prosperity and security of British families? No, we will not. We are a great country and whatever choice we make we will still be great, but I believe the choice is between being an even greater Britain inside a reformed EU and a great leap into the unknown. The challenges facing the West today are genuinely threatening: Putin’s aggression in the east; Islamist extremism to the south. In my view this is no time to divide the West. When faced with challenges to our way of life, our values and our freedoms, this is a time for strength in numbers.

I end by saying this: I am not standing for re-election; I have no other agenda than what is best for our country; I am standing here today telling you what I think. My responsibility as Prime Minister is to speak plainly about what I believe is right for our country, and that is what I will do every day for the next four months. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 4:53 pm, 22nd February 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating today’s Statement, which is hugely significant for the future of our country and its place in the world. I am also grateful to the Chief Whip for allowing some additional time for Back-Bench contributions and questions.

Clearly, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the UK’s relationship with the EU was the only issue discussed at the European Council over the weekend. I am grateful that, in the Statement she repeated today, the noble Baroness made it clear that other issues were also debated. It must be immensely frustrating for other countries that issues such as migration, Syria and Libya have not received the same degree of interest as our referendum has. Perhaps that makes a profound point, because those are obviously issues where European and international co-operation are absolutely vital and crucial.

On our role within the EU, the Prime Minister is clearly relieved that a deal has been done and that he has been able to announce the date for the referendum, although at times over the weekend it was all looking slightly dodgy. We were told that, following the completion of negotiations, there would be an English breakfast on Friday morning where the deal would be finalised and then the PM would travel back for a Cabinet meeting in the evening. However, as that breakfast became brunch, brunch became lunch, and lunch became dinner, it was clear that there were still a few sticking points. When we saw Angela Merkel rushing out for a bag of chips as sustenance we knew there was still some way to go. Perhaps the Prime Minister thought that he could starve them into submission. Finally the deal was announced—not exactly what he had asked for but, as any experienced negotiator will confirm, that is the nature of negotiations. The deal had significant changes that certainly cannot be dismissed as unimportant, although some have tried. Then, for the first time since 1982 during the Falklands crisis, the Cabinet met on a Saturday.

There is an historical connection here, in that it was Harold Wilson, the first and until now the only Prime Minister to hold a referendum on the European issue, who is said to have once remarked:

“A week is a long time in politics”, though his referendum campaign lasted just half the time of ours. If a week is a long time, the next four months of campaigning are going to seem like an absolute eternity. There will be discussions and deliberations and, as leaflet after leaflet extolling the views of one campaign or another is handed out and posted through letterboxes, recycling bins are going to be full to overflowing.

I predict some excellent debates and factually based communications that will inform and enlighten. I also predict nonsense, scaremongering and bad temper. We shall also have some moments of pure theatre. The “will he/won’t he” performance of Boris Johnson’s announcement last night was clearly designed to create the maximum spectacle and drama, and he succeeded in that. He was obviously aware of the deliberate impact that that would have on the Prime Minister.

However, for most of us this issue has to be more than just about personalities and theatrics. It has to be about more than who can shout the loudest or get the most celebrities signed up to their campaign. It is more—so much more—than Mr Cameron’s deal. Support for that view has come from surprising sources. It was almost incredible to hear Chris Grayling yesterday morning on the radio saying that it was a relief rather than difficult to declare his opposition because he, like many others, had made up his mind weeks ago, but had done the right thing and let the Prime Minister continue his negotiations. The right thing? Whatever the Prime Minister returned with was never going to get the support of the very people—his Cabinet and his party—he was trying to please. When, on 2 February, we had that previous Statement I expressed our view that too much of the Prime Minister’s negotiating position had been targeted at his own internal party problems, whereas the only objective must always be the national interest and the key issues that impact on people’s everyday lives.

I am not suggesting that the deal is not helpful. People will have their own views. However, there are so many other issues that are crucial to the UK and to Europe on which we should be taking a lead. We should be exerting our influence and trying to create the kind of EU in which we can take great pride. The Labour Party and the trade unions played a strong role in ensuring that issues such as employment rights, guaranteed paid holidays, paid maternity leave and protection for agency workers were kept out of any renegotiation. Those rights are far too important to be lost or weakened.

The same applies to consumer and environmental protections that have a real and tangible impact on many if not all of us. That includes the cutting of data roaming costs for mobiles and for using the internet, the improvement of air passengers’ rights, clean beaches and bathing water—good for our well-being and a boost to local economies—and how we deal with and dispose of waste. Thanks to EU legislation, on those kind of issues we all benefit. Indeed, given that the air quality here in London and other parts of the UK continues to fall short of EU clean air standards, it would clearly have been more beneficial to the public health of our fellow citizens if the Government had engaged more proactively on this front.

I watched with incredulity yesterday as Iain Duncan Smith claimed that we would be safer out of the EU, as being part of it increased the threat of Paris-style terrorist attacks. Is this the same Iain Duncan Smith who supported the Government’s proposals to opt out of EU measures to deal with crime and policing, including terrorism, and then found out, along with the rest of his party, that they had to opt back in to everything because it actually worked? It worked because it made us safer.

For so long, Brexit campaigners have been telling us that EU citizens travel to the UK in order to get benefits. Then, when the Prime Minister reaches an agreement to cut these, the argument shifts to being that it will not make any difference. You cannot have both sides of the argument at the same time. As this campaign progresses, let us have the kind of debate that can make us proud as a country and as a Parliament. Let us try to recapture some of that vision and promise that was in the hearts and minds of those who first conceived that a way to peace and prosperity was a Europe—which was then divided and devastated by two wars—that would work together with common principles and values for the benefit of all citizens. Let us have a debate of vision and of facts. We should recall that in 1961, our application for membership was vetoed because it was felt that we would be too dominant and powerful through our relationship with the Commonwealth and the US. Yet today we maintain those strong and special relationships alongside our membership of the EU.

None of us would claim that the EU was perfect. We all recognise where it has been weak and where change is needed. But would it not benefit this country if we could again be seen as a powerful figure on the European stage—a powerful country that would take a lead within an EU that works better for working people, strengthens businesses small and large, and brings ongoing and better reform? Why should we not seek to build human rights, employment rights, consumer and environmental protections into future Europe-wide trade treaties? Taking on workers from other countries should never be used as an excuse to drive down wages or disadvantage local workers. Rather than merely seeking greater control for ourselves, why should we not seek to stop the pressure from Brussels to deregulate and sell off public services? That is a matter for national Governments. Why are we not pressing across the EU for a more humanitarian and strategic response to the thousands of refugees seeking asylum, with far too many losing their lives in the process?

Whatever the outcome of the referendum on 23 June, the EU is still going to exist just 21 miles from the shores of Dover and across the border in the Republic of Ireland. That is a fact of life. If we vote to leave, we will still have to manage that reality while our businesses, large and small, that want to trade within the EU will still have to abide by its regulations, which the United Kingdom will have no part in making. During this referendum we will hear a lot of talk about sovereignty, independence and what it means to be a nation state in the ever-changing world of the 21st century. We have already heard quite a bit about patriotism. I so hope that neither side in this debate will seek to claim ownership of patriotism or denigrate anyone else’s.

As I said earlier, and I am sure that I speak for many Members of your Lordships’ House, I hope that the debate will be more informative and enlightening than it is misleading and ill tempered. However, my plea is deeper than that. Already today, we have heard the news that the pound is falling in value, partly from the uncertainty of Brexit and partly because of a Government who are now seen as divided and preoccupied. This makes the need for a constructive, positive debate not just important but absolutely essential. Four months is a long time. The Government must not be so preoccupied with this debate that they lose focus on other issues. The debate has to be about the future of the UK and not that of the Conservative Party, as entertaining as that may be, because this is not about entertainment. This is a huge decision that faces each and every one of us. In the Statement which the noble Baroness repeated, there was the comment that this is not just a theoretical question but a real decision about people’s lives. We entirely concur with that statement.

The British people deserve a proper debate ahead of 23 June. My party has set out its position clearly and with conviction. We look forward to making the case for a stronger, open and confident Britain remaining as an engaged, challenging and leading member of the EU.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. At the outset, I declare my registered interest as a member of the board of Britain Stronger in Europe. I say gently to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, that twice in her remarks she talked about four months being a long time. A number of us in your Lordships’ House who are veterans of three and a half years on the Scottish referendum would think four months a relative relief.

Those of us on these Benches very much welcome the Prime Minister’s successful renegotiations in Europe last week. The hard work that he put in, not only last week but in the weeks leading up to it, was very evident and it is fair to say that what he came away with exceeded many people’s initial expectations. We also welcome the willingness of other EU member states to work with the United Kingdom to reach this compromise. That demonstrates the degree of good will towards the United Kingdom from other EU Governments, and their commitment to maintaining British membership. I was delighted yesterday to hear the Prime Minister setting out, at long last, the strategic case for the United Kingdom continuing its membership of the European Union. It was very welcome, too, that the Prime Minister took the opportunity in his Statement to knock on the head the fanciful idea that, in the event of an out vote, there could be a second renegotiation and a second referendum.

The referendum vote in June will be of the utmost significance. It will not only settle Britain’s relations with Europe, but our place in the world. We very much believe that the United Kingdom will derive strength from being seen as a team player and engaged in international affairs. It is an illusion of sovereignty to suggest that, if we come out, we will somehow get sovereignty back. Liberal Democrats are firmly committed to the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union. We are united in our belief that the United Kingdom is better when it is united with our colleagues in Europe. In an uncertain world of challenges and threats, I also believe that Europe is better and stronger for having the United Kingdom in it as a member state.

We have spoken from these Benches on a number of occasions about how we will use the campaign to speak about the positive case for Britain remaining within the EU. In the EU, Britain can thrive. Together, we will be a stronger and more prosperous nation, securing jobs and creating opportunity for our children and grandchildren. We have created together the world’s largest free trade area, we have delivered peace, and we have given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely. History shows that Britain is better when it is united with our European partners. Together, we are stronger in the fight against the global problems that do not stop at borders. We can combat international crime, fight climate change, and together provide hope and opportunity for the future.

It is worth reflecting for a moment on the creation of the European Union and its lasting legacy. After decades of brutal conflict on the continent, European nations came together in co-operation. To this day, neighbours and allies support each other in what remains the world’s most successful project in peace. We remain stronger together in continuing the fight against terrorists who despise our liberal and modern way of life. Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House take the opportunity to repudiate the alarmist comments made by her colleague, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when he said that remaining in the EU exposes Britain to a Paris-style terrorist attack? Does she agree that it is only by working in co-operation with our international friends and neighbours that we can combat such threats to our security?

Britain is already stronger and better off trading and working with Europe. We are part of the world’s largest single market, allowing British businesses to grow and prosper. Our people have more opportunities to work, travel and learn than ever before. Staying in the EU gives our children and grandchildren greater prospects, and the best chance to succeed. Does the noble Baroness share my concerns, therefore, at the dramatic fall in sterling today—referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith—which we believe was driven in great part by fear of Brexit? Does she agree that the threat of leaving the EU is already costing British businesses and that it would be much worse for British exporters if we were to withdraw from the world’s biggest single market? Can the noble Baroness indicate when we will get the Government’s report on EU membership under Section 7 of the European Referendum Act that Parliament passed towards the end of last year?

This country’s place in the world depends on our getting on well with our neighbours, who share our values and interests. Does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agree that this referendum is about the kind of country we want to leave to our children and grandchildren, and about how we think of ourselves as a country? Does she agree than issues such as climate change and the natural environment are better tackled when we come together to think about the world we want to leave to future generations?

There has been speculation about a statement or an initiative on sovereignty, which was lacking from the Prime Minister’s Statement today. Before going down that particular road—it may just have been a ruse to try to bring Boris on board—will the noble Baroness reflect that in fact further piecemeal constitutional meddling of that kind may end up with consequences more damaging than the ones they seek to resolve? Will she give the House an indication of the Government’s thinking on that?

Finally, will the noble Baroness confirm that this is, indeed, a once-in-a-generation decision and that there is only one opportunity to show that the United Kingdom is not a country that is isolated and sidelined but one that is open, outward-facing and proud of its place in the international community, and that an out vote means taking the United Kingdom back and an in vote means taking the United Kingdom forward?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for their remarks and their support for what the Prime Minister has negotiated in Europe this weekend.

I shall start by reflecting on the significance of the events at the end of last week. On Friday my right honourable friend the Prime Minister did something that many people had predicted was not possible: he delivered a legally binding, irreversible renegotiation of our relationship with the European Union. In doing so he secured a new settlement, carving out a special status for this country that gives us the best of both worlds and means that we remain in the parts of Europe that work for us—the noble Lords have talked about some of them—around making sure that we are stronger and safer. That most definitely includes security: although we retain our responsibility to national security, we benefit from the co-operation of our partners in Europe in terms of protecting ourselves from terrorism. Through his renegotiation my right honourable friend has secured terms that mean we will be better off because of increasing competitiveness and the securing of the completion of the single market. He has also made sure that we stay out of the parts that are not in our best interests and have frustrated us for too long.

Having secured all that, we now need to get on with our other commitment to deliver to the British people the opportunity that they have long waited for to have their say on whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union. The noble Baroness made reference to four months and the time between now and the referendum taking place. I note what the noble and learned Lord said about the length of time of the Scottish referendum campaign. I say to noble Lords that the reason why it is four months is that we are reflecting the proper processes and steps that it was agreed in the European Union Referendum Act should take place between now and the referendum happening. That process has started today: the statutory instrument confirming the date has been laid. That will be debated in both Houses and is subject to an affirmative resolution. Today we have also published the White Paper, which meets one of the requirements of the referendum Act regarding the other information that we as a Government are required to produce. That will happen, in line with the Bill, 10 weeks before the referendum takes place. So that is all in train.

With regard to other points raised by the noble Lords, I say to the noble Baroness, who talked about wanting to see the UK remaining a powerful figure within Europe as a result of the referendum, that I agree with her. We are a powerful player in Europe now and that is what we want to remain. She made the point that the European Union would continue to exist even if the United Kingdom voted to leave. She is absolutely right: if this country decided to come out, the European Union would still be there. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said when he was being interviewed yesterday, one of my Cabinet colleagues said on Saturday when we were discussing his renegotiation, “This utopia might sound fantastic but I bet that when you got there, there would still be a European Union”. It is a place that will exist because other people would be members of it even if we were not.

The noble Baroness said it would be important that between now and the referendum taking place the Government continued to govern, and that there are other matters of greater importance to the people of this country. I agree with her about that; we have important business to conduct and will continue to do so.

The noble and learned Lord made reference to the effect on the currency markets. In my view, such an effect between now and the referendum taking place would be about uncertainty: we are now in a state where there is a debate going on and there is some uncertainty about the result of that referendum. What I, the Prime Minister and the Government are arguing is that, by voting to remain in the European Union, we would provide certainty for the future of this country. If this country decides to leave the European Union, it would create a long period of uncertainty.

As to the noble and learned Lord’s question about the sovereignty of Parliament, we have already, in the last few years, protected the sovereignty of this Parliament by passing that Act in 2011, which means that never again can any Prime Minister give away powers to the European Union without coming back to this country and giving the people a say. The very fact that we are having a referendum later this year, in June, is also an act of sovereignty. It also means that the people of this country are in charge of their own destiny. I very much believe and hope that the result of the referendum will see that we remain strong and secure in our future, having the best of both worlds, which means being part of a reformed Europe, but also being in charge of our own destiny and taking advantage of the changes that the Prime Minister has been able to negotiate.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we are now into an extended period of 40 minutes, which reflects the importance of the Statement made by my noble friend the Leader of the House. We will make the most of that time if noble Lords, with a little bit of self-discipline, restrict themselves to short questions. On top of that, we will be able to go around the House in our usual way.

Photo of Lord Hague of Richmond Lord Hague of Richmond Conservative 5:17 pm, 22nd February 2016

My Lords, now that the negotiations conducted by the Prime Minister can be subject to intense scrutiny and analysis, does my noble friend agree that it is very important that all possible alternative arrangements with the European Union be subject to an equivalent degree of scrutiny and analysis? Is it not the case that, as even many of us who are long-standing critics of the EU have to recognise, there would be a basic choice between leaving the single market in order to escape its requirements, freedom of movement and regulations, and staying in the single market with those same requirements and regulations? Would that not represent a loss of sovereignty rather than the recovery of sovereignty?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, I do not think the House will be surprised to hear me say that I very much agree with my noble friend. He is absolutely right: anybody campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union will have to spell out what that means and what they are suggesting the people of this country would be voting for. They need to be specific about the model that is being proposed. If it is a model like Norway, they need to explain to the people of this country that there is no cost-free alternative; that is important for people to understand. There is not another way in which there is no disadvantage. It is quite possible for the United Kingdom to survive and prosper outside of the European Union, but we believe that Britain would remain stronger in the EU, and it is for others to make their case as to what “leave” means.

Photo of Lord Kinnock Lord Kinnock Labour

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that it is neither pessimistic nor defeatist for us to argue for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union? It is total commitment to advancing and upholding the stability, security and well-being of our beloved country. It is practical patriotism instead of the risk-riddled leap into the unknown of leaving. Will she therefore dismiss the glib and duplicitous suggestion that voting to leave will somehow compel the European Union to amenably accommodate the economic preferences of the United Kingdom outside the EU? Being pro having cake and pro eating it is an infantile desire, not an adult reality. I hope she will agree that the choice is in or out, not “in, out, shake it all about” and then rashly hope that something helpful will turn up for a country that has abandoned all rights, influence and power by leaving the EU.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I certainly agree with the noble Lord that voting to remain in the European Union is very much a patriotic decision. If we cast our vote in that way, we are recognising the power and influence we wield as our country in that European Union, and that we will have both the benefit of being in that Union and—because of what has been renegotiated—greater control of our destiny than we have been able to have up to now. The noble Lord is absolutely right about voting to leave. To vote to leave means to leave, and that will be it: it is about being either in or out.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, in my view the agreement reached by the Prime Minister is both substantive and valuable and I thank him for the efforts he made to achieve that. Can the noble Baroness perhaps cast some light on the views of the Mayor of London, who appears to think that if we vote to remain, that will be a green light for federalism? If that is so, why are all the federalist leader-writers on the continent rending their garments because of the agreement reached last week? Could he perhaps be wrong and, while we are at it, could he just understand that the motto of the European Union is not “E pluribus unum” but “United in diversity”?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I think I will leave the noble Lord to get into a battle about Latin with somebody else—I hope he will forgive me, but I will not engage in that. However, I am very grateful to him for recognising that what the Prime Minister achieved in Brussels was substantive and valuable. He is quite right about the reaction in Europe to what the Prime Minister has achieved. Unfortunately, I have only recently been given some quotes so I will not try to read them out, but clearly, the other leaders in Europe have been able to explain to their people that the UK has got itself a new status in Europe, with new terms. They have also acknowledged that, with the exception of the specific carve-out for the United Kingdom on ever closer union, the changes the Prime Minister has negotiated are to the benefit of Europe as a whole—this is not just about a benefit for the UK—and have acknowledged just how hard the Prime Minister pressed them during these negotiations. The noble Baroness referred to the scenes in Europe. I argue that they demonstrated just how difficult it was for the Prime Minister to get this better deal for the UK. On that basis, we can have every confidence in it.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am delighted that the Prime Minister has shifted to making the big, positive, patriotic case for our membership of the European Union; it is perhaps a pity that he has not been making that case over the last decade. Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness, with a slight note of concern, how the Government will avoid the adverse consequences of what I might call the “be careful what you wish for” aspects. One is the special status she just talked about, which is in some respects a semi-detached status. How will we make sure that the UK truly is in the lead on EU policy areas such as security and climate change, where we want to be fully engaged? Secondly, although the red card is unlikely ever to be used, there is a danger that it could be used by national parliaments ganging up against the liberalisation of services in the single market in a protectionist way that would not be in our favour. Lastly, on the sovereignty angle—my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace referred to a constitutional court—if the UK Supreme Court becomes a constitutional court that can override Parliament, how will that increase British parliamentary sovereignty domestically?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Baroness covered a lot of ground and she will forgive me for not dealing with all those points, in order to allow other noble Lords to get in. She suggested that the Prime Minister is only now making the positive case for Britain’s membership of the European Union; I disagree. It is also very important for us to acknowledge that there has been a great deal of frustration among the people of this country about the way Europe has operated for a long time. They have been frustrated at not getting the opportunity to have a referendum. The Prime Minister is being so positive about what he is putting forward to the United Kingdom because he has addressed people’s concerns through his renegotiation and is giving them the opportunity finally to have their say. That is an essential and important part of the message that we need to deliver.

On the noble Baroness’s other points, what is important about ever-closer union and what the Prime Minister was seeking to address in his renegotiation is that we now have the power—which we never had before—not to be involved in things we do not think are in Britain’s interests.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that, however one regards the details of the deal, there can be no doubt that our right honourable friend the Prime Minister has opened up huge new opportunities for the reform of Europe as a whole? As we have reached this point, will she encourage her colleagues in government from now on to put maximum brainpower, energy and imagination into working with the other peoples of Europe to achieve the fundamental reforms the European Union desperately needs in the face of its present crises, and for which most of the people of Europe are yearning?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My noble friend makes an important point which the Prime Minister, I and others in government are very conscious of. He is quite right, and as I think I said to him when I repeated the previous Statement, this is not the end but the start of a process of reform. We want Europe to work in the best interests of all its peoples. It started reforming. It started changing. It started reducing some of the regulation and burdens that we know are not in people’s interests, but more needs to be done and we will very much support that.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

Does the Minister agree that, important as the economic arguments are—and I am sure they will take pride of place in the coming months—we must not lose sight of the political and security arguments? Europe is facing challenges in the east from President Putin and in the Mediterranean area and Syria, and there are security problems between the nation states of Europe trying to unite to face those threats, so can she make sure that those arguments are heard? They are profoundly important to the stability of this country and of Europe.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I very much agree with the noble Lord. One of the advantages of being in Europe—and for us to make clear to the people of this country—is that we have led the way in some of the action that has been taken in the last few years to make sure that we are more secure, whether it is issuing sanctions against Putin or increasing the co-operation between member states on sharing information to defeat terrorism. That is a very good and powerful reason for us to remain in the European Union and an argument that we must continue to make.

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as the present chairman of Vote Leave. Is it not clear that the trivial and inconsequential changes that the Prime Minister has secured—subject to legal challenge, of course—fall far, far short of the fundamental, far-reaching reform which three years ago in his Bloomberg speech he said was necessary? Is it not clear that the referendum on 23 June will be about not whether we wish to remain in a reformed European Union but whether we wish to remain in an unreformed European Union, which, alas, it has proved itself to be? However, there is one thing that I welcome. In his Statement the Prime Minister has admitted—I think for the first time but, if not, it is the first time that I can recall—that the purpose of the European Union is to create full-blooded political union. That is clear in the Statement. However, he says that we shall not be part of it. Maybe we will not be but we will still be shackled to it and will have a quasi-colonial status—that is the closest parallel that I can think of. Is it not the case that the referendum on 23 June will be about whether we wish to be a self-governing, independent democracy?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As my noble friend knows, it always pains me to have to disagree with him, but I disagree in particular with his description of what the Prime Minister secured through his renegotiation in Europe. To describe it as trivial and inconsequential is just not accurate. My noble friend is right in that the Prime Minister acknowledges that the European Union is about political union, but he has secured that we are not a part of that—it is in a legally binding document. It is very clear that we are carved out of it. Furthermore—this point has not had much of an airing—not only do we have a United Kingdom carve-out but the document says:

“The references in the Treaties and their preambles to the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe do not offer a legal basis for extending the scope of any provision of the Treaties or of EU secondary legislation”.

That is an instruction to the European Court of Justice and it will apply not just to us but to everybody else who is a member of the European Union and does not want to be part of a political union.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, I declare an interest as a board member of Britain Stronger In Europe. Does the noble Baroness agree that there is an overwhelming economic case for us to remain as a member of the European Union? Nowhere is that more the case than in Wales. Over recent years we have seen international companies from Japan, the United States and elsewhere locating there to sell to the European Union. Leaving the Union would destabilise that relationship and undermine our economy.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Yes, I agree with the noble Lord. We have to acknowledge the foreign investment that comes into this country and into Wales, a lot of which is from European Union countries. We benefit tremendously from our trade as part of that single market, and we would put that very severely at risk if we were to leave.

Photo of Lord Spicer Lord Spicer Conservative

My noble friend has just talked about a legally binding document protecting our interests. How do the Government then deal with the question of the acquis communautaire and the fact that the so-called watertight legislative protection of our rights in the past has never survived challenges in the court? These matters have to be addressed if some credibility is to be given to this so-called legally binding document.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

In the interests of time and the fact that many people want to get in, I shall say to my noble friend Lord Spicer what I said to my noble friend Lord Lawson. The Prime Minister has secured, for the first time ever, a return of powers to a nation state. That has never happened before. He has secured that and we can now take advantage of it—something that we have never been able to do before.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat

My Lords, last week at the Munich security conference the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, expressed the hope of having a strong United Kingdom within a strong European Union. In the opinion of the noble Baroness, why should the United States attach such significance to our continuing membership of the EU?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

It does so because it sees how influential we are in the European Union. It sees that we not only have an impact on the very important international and global issues of the day but bring a lot to what happens in the rest of the European Union. That is why the US wants us to stay.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

I speak as a former European Commissioner. It is absolutely essential that we remain in the European Union, expressing our point of view and being able to judge whether something that has been put forward is in our interests. We can say what we like there. To say that we have no influence—an argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson—is absurd. I speak from experience. You have to go through all the institutions of the European Union, not only the Commission, and eventually you end up with a compromise. That is not a dirty word. In my view, it is absolutely essential that 28 countries should perform like that and come to a reasonable decision. To experiment in the way put forward by those who oppose remaining in the EU would be absolutely absurd. In my view, membership of the Union is essential and we should have no doubt about that. We do have a voice.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

It is important not only that we make the strong case for membership of the European Union that the noble Lord has outlined, but that we stress that we are confident in making that case because of the reforms that the Prime Minister has been able to secure. We must not underestimate people’s frustration with the European Union, and we were not happy with the status quo.

Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench

My Lords, first, perhaps I may just build on what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said. Should not the Prime Minister make more of the fact that it means a lot to countries dealing with the United Kingdom that we are part of the European Union? Countries such as India see the UK as a gateway to Europe and I do not think that enough is made of that. Secondly, perhaps I may build on what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said. The Prime Minister talks about the best of both worlds. You can be a Eurosceptic, as I think I am—I hate the way that the European Parliament works and the fact that it has to go to Strasbourg every month, and I hate the gravy train, the waste of money and the fact that nobody I am aware of knows who their MEP is—and still believe that it is the lesser of two evils, rather than the best of both worlds. Does the Minister agree that it is probably better to stay in the European Union because it is the best of both worlds and the lesser of two evils?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Or you might say, “Better the devil you know”. Basically, I agree with the noble Lord: you do not have to be a raging Euro-enthusiast and to have been so for donkey’s years to support staying in the European Union. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, this is patriotic. We believe very much in the power and sovereignty of the United Kingdom, and we believe that by being in Europe we can have, as the Prime Minister described it, the best of both worlds. As to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, about making more of the way in which we are a gateway to the rest of Europe, I agree with him, and the Prime Minister is already making that case. We have four months to go and he will keep making that case. I hope that the noble Lord and others will help us in that task.

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative

Does the Minister recall an interview given some time ago by Jacques Delors in the German newspaper Handelsblatt in which he said this:

“If the British cannot support the trend towards more integration in Europe, we can nevertheless remain friends, but on a different basis. I could imagine a form such as a European economic area or a free-trade agreement”?

Does not that show, without prejudging it, that there is an alternative available, or was Delors just completely wrong?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My noble friend is right to say that there is an alternative—of course there is an alternative. That is why there are two choices for the British people: to leave or to remain. The alternative—and it may be something like the Norway model—is not inconceivable, but it would not be without cost and is not something that we should walk blindly into without recognising that it brings with it its own disadvantages. We have to be clear what the alternative is. That is what the next few weeks and months will have to be about in this debate: if there is an alternative, what is it?

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, can I follow up on the particular point that has just been raised and the excellent point that was raised by my noble friend Lord Hain? Since the Minister and I are on exactly the same side—enthusiastically, and for the first time ever, I think—can I ask her a favour? Will she go back to the Cabinet and say, “Let us find some way of requiring these people who are against the present arrangement to put forward their alternatives so that we can examine them in detail”? They need to be required to do that so we can see clearly what the alternative is. If the Cabinet can come up with some kind of arrangement for that, I will give it and the Minister three cheers.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

It is for those who want to campaign to leave to come up with their arguments and the case for that. It is not for me, on the opposite side of the argument, to try to find a mechanism for them to do so; that is their responsibility. We will go through the process of formally designating the leave campaign and, as part of that process, I imagine that the respective group that is successful will be the one that the Electoral Commission feels has covered all the requirements set out for it.

Photo of Lord Framlingham Lord Framlingham Conservative

My Lords, I am sure the Leader of the House will agree with me that the most important thing in the next four months will be to put the arguments—all the arguments—as fairly as possible before the British people. All the Front Benches in this House are for staying in and all the Front Benches in the House of Commons are for staying in. This afternoon, the Prime Minister confirmed that he is going to use the whole power of the Civil Service to campaign to stay in. Does the Leader of the House think that that is entirely fair and right, and should it be of some concern to our House?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

On the last point that my noble friend makes, the Government have adopted a position and are not neutral on this. We are arguing to remain in a reformed European Union because we believe that that is in the best interests of the people of this country. But, ultimately, it is for them to decide. Like the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, my noble friend is right to say that the people who would advance leaving have to make their case and be clear in their arguments. To be honest, the inclusion in the campaigns of some very significant figures—potentially from this House and from the other place; I do not know how everybody is going to vote—means that there will be a serious debate over the next few weeks. I think that that is a good thing.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, it would be entirely appropriate for the Government to make the case which they support for remaining in the European Union with all the strength at their command. The case for remaining within the European Union does not stand or fall by the details of the deal that the Prime Minister negotiated in Brussels at the weekend. Nevertheless, it is very clear from the Prime Minister’s Statement, which the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has repeated for us, that the deal tends much more to the substantial and significant, as was depicted by my noble friend Lord Hannay, rather than the trivial and inconsequential, as portrayed by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. However, it is probably fair to say that the balance of the media comment and their portrayal of the deal has tended towards the trivial and inconsequential. Given that, will the Minister provide an assurance that the Government will spare no effort to get across to the British people the substantial and significant progress that the Prime Minister has made in persuading the European Union to accommodate the British position and that it does not remain within the Westminster bubble, as we have heard it described this afternoon?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I certainly think that the Government have a responsibility to be clear about what they are advancing and to communicate that directly to the people. But I also think that the media play an important part in our democratic process. Noble Lords have been arguing about other people making their case, and it is important as well that, through the media, people get to hear the arguments for and against. I would never stand at this Dispatch Box and criticise the work of the UK media.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will be well aware that there is no doubt whatever that the people of our nation are safer in terms of terrorism and serious organised crime because we are part of the EU. We lead Europol and have the European arrest warrant and all sorts of things. At the grand strategic level of defence, there is no doubt that NATO is most important to us. However, does the noble Baroness agree that Europe is very important to our nation? We have twice saved its bacon in the last 100 years and there is no doubt that, at the moment, there are huge threats. If we left the EU, I think there would be a certain flakiness within it. Does the noble Baroness agree? This is a very bad moment for that to happen. Europe needs us and, if it becomes flaky, the risks from people like Putin and the southern flank would be huge. We need to bear these things in mind.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

That is why the Prime Minister has said that perhaps the only person who would cheer if we were to vote to leave would be Putin. Clearly, we do not want to do anything that is going to brighten up his day.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP

My Lords, will the Minister tell us how this pathetic deal is in any way the fundamental reform of the EU itself that we were promised? For instance, can she tell us how it has reduced the hugely undemocratic powers of the Luxembourg court and the European Commission? The Prime Minister tries to frighten us by talking about leaving the European Union as being a leap in the dark that will, for example, lose us our present access to the single market. Does the Minister accept that Europe sells us very much more than we sell them, that we have 3 million jobs exporting to them but they have 4.5 million jobs exporting to us, and that we are in fact their largest client? Does she accept that they need our free trade very much than we need theirs? Can she tell us why that trade will not continue, because they will come running after us to have it?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

No, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord’s description of who benefits most, Europe or us, from the relationship. I shall not take up time rattling through all the statistics, but I say this to the noble Lord: in the end, it is about what is of greater benefit to all of us—to the UK and to the rest of Europe. As a trading bloc, we all benefit from the UK being in the European Union. It is not just about how we benefit in this country—although we do. As for the noble Lord’s questions about sovereignty, I refer him to what I said to my noble friend Lord Lawson. I really do disagree with what he says about that.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, as we begin four months of campaigning, should we not just gently reflect that the most publicly apparent achievement of eight years of amusing, dynamic, flamboyant leadership in London has been gridlock?

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is not the greatest achievement of the European Union, to which we have belonged since the 1970s, the fact that we have had 70 years of peace? After the two world wars Britain was financially at a loss. We lost our empire and we lost our ability to spend, and this is the whole purpose of the European Union being saved. If we left the European Union we would destabilise it, and that might lead to a break-up.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord certainly puts a clear case for the European Union and for our remaining in it. Much as I agree with what he has said, there is something that cannot be repeated often enough, particularly for those who are undecided—and we must always remember that a lot of people are unsure of which way to vote. So although the noble Lord is right, we also need to emphasise that the European Union does not work quite as we want it to in all areas. That is why we have been renegotiating the terms, and we are now confident enough to advocate staying in.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as a supporter of Vote Leave. Does my noble friend agree with me—she probably does not—that the real threat we face, and the huge frightening leap in the dark, would be if we now remained in Europe? Europe has seen that Britain is a bit of a paper tiger. A few years ago we were saying that we wanted fundamental and far-reaching reform. Then we asked for very little, and I am afraid we settled for a lot less. When Europe comes to implement the next treaty change and the Five Presidents’ Report, and as it heads for being an ever-tighter federalist superstate, will we not be ignored, mocked, sidelined and completely stitched up?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As my noble friend predicted, I do not agree with him. One area that I would point to in order to illustrate my disagreement is what the Prime Minister secured around economic governance. Again, I do not think that it has been properly understood yet how significant the protections that he has secured are—not just for our currency, but for the City of London and our financial services. I assure my noble friend that the other member states, and particularly the French President, were in no way shy about fighting hard to prevent us getting what we wanted, but we secured a good deal for Britain in the end.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

Will the Minister convey to the Prime Minister the relief that we on this side of the House feel—indeed, our sincere congratulations—that he is beginning to put such an unequivocal and clear case for our membership of the European Union? Will she urge him, in the months that lie ahead, to put that case to the whole country, including Labour supporters and people of no party affiliation, and not just to conduct a desperate internal debate inside the Conservative Party?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister will do exactly what he has just outlined. This is not about the Conservative Party; it is about the future of the United Kingdom. What we are doing here is what we believe is in the best interests of the people of this country.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, if the country votes out on 23 June, should not the first action the Government take be to repeal the European Communities Act 1972? That would enable negotiations to take place under Article 50. Secondly, is the Minister aware that earlier this month the original six leaders of the EEC came out and said that it was absolutely essential for Europe to proceed to ever-closer union, including fiscal union? In those circumstances, if Britain is not to be in that particular club, will we stop talking about being at the heart of Europe?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I have already explained, what the Prime Minister has secured on ever-closer union means is that we, the United Kingdom, can be a member of the European Union in a way that properly reflects what we want from being a member. As the Prime Minister said in his Statement, we never wanted to be part of a political union, and now we have a legally binding agreement, which will be amended in the treaties, to show that we will not be part of an ever-closer union even if other members of the EU decide that is what they want.

Photo of Lord Willetts Lord Willetts Conservative

My Lords, we are rightly told that Britain’s future is as a global trading nation. But often, on trade missions abroad, one would find that other EU member states such as Germany and France had been there before us. So will the Minister confirm that membership of the European Union is not an obstacle to fulfilling those ambitions, and that we should not use our membership as an excuse for failing to tackle problems in our own performance?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My noble friend makes an important point. I very much agree with him that we have a responsibility always to get the best for Britain, whether we are acting independently and unilaterally or as part of the European Union, and we should never use the European Union as an excuse for our own inefficiencies or inadequacies.