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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:44 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative 6:44 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, I wish to speak about the referendum. There is an appeal for facts, but facts about the future are in short supply. It is almost certain that we will have to depend on opinions as part of the mixture.

People talk about a single state, a united Europe and federal structures, and there is no doubt that that has been a project. For example, Giscard D’Estaing said that we never would have got as far as we have if we had told others what we were doing. But who is there who follows in the footsteps of the people of that generation? They may do in Brussels, but then bureaucrats get caught up in the fly-wheel effect. Is there the political will and leadership to go down that project road? I am not so sure.

There are, of course, practical problems. When you talk about a single Europe, what do you mean? Do you mean 47 countries, 28 or 19? Clearly, the euro could lead to some form of integration. However, we need to remember that the euro was an extremely risky experiment and was always seen to be so, even by the people who created it. They knew that they were getting it wrong in the classical sense of creating a monetary union before they had the political union to support it. Right now, it does not look as though they will find a solution to that problem.

In addition, the precedents for federal structures are not very encouraging—at least if one regards the Soviet Union as a federal structure. The United States got to where it is in a very different way in very different circumstances and had a brutal civil war on the way to success, so perhaps the idea of a single European state has always been a Utopian dream and was never going to come about. Indeed, Willie Whitelaw always told Margaret Thatcher when she got exercised about it, “Don’t worry, it won’t happen”.

In any event, given the situation today, the threat—if it is one—of a single Europe is certainly no reason for leaving the European Union. I believe that we should stay and remember that our empiricism versus the continental theory—our side of the argument—has not been fought with diligence. In fact, over long periods, we have failed to fight our corner to any great extent. Now we should concentrate on the single market, which needs improving and loosening up, as has been said. We should also concentrate on tightening security because there is no doubt that the threats do not diminish.

So we need to try a lot harder. We need to make the argument much more strongly and with much more confidence than we have sometimes done in the past. There is not, I believe, a lot of residual confidence in Brussels or in the minds of many of the 28—look at the rise of the right-wing parties and, indeed, other parties, which has been referred to this evening.

If the single Europe project was always a dream, we need to get on with what can be done and not keep pursuing what will not happen. If we could get ourselves and everybody else, one by one, to realise that, we could achieve the European reform which we all wish to see.