My Lords, this is not an easy debate for me as, once again, I take a minority view within my party on Europe. I have supported union in Europe since the 1950s, living in Italy, as a student in Paris in the 1960s, and throughout the late 1960s and 1970s in business, while travelling almost monthly all over Europe. In 1974, I voted and canvassed for Common Market entry. Elected an MP in the late 1970s, I occasionally intervened in the Commons on European matters, invariably against a background of mild hostility from some of my Benches. I recall to this day sounds of disapproval from behind me while on my feet in the Chamber. We were a minority in the party, and would remain so until a speech by Jacques Delors in 1989 to the TUC, during which he argued for a European approach to rights at the place of work. His message was a challenge to the Conservative agenda of deregulation and weakened workers’ rights. That speech helped change Labour attitudes to Europe and we became pro-EEC.
My first concerns arose in the 1990s, prior to Amsterdam and Nice. Arguments over wider or deeper troubled me, with the prospect of an enlarged Europe with weaker economies out of sync with mainstream Europe seeking to join. The deeper union of fewer states was being opposed by many who wanted an enlarged union to dilute demands for closer integration. By 1999, the eurozone proposed at Maastricht was under way and, although I had been an early euro supporter, I knew that the beneficiary would be Germany which, while originally resisting the euro, now saw the benefits of a fixed currency relationship with neighbouring European states.
A premature euro was born and, with it, the seeds of Europe’s problems. The problems worsened when Europe turned a blind eye to manipulation of convergence criteria—even Greece was allowed in on the back of a fraudulent Goldman Sachs prospectus. Enlargement trumped all. Our dreams of European union were being shattered by German self-interest, French intransigence over the CAP, fraud in the Union, financial mismanagement in southern European states, an outdated contribution system, a block on financial services, the nonsense of the Parliament’s location and a failure to speak with one voice on migration. All were killing the dream.
The model was wrong. The construct was inflexible. I wanted a new model, but reform from within has proved utterly impossible. Much to the irritation of many friends, I voted Brexit, my justification to my colleagues being that by doing so I would be helping to provoke an argument over Europe’s direction of travel to be followed by a crucial, to my mind, second referendum. So where do we go from here? Two issues dominate the debate: the euro and migration. In my view, the euro is unlikely to survive unless we return to a core euro area.
The second issue, migration, is galvanising opinion across the Union, and I am convinced that the UK voted leave because of immigration at home and into the wider Europe. Merited or not, it is provoking instability. I believe that without the issue of immigration, even limited to from within Europe as it is, there would have been a substantial majority remain vote. That was the critical issue. National self-interest is blocking any reform from within, as is Commission obstinacy. No one is listening to the people, and it is our threat of withdrawal under Article 50 which is forcing Europe to open a debate.
When I say threat, I mean threat. I have never believed that we would withdraw, only reopen the debate on Europe. It is now full-on. The debate has been dominated for far too long by extreme movements in Europe. Let the sensible voice of Britain lead the debate on currency, migration, subsidiarity and our place in the world. We should be selling a new vision and a new timetable in the capitals of Europe. Yes, it is high-risk, but the people of Europe want change, and events are going to change everything. During this period of instability, to ease tensions will mean nation states reacquiring the right to control their borders and, in parts of the eurozone, restoration of national currencies. Arguments that single market rules preclude amendments to free movement completely ignore the dark clouds of intolerance that are now sweeping across the continent of Europe.
The eyes of Europe are now on us, and we have it in our grasp to set out a new vision, realising the dreams of those who believe in union. All we need is courage to put a new case. All the benefits of today can be restored tomorrow if we rebuild on firmer ground. A premature Union that is alienating its people needs to be reconfigured. We should lead, and the Bill begins the process.