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My Lords, it is a measure of the diversity of the membership of the European Union that the several countries that make up the Union work out their net benefits in their own way. For instance, the Germans, on the whole, have major economic disbenefits from losing their Deutschmark and the Bundesbank and other institutions, which they compensate for in their own minds by having the political benefits of integration—while the British, on the whole, have said that there are economic benefits of having a wider market, for which they are prepared to pay a political price in terms of loss of sovereignty.
In the beginning it all worked out quite well for the British. The Common Market had few disbenefits for them and a number of benefits in terms of a wider market. But as time has gone by, new forces have emerged in the world which have affected this position. The rise of competitive areas of the world—the South American countries, China and India—and, indeed, the strengthening of American protectionism have all forced the European Union to do what I personally think has always been endemic in it, which is to turn itself into a controlled trade bloc: a protectionist trade bloc, basically, protecting its own members. The controls that it has introduced have gone a long way, including setting up a monetary union with many controls.
For Britain, this has proved a difficulty because a monetary union is a serious matter. It involves two things for Britain. The first is the fact that if you do not control your own currency, you do not control your own economy. Henry VIII was quite right when he said the realm of England was an empire—by that he meant money. Sacrificing control over your own currency is a major step away from just trading within an area. It is a particularly serious point for Britain because we have a constitution which involves no one Parliament sacrificing powers to another; every Parliament is sovereign in its own time, and you cannot have a monetary union, which is forever, if the principle of no Parliament giving way to another is to be maintained.
When it came to the Maastricht treaty, some of us rebelled and stopped it coming about that we would enter the single currency—so we did not. I can say now that we failed in one respect: we tried to get the Prime Minister of the day to agree that we would not enter the single currency in his time as Prime Minister. He would not make that commitment, but the single currency was stopped so far as our country was concerned.
Then along came something even more serious, which was the rise and rise of the European Court. I have heard a lot of speeches tonight saying that that did not matter at all, but it matters in two senses. First, it matters that we have alien law in this country. If we subscribe to the European Court, we do not have all the things that we are used to such as juries, habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence: those things go. But much more serious, and much more germane to this argument, is the fact that the European Court has a political agenda. It is to nurture, protect and develop the acquis communautaire, which has as its sole objective the development of a federal state of Europe that is irretrievable—it cannot go backwards. So when it came to a referendum, the British people decided that they did not want a foreign system of law. They did not want judges laying down what the rules should be or what the law should be— because the European Court has the capacity to turn its judgment into law. They did not want that and took the view that we must get out—and they were right.