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My Lords, I draw your attention to my entries in the register and begin by perhaps upsetting a few people. In his speech, which the Leader of the House read out, the Prime Minister said he did not think he had heard a single Member stand up and call for:
“Britain to play her full part in the political construction of a federal Europe”.
Well, in 1980 I joined the Spinelli group in the European Parliament, which was dedicated to drawing up plans for a federal Europe. At that time I was in the Labour Party, which believed in leaving the European Union in its election manifesto of 1983. The Conservative representative there was a Mr Stanley Johnson. Incidentally, the second Conservative representative was Bill Newton Dunn, who remains a Liberal Democrat MEP. We were the three Brits who sat there and, in the end, we got new treaties. We managed to break the logjam. They said, “You can never have a change; it was all set down in 1956”. We broke that logjam, and I am very pleased that we did.
However, the Prime Minister is right to some extent when he says:
“It is true that we have often been a back-marker”,
“trying to block some collective ambition”.
This extends to both major parties that have been in government in that time—I remember the number of arguments I had with Labour Ministers about moving Europe forward. The Labour Party and the Conservative Party have both used office to try to block developments in Europe, and now we are paying for it, because the result of the referendum was the British people saying, “If you don’t like them, why should we?” That is why, if we had another referendum—which I support as the only way to change the decision—I am by no means sanguine that we would get a different result. I think we might get the same result with a somewhat wider margin, but as it is the only way to challenge the decision, that I believe we should do.
Just after the referendum, I was in Germany and met a friend who was a member of the German Cabinet. I wrote down what he said, because it has turned out to be absolutely true—I thought it would be at the time. He said, “You are going to pay and we are going to stick together”. That is exactly what has happened. The bill is for the commitments we made, and the EU has stuck together remarkably strongly.
We now face three problems. First, we will be weaker economically. On the so-called trade agreement, seven of our top 10 export markets are members of the European Union. The eighth is Switzerland, which is to all extents and purposes a member of the European Union. The next is the United States of America—we know how difficult it is to get trade agreements with it—and the 10th is China, where we probably need the European Union’s strength to negotiate a decent trade agreement anyway. That is why we will be weaker economically because we will not have the EU behind us.
We will be weaker in terms of stability. People have mentioned the upcoming referendum in Scotland. Let me draw your attention to an interesting phrase from the Spanish Government when talking about Catalonian succession. They said: “We can only recognise secessionist Governments if the secession has been done in a proper legal manner”. In other words, if Scotland leaves the UK in a proper legal manner, it will be able to join the EU. If I were a Scot, I would think that was a very big incentive.
Finally, I turn to the strategic challenge. I was in the European Parliament at the time of the Falklands War. We had to push very hard with the Spanish and the Portuguese, who at the time were negotiating for membership, to keep them onside. They were very likely to have taken the Latin American point of view. We kept them onside—I see my good and noble friend the Duke of Wellington nodding, because he played a part in that at the time. We have kept them on side on Gibraltar, where there has been lots of provocation over the years. But we will not have the diplomatic clout of the EU when we run into trouble. Let us bear in mind that our military forces today are much weaker than they were then.
It will be a very bad day for Britain when we leave the EU, I make no secret of that. It is probably the biggest disaster of my political lifetime.