EU Reform — [John Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:09 pm on 18th November 2014.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights) 3:09 pm, 18th November 2014

They will have to be very generous in trying to entice us, but it will probably take more than they are prepared to offer at this time.

There needs to be substantive change. There should be genuine change for the better. At the top of the shopping list should be tackling immigration and returning sovereignty to this Parliament so that we can legislate on behalf of those we represent. That is what we want to see: representation in Parliament, and Parliament having the necessary strength.

The background notes to the debate mention immigration, and it is important that we put on record that Mrs Merkel’s mantra is:

“Freedom of movement is very important. Nothing has changed” in Germany’s position. According to the background notes, one of her fellow party members, Gunther Krichbaum, said:

“Cameron would get a bloody nose if he introduced quotas ‘unilaterally’” on immigration. My hon. Friend is right that we need some conciliation, but there does not seem to be much evidence of it at the moment.

The Government need to send a signal of intent by calling for an end to the travelling European circus, which costs almost €200 million every year just bouncing between two cities in Europe. In a debate in the main Chamber last week, one of my colleagues also mentioned vanity projects. There are a great many things money is wasted on, and Germany supports and encourages that, but I do not believe we can.

According to Office for National Statistics provisional figures for the year ending June 2012, non-British net migration to the UK was 242,000, of which 72,000 people were EU nationals and 171,000 were from non-EU countries. Inward migration from the EU was mainly flat between 1991 and 2003, but, following EU enlargement in 2004, there was a significant jump in EU migration to the UK.

In 2003, research commissioned by the Home Office estimated that net immigration from the 2004 accession member states would be “relatively small”—between 5,000 and 13,000 immigrants per year. It actually worked out to be 42,000 a year between 2004 and 2010. That significant underestimate served to undermine public confidence in EU migration.

It is important to mention some of the comments made in Mrs Merkel’s speech to Parliament, which she made partly in English. She said,

“some expect my speech to pave the way for a fundamental reform of the European architecture which will satisfy all kinds of alleged or actual British wishes. I am afraid they are in for a disappointment.”

Conciliation in that? I don’t believe so. That is the issue in this debate.

Unsurprisingly, when figures are so far out, the public will become wary of Europe and of Government policy towards the EU. That became a particularly sensitive subject following the worldwide financial crisis of 2007-08, as belts were tightened and jobs were lost—many have still not been replaced. As the cost of living rises and wages stagnate, the public become increasingly alienated from freedom of movement.

On the red tape surrounding businesses in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, firms face a challenge, and I want to talk about that in the few minutes I have left. My hon. Friend the Member for

Upper Bann (David Simpson) will have a personal knowledge of EU bureaucracy and what it means to businesses.

Our businesses produce superb products, offer world-class services and benefit from being able to sell to a European market of 500 million customers. However, businesses are often encumbered by problematic, poorly understood and burdensome European rules. The impact is clear: fewer inventions are patented, fewer sales are made, fewer goods are produced and fewer jobs are created.

The burden falls most on small and medium-sized firms, which make up the vast majority of businesses. I would like to give two examples. In farming, whether it is the dairy industry, the poultry or the pig business, or any of the goods produced on farms on the land in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we have bureaucracy coming from Europe. Farmers nearly have to have a university degree to get through the red tape. They are not just farmers; they do not just till the land anymore—they do the books and deal with bureaucracy.

I represent the fishing village of Portavogie, and we have never seen so much bureaucracy coming from Europe in relation to fishing. There will be a debate on that in December, before a Minister goes to Brussels to fight our case. However, where once we had 110 or 120 boats from Portavogie fishing in the Irish sea, we now have 70. We have bureaucracy coming from Europe on white fish, and particularly cod. We have a cod recovery plan, which shows there is more cod in the Irish sea than there has been for umpteen years, but, yet again, the fishermen who agreed to the changes see no benefit from them. The bureaucracy in relation to fishing and farming is incredible.

The business taskforce was asked to develop a set of recommendations to reform British and European institutions. It was asked to address the barriers to overall competitiveness, starting a company, employing staff, expanding a business, trading across borders and innovation. According to the taskforce, implementing the recommendations could save billions of pounds, euros and kroner, and thousands of new firms and new jobs could be created. The creation of jobs and new products and technologies must be at the top of our priority list. We must encourage competitiveness so that businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up a great deal of the firms in Strangford, and which are the backbone of my constituency, can compete in Europe and on the world stage.

Ultimately, we want an EU of openness and transparency, with equal economic opportunities for all member states. We must ensure that the EU is steered away from the ideological march towards a European federal superstate and towards a more flexible organisation that listens to and respects people in all its member countries. That is what the hon. Member for Stone said in introducing the debate, and that was the whole thrust of the debate.

The EU needs to be open for trade, closer to its people, living within its means and delivering value. That is the only way in which it can function properly, allowing each of its member states to flourish and ensuring that we in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland benefit from our large number of trade partners, which will undoubtedly be boosted by the signing of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership at the G20 in Brisbane just a couple of days ago.

In conclusion, we must assert the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, enact the European Union (Referendum) Bill and allow British voters to have their say as soon as possible.