Conservatives for Britain speeches on the EU Referendum Bill

Only the Conservatives have a plan to deliver change in Europe

The EU Referendum Bill Second Reading debate may be watched again here. Please use the index on the right of that page to jump to individual speeches.

It was an historic event. Soon, the British people will have the opportunity to choose between the radical step of European political integration or the moderate choice: a trading and co-operating United Kingdom.

Here is a summary of contributions to debate by declared Conservatives for Britain members.

Owen Paterson began by reminding the House that is was indeed a ‘great day, a remarkable moment’. With a Conservative majority and backed by the Labour opposition, the Government is able to deliver a Bill to give the people of the UK a choice on who makes their laws. The remainder of his speech focussed on the important issue of the proposed suspension of purdah. Mr. Paterson stated the Neill Committee recommendation that “the government of the day in future referendums should…remain neutral and should not distribute at public expense literature, even purportedly ‘factual’ literature, setting out or otherwise promoting its case.” Mr. Paterson appealed to the Foreign Secretary to ‘go back, talk to the Prime Minister and remove this arbitrary suspension of the process of purdah.’

John Redwood made the strong case that British people currently do not have full sovereignty and that the referendum will give the British people a ‘great opportunity to restore their precious but damaged democracy’. As Mr. Redwood comments, the UK’s current relationship with the European Union ensures that there are a ‘number of areas’ where UK Parliament is unable to change laws to ‘reflect the will of the British people’ and be accountable to the electorate because it would be illegal under European Law to do so. Like so many others, Mr. Redwood believes this to be an unacceptable condition and welcomes the opportunity for the British people to restore their democracy.

Craig Mackinley touched upon the fact that the current state of UK membership with the EU is a ‘very different beast’ to the relationship the British people agreed to in 1975. Mr. Mackinley made it ‘clear’ which side of the debate he was on by stating he ‘could support staying in the EU’ if it were to be ‘massively reformed’ to a free trade and friendship relationship. Like many colleagues he will not close his mind but listen to the arguments put before him. Mr. Mackinley, like Mr. Paterson, called for this referendum to be conducted through a fair process with a neutral question on the ballot paper. He also called for the European Commission to be excluded from a ‘personal debated within these islands’.

The full report of my speech is below:

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I rise to give the Government my wholehearted support.

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and it is a joy to follow two new Members whose constituencies I know well. In the run-up to the 2010 election, I spent plenty of time in Sutton and Cheam and I listened very carefully to the maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully). I particularly congratulate him on making his speech on the basis of light notes only. Like him, I know what it is to stand up and make a maiden speech when the time limit is short. I congratulate him on the grace and flexibility with which he made his speech.

I remember my time in the RAF at Grantown-on-Spey very fondly, exhausting myself running around the beautiful constituency of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). He made a noble and bold speech, and I congratulate him on coping with a shortened time limit. I am sure both Members will be steadfast defenders of their constituents. I wish them both very well indeed.

When the Foreign Secretary opened the debate my heart was lifted. I got a real sense, listening to his words, of the betrayal he felt that he had been sold a proposition other than the facts of the treaty at the time. As he explained, as an 18-year-old he had not read the details. All of us in this House can now read the details. If we read the Lisbon treaty, we will understand that the current circumstances do lead to ever-closer union and a single nation state.

This is a very happy day indeed. There are many subjects I care about extremely deeply, but the one thing that got me into politics was the treatment of the European Union constitution and, in due course, the Lisbon treaty. I am a sinner who has repented. I confess to the House that for many years I annoyed my wife most sincerely by being thoroughly in favour of European integration. What I realised with the handling of the EU constitution was that integration meant surrendering our democracy and I decided that I simply would not have it.

The House does not need me, in the time available, to rehearse that process, but the Lisbon treaty was a mess. I fondly recall the cover image of an issue of The Economist with the headline: “Just bury it: what to do with Europe’s Lisbon Treaty”. It has, rather appropriately, an arrow through the heart of what looks to be a sparrow with the EU flag on it. That is indeed what should have happened to the Lisbon treaty when the EU constitution was rejected. It was not appropriate to continue positively with the process of European integration against the democratic will of the people. This is where I have common cause with Opposition Members from the Scottish National party. We wish to see democratic self-determination peacefully at the ballot box. I wholeheartedly say that I am delighted we have this common cause.

Some disputes have been rather synthetic. It has been posited that those of us who are Eurosceptic are against international co-operation. Actually, I am for international co-operation. The question is: on what basis? Is it to be voluntary or is it to be compulsory, without adequate democratic control? There is then the question of nationalism. Of course, some Eurosceptics are ugly nationalists with an aggressive—militaristic even—nationalism which is wholly unhealthy and is to be resisted everywhere it is found. My critique of the European Union, however, is a classic liberal critique. I rather regret I have only two and a half minutes of my speech left.

The issue of equal treatment has been raised. In a constituency such as mine, one of the most pressing problems is that a large minority of my constituents have family outside the EU, whether in Kashmir and Pakistan, Sri Lanka or the Caribbean. They face fundamentally different migration circumstances compared to people from the European Union. I recently dealt with the case of a grandmother whose visit visa was rejected repeatedly. All the family wanted was for her to come from Pakistan to see the newborn baby and support the mother. The process of applying and reapplying for a visit visa was just causing more and more stress. It was, frankly, inhumane. Of course, if a grandmother wishes to visit from Spain, she can simply come.

I am for the free movement of people. I think it is a wonderful thing. All the great and liberal advantages of Europe are a wonderful thing, but surely most of us would accept that we cannot have open borders in relation to the welfare state. There must be some border controls. I would like to see a fair migration policy that applies equally to all. So as I have said, on co-operation, the critique of nationalism and equal treatment, some disagreements are rather synthetic.

We are reminded every day in this House during Prayers that we should keep in mind our duty to further the interests of all mankind. I will not pick up on the exact words, but in doing so we should remember that each and every one of us has a duty to promote peace and prosperity not only in the UK, but in Europe and the world. In doing so, we should oppose nationalism; we should proceed thoughtfully and with kindness to one another in this difficult time which will affect all our lives for a very long time.

I recently discovered a book by a very good trade economist called Razeen Sally. He described something called neo-liberal institutionalism, which is about the idea that we should impose liberalism from the top down rather than from the bottom up. I recommend his books and his work to the Government, because what we are suffering from, above all, is the imposition of a system of Government and a system of society to which people have not consented. The world has changed.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a fine speech. On the economy, is it not the case that one does not have to look any further than the eurozone itself to see what a complete and utter disaster—a basket case—putting everyone into one currency has been for the economy of free and loving peoples?

Mr Baker: My hon. Friend knows my view about money and banking, which is that we should have market-based moneys. That is one of the things that has gone profoundly wrong. He prompts me to say, however, that we are very clearly, across the world, in the midst of a profound crisis of political economy, and that is what we must wrestle and cope with. Some of the old, simplistic and unpleasant arguments of the past must be put to rest. We need to rediscover a true liberalism, one in which people are accepting of one another.

Sir William Cash: Does my hon. Friend also accept that the eurozone is a de facto entity, whereas the question before us in this referendum is about being part of the European Union? The eurozone is a basket case, but at the same time it is dominated by one country which causes a lot of distortion to the way in which it works.

Mr Baker: Indeed. It is important that there is a degree of flexibility in currency systems, and Alan Greenspan’s wonderful book on gold and economic freedom is something I commend to everybody. As the Minister knows, I have misgivings about some of the details in the Bill, which some of my colleagues have already fleshed out. But it is a happy occasion today, because our party is wholly united in supporting the principle of the Bill. It is long overdue. We are delighted that it has come forward and we look forward to its progress.

In due course the people will decide. On the one hand they have the choice of radicalism—political union across Europe. That is the radical choice. The moderate, conservative choice is trade and co-operation among friendly nation states. People in the end will choose either for the European Union, or for Britain.”

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