Thursday, 25th February 2010
Nigel Dodds MP
It’s time the three party leaders kept their parties’ promises that there would be a referendum on the European Constitution. Nigel Dodds, MP, is presented a private members` bill to hold just such a vote.
Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg all had a chance to show that they mean what they say. Honour Your Promise - a cross-party campaign in support of Nigel Dodds’ bill - says that it’s time the people who ask for our votes demonstrate that they can be trusted with them. This campaign is also supported by the European Foundation and the Freedom Association.
This campaign was launched at the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons on Thursday 25th February. The speakers were Nigel Dodds, the Deputy Leader of the DUP, Stuart Wheeler, the founder of IG Index and author of A Crisis of Trust and Barry Legg, former Maastricht rebel and Chairman of the Bruges Group.
Speech by Nigel Dodds MP
First of all can I say what a pleasure it is to be here and thank you all for coming on Thursday evening. It’s not very often that you would find many Northern Ireland Members of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster on a Thursday evening given the fact that normally private business is on a Friday, if indeed there is any business at all on a Friday, most of us are back in our constituencies.
But it’s a pleasure to be here tonight, to be at this event and I want to thank the Bruges Group and the European Foundation, the Freedom Association and Democracy Movement for sponsoring this event for the campaign Honour Your Promise and for taking an interest in this particular Private Members’ bill, which I hope to and will be presenting tomorrow having won a place on the Private Members’ ballot.
And when I got that place, and it’s the first time in my nine years in the house that I’ve won a place in the Private Members’ ballot, I know there are Members here, they’ve been here 20/30 years who haven’t won a place. It’s entirely supposed to by random selection, I’m not sure whether that’s the case or not but I’m pleased that I’ve got a place.
And I knew immediately that the subject that I wanted to put down for debate and as part of the legislation was the issue of Europe and the Lisbon Treaty and a Referendum thereof. Because as has been said, the single biggest issue I believe in British politics today is the issue of the breakdown in trust between the British people and the political classes. The loss of trust, the loss of esteem, the loss of respect for Parliament as an institution is staggering. And I congratulate Stuart on the book that he has brought out very, very recently and the very apt title A Crisis of Trust and this is what Britain is facing today and I think will be a central theme of the coming General Election.
And what has contributed to the breakdown in trust, what has contributed to the cynicism that is abroad today when you talk to people, whether its in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland is the fact that they believe that politicians simply are in it for themselves, they have lost interest in the concerns and issues which matter to ordinary people and they are prepared to say whatever it takes to get elected and whatever it takes to stay elected as long as they can avoid having to deal with some of the real issues that are out there of concern to real people.
And one of those issues is the issue on Europe and our relationship with the European Union. And of course over the years we have seen haven’t we a steady erosion of the powers of this Parliament and the transfer of those powers to the European institutions.
Well the Lisbon Treaty is I believe one of the most significant, one of the most significant issues that has been dealt with in any Parliament in the last number of decades and we have had unfortunately passed by some 138 votes and second reading a bill implementing the Lisbon Treaty, and as has been said, without a referendum, without the British people being asked for their opinion despite the promise that was given by the Liberal Democrats, despite the promise that was given by the Conservative Party and despite the promise given by the Labour Party that indeed the people would have their say.
And why have the people been denied their say, they’re being denied their say out of fear, the fear on the part of the ruling parties and the political classes that in fact the people will say no to the European project and to greater federalism and to the provisions contained in the Lisbon Treaty.
Based of course on what they saw happen in France first of all and then in Holland where the peoples of those two nations rejected the European Constitution and then of course latterly in the Irish Republic where the people again rejected Lisbon and then after again much wheedling and subterfuge people were dragooned basically, frightened and bullied into voting for the Lisbon Treaty the second time around just as they were on the Nice Treaty previously.
So it is the breakdown in trust, it is the trust issue which is the central reason I believe why this bill is important and why I believe it must be introduced. Because this is what is at the centre of the demand for a referendum, that if we’re going to restore trust in Parliament then the main parties and politicians, the Government and the opposition must be held to account to keep the promise they made to the British people. And that is absolutely essential therefore this is put to them.
As has been mentioned earlier and I’ll not repeat what has been said by Gordon Brown previously and by David Cameron, David Cameron’s famous reference on the 26 September, this cast iron guarantee that if he became Prime Minister a Conservative Government will hold a Referendum on any EU Treaty that emerges from these negotiations. And he repeated that pledge; it seems to have been forgotten, during the European Election Campaign as late as May 2009, only for him to renege on that pledge in November 2009.
Now he indicates and says that there are other ways forward. I believe that his plan to seek the repatriation of powers in a number of fields such as employment and social affairs and other areas will come to nothing quite frankly unless there is a referendum held, which ensures that those going into negotiations have the clout and have the authority of the decision of the British people behind them when they go in to negotiate.
The fact of the matter is how on earth are you going to persuade the Member States such as Germany and France or the European Commission or anybody else that you’re serious and that you intend to negotiate to get the best deal possible if you’ve already thrown away the referendum card and you’re relying on some kind of pledge or manifesto. It simply is not credible to believe that those people will take you seriously.
You need to have the referendum; you need to have the votes of the British people behind you in order to give your negotiators any kind of strength to actually achieve the result.
And of course the other main reason why we need a referendum is that it ensures that these negotiators and the Government are kept honest because its very easy to go into negotiations and then come back from those negotiations and tell Parliament and tell people that, if there hasn’t been a referendum, that certain things have been achieved.
It’s much more difficult to do that if the British people have already voted and you have to come back and report on the outcome of those negotiations after a referendum has been held. So for those reasons it’s absolutely essential that we have the referendum that was promised to us.
David Cameron has talked about legislating to guarantee that any future transfers of power to Europe will have to be approved in a referendum. Well that’s all very good but the fact of the matter is that all the building blocks necessary to create a European Super State are already in place. If we don’t have a referendum on this Treaty, on this European Constitution which is effectively what it is, then all the promises about the future are meaningless and in any case, as we know within the Lisbon Treaty, is contained a provision which allows amendments and changes to take place without any reference necessarily to any future governmental agreement and the decision of Member States, the so called passerelle provisions and others.
So that is meaningless in my view. It talks about legislating to guarantee the primacy of British law over the European Union and the difficulty of course with that is that the Lisbon Treaty itself again as enshrined now confirms the primacy of the EU law over United Kingdom law and who resolves disputes when there are disputes, the European Court of Justice which has as its central objective the promotion of European integration.
So again I believe that there are difficulties with all of that. The only way forward therefore is to have a referendum now and to ensure that those who go in to negotiate have the strength of the British people behind them.
There are some people who have said to me well you know a referendum isn’t the way that the British Parliament, that British democracy and British society operates, that we don’t operate by referendums and so on, well of course the only national referendum we’ve had was on the Common Market and of course that was held in 1975 after we had already joined the Common Market so some people say well you can’t have a referendum now since the Lisbon Treaty has already been ratified, well what about the 1975 referendum, we’d already joined the Common Market, are we saying therefore that was illegitimate and invalid.
Of course these things are all about politics; these are about making sure that things get actually brought about, not the legal technicalities. I believe that in a situation where the British people have voted very decisively that they did not agree with the decision to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, then of course Europe has to sit up and listen to that when any British Government goes in to negotiate on that basis.
So ladies and gentlemen, it is absolutely essential that we put this issue before Parliament, its absolutely essential that the British people are reminded in all parts of the United Kingdom of the promises that were made by the Government, by the opposition, by the Liberal Democrats, its absolutely essential that we make it clear that there are still people in Parliament and outside Parliament that believe that it is absolutely essential that trust is restored between people and Parliament and politics and the way to do that is to ensure that people are kept to their promises and that promises are honoured.
So even if tomorrow we may not succeed in having this piece of legislation necessary passed, even by a small majority, no doubt there will be those there who will try to ensure that it’s tossed out and so on and so forth as most of these private bills are. Nevertheless we have set down an important marker, we will have made sure that Parliament has been presented with the opportunity on this matter and I have absolutely no doubt that we will return to this issue in the next Parliament and its absolutely essential that we do not simply roll over and give up on these major constitutional issues.
And certainly for my part, our Party, small as it is, although we have eight Members of Parliament at the moment and given the way the polls are going and today’s most recent opinion poll which shows a Tory lead with some 6%, the third in a row which shows the very strong possibility of a hung Parliament, I believe eight votes could turn out to be fairly important. And I know what our priorities will be in the next Parliament.
Thank you very much.
Speech by Stuart Wheeler
Thank you everyone who is here.
I have to continue the theme of deceit which has been very relevant in Europe from a very long time ago. In 1966 Ted Heath said something actually honest; he said ‘we should frankly recognise the surrender of sovereignty and its purpose’. But in 1973, at the beginning of the campaign about whether we should stay in the European Union, which wasn’t called that then, he said something very different, he said ‘there are some in this country who fear that by going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears I need partly say are completely unjustified’. Well that’s just one example.
I do deal in my book, which is there and free to you all to take when you go, with all kinds of aspects of the failure of Parliament to speak the truth and to speak out and say what MPs really think. So please do take one.
But I’ll just give you an example. I was chucked out of the Conservative Party, perfectly reasonable, in March or April last year and I was on a programme about ten days ago and I mentioned that Mr Pickles who did it on behalf of the Party had done it by email and that was all. And Mr Pickles himself was on the programme later and said, ‘oh no, yes we did it by email but I had a discussion with Stuart about it’, absolutely 100% untrue.
I do think MPs have got into the habit, not so much of lying, I just don’t think they bother whether what they’re saying is true or not, they say whatever’s convenient.
Now European integration, I’m afraid it is looming up on us and has been for a long time. You remember the story of the frog who was in a pool and the pool was heated by a very small amount, half a degree every day, so the frog never noticed. But in the end the frog was boiled to death. Well I’m afraid that’s what’s happening with European integration and we’re not noticing, well most of us unfortunately are not noticing and the only trouble is its moving forward at a much faster speed than half a degree a day.
Now if it lasts for another five years, and I’ll come back in a moment to why I say that, it really will be too late, it will be totally integrated I’m afraid or very nearly so. And so what’s relevant about that is this that I’m told that internally the Conservative Party has a definite policy that if it gets a workable majority in the forthcoming General Election there will be no referendum of any kind on Europe for five years. And that is a very terrible thing and that’s why thank goodness we’ve got this bill which will at least draw people’s attention to the dangers.
Now there are many reasons that I really hardly need mention about why our current situation in Europe and things which are likely to happen are so disastrous for this country. For one thing they don’t like us as the Danish Prime Minister, Rasmussen, is reported to have said at the end of a session when he was off the record, ‘we’re out to get you’.
The Common Fisheries Policy, that’s destroyed our once great fishing industry, the Common Agricultural Policy there’s really no need for me to dwell on that how awful it is. Our Exchequer being forced to give up money to the EU is simply spent on French farmers, only the big ones on the whole.
And then coming closer to home, there’s the regulation which is intolerable for the whole of our country but in particular the financial regulation. An enormous amount of the currency which this country so badly lacks, but what it does get comes from the City and the regulation is now passing over to the European Union and particularly regulation of institutions like hedge funds. You may not think hedge funds is the most popular of institutions but they bring in an awful lot of money to this country. And now that we’ve lost power to have the Financial Commissioner because we took a foreign Commissioner instead, that’s passed on and we’re going to be strangled in that way too.
But there’s one thing above all just to finish, which I think makes it so damaging to us to be in the European Union under the current circumstances. People like Cameron may say, oh well there are so many more important things, the health service, education, the financial disaster that’s with us, we can’t waste too much time on Europe. Well the point is that Europe is a very substantial reason why we have these problems, why we don’t have the money to spend on the health service and other things that we want.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance, which is a very successful lobbying group really, think tank is a more accurate expression, run almost all by people under 30 except I think the chap who runs it who is 31, has become the most great think tank in this country and they have calculated the cost to this country of being in the European Union under the current situation at £125 billion, yes billion not million, £125 billion a year.
Now if you translate that into what most of us can understand more easily, that is £2,000 for every man, woman, child and baby in this country. And if you take the family of four with probably only one wage earner that means £8,000 is what it’s costing that family of four and the average wage earner gets about £23,000 or £24,000 before tax, lets say £18,000 after tax, so a cost of £8,000 per family is pretty important is it not.
Now some people would say the Taxpayers’ Alliance exaggerate but Patrick Minford and others who are definitely renowned would go for at least half that figure and that’s quite enough.
So there’s every reason for us to resist this creeping or its even more than creeping, integration and thank you very much for introducing this bill.