An attack on Tony Blair's Evasiveness on Europe
The Rt Hon. Lord Lamont of Lerwick
The issue of Europe, and Britain’s membership of the Euro are ones that William Hague is rightly fighting to see are fairly and squarely put before the British people, and at the centre of this Election. It is obvious that the Prime Minister is desperate to keep the issue of the Euro completely out of this Election. The Government should not be allowed to follow the cowardly example of their allies, the Liberal Democrats, who claim to be the most pro-European party except at General Elections when the evangelism curiously vanishes. The Prime Minister cannot be allowed to do the same.
To adopt an old remark about President Eisenhower, the Prime Minister has a straightforward way of dodging issues. No one who seriously considers the issue of the euro can possibly believe that it is anything other than a hugely important one. And yet the Prime Minister hardly mentions it. How often has the Prime Minister mentioned the euro in a press conference except in response to a journalist’s question? How many times has the Prime Minister made the Euro a subject of a speech? On which day has Europe been the main theme of Labour’s campaign?
The Referendum itself is an issue in this Election
Of course the Prime Minister will argue that the issue of the single currency will be decided later in a referendum. But separating the referendum and the General Election is facile.
If there is a Conservative Government there will be no Referendum – which, according to your viewpoint, is a reason for voting for or against the Conservative Party. If Labour win the Election not only will there be a Referendum, but it will also give momentum to the Government’s surreptitious campaign to get Britain into the Euro.
Labour are frightened to talk about the Euro for obvious reason: British entry into the euro is overwhelmingly unpopular. For all the Government’s blandishments, public opinion shows little sign of moving. Labour’s plan, which fits into the long history of the British public being misled over European issues, is to keep quiet, keep their heads down, and then after the Election to hold a rigged referendum. If this election has any meaning the Prime Minister owes it to the country to spell out his position on the Euro and to tell it as it is.
The Government’s Hidden Agenda
The Prime Minister maintains he believes Britain, in principle, should join the Euro but it is a question of whether the conditions are right. At Election time, of course, it is the conditions and the problems that are emphasised, and it is the principle that is played down. Away from General Elections it is the other way round, particularly at Summit meetings, when the Prime Minister tells other Heads of Government that he is keen to get Britain into the Euro as soon possible, but he needs to turn opinion around. For this reason the British Government reportedly asked the Belgian Government not to talk about its plans for tax harmonisation during its forthcoming Presidency, which he feared might influence the British General Election. For once Belgium has been keen to help a British Government.
The Prime Minister cannot be trusted on the Euro, particularly at Election time. At the last Election he proclaimed that he “loves the pound sterling”. After the Election he emphasised he favoured the Euro in principle. At the 1997 Election he told the readers of The Sun the Euro was an issue of huge constitutional significance. After the Election the PM declared “there was no overriding constitutional bar to membership of the Euro”. On the Euro apparently the PM stands for whatever he thinks readers of The Sun will fall for.
A Rigged Referendum
The arrangements for the Referendum that have been voted through Parliament ironically illustrate exactly why the issue of the Euro cannot be divorced from this Election. The arrangements are also so clearly and deliberately unfair, they make the Government’s intentions obvious. According to the legislation forced through both Houses of Parliament, state funding for the “Yes” and “No” campaigns in any Referendum will be calculated by the number of votes in this General Election. Each pro-Euro party, however small, gets a certain minimum, which increases, according to the number of votes in this Election. The more votes for pro-Euro parties, and the more pro-Euro parties there are, the bigger the total amount of state funding for the pro-Euro campaign. So Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, and the Labour Party will all qualify for grants for the pro-Euro campaign, and only the Conservative Party, and the tiny U.K.I.P. will qualify for funding on the anti-Euro side.
I still believe that there is a good chance that Britain, if it has a Referendum, will reject the single currency. But there is no doubt that the arrangements have been biased in favour of the “Yes” campaign. If there is to be state funding for a Euro referendum there should be equal funding for both sides. The whole reason for having a Referendum on the Euro is that the issue cuts across parties. So it is completely illogical to determine the money to be spent on either side by reference to votes for parties.
The Five Bogus Tests
Relating funding to the votes at the General Election gives the lie to the Prime Minister’s unconvincing attempt to separate the Euro from the Election. Every time a Labour Eurosceptic votes Labour he increases the funding for a “Yes” campaign. And every time someone votes Plaid Cymru, SNP or Liberal Democrat they are increasing the funding for a “Yes” campaign.
The Government’s talk about not joining the Euro before “the conditions are right” is mere pretence. The Chancellor’s much vaunted five tests, relating to employment, investment, the City and convergence are so vague that they can be declared met, or not met, according to the Chancellor’s whim. Some commentators have suggested the Chancellor will agree the tests have been met in exchange for a deal on the Labour leadership. Who knows by what crazy logic the decision will be made?
The so-called “convergence test” can only be judged seriously, over a long period of time, and even then the evidence would be inconclusive. The likelihood is that at some point in the next few years Bank of England and ECB interest rates will temporarily coincide, even if they are moving in opposite directions. When this happens the Government will no doubt declare convergence has been achieved even though it may be a passing phenomenon.
The last years of Britain?
This is the most vital election this country has faced in decades, and the result could determine whether this country remains a self-governing one. The years after this Election could be the last final years of Britain.
Some will consider that exaggerated. But consider how rapidly in the last few years the whole idea of Britishness has been diluted, and continues under threat after Labour’s foolish creation of devolved assemblies. How strong will it be after a few years of Euro membership? The idea of Britain as a country will, no doubt, live on in the memory as a historical relic, but Britain as a self-governing country will increasingly be under threat in the Euro. The Euro will mean harmonisation of taxation, interference from Brussels into Government spending, and ultimately the creation of a European Ministry of Finance as part of a European Government.
German Plans for a Federal Europe
As recently as last Wednesday the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, prophesied a Federal Europe. To make the point clear he added: “I am a convinced believer in the Federal State”. Note the use of the word “State”. We don’t need to add any alarming prefixes such as the word “super”. It is clear that in Mr. Fischer’s mind Euroland intends to become a state.
Mr Fischer, of course, no doubt warned by Mr. Blair, tried to tailor his remarks to any possible British readers by referring to Winston Churchill’s speech in 1946 about a United States of Europe. Mr Fischer, like most Euro zealots, forgot that Churchill made it clear that he did not believe that Britain should be part of a United States of Europe.
No one should be surprised by Mr. Fischer’s remarks. He has said it before, notably in his speech a year ago at Humboldt University. At that time the Foreign Office told us that Mr Fischer’s remarks were “his personal opinions”, and should not be taken too seriously. Today’s personal opinions have a nasty habit of becoming tomorrow’s European treaty. And the next European Treaty, let me remind you, is scheduled for 2004.
What Mr Fischer said closely follows the thinking of Chancellor Schroder who has outlined his own plan for a federal constitution for Europe, unsurprisingly closely modelled on the German constitution. The Chancellor has called for an elected President for Europe, more powers for the European Parliament, and most significantly of all for the Council of Ministers to be downgraded to become the Second Chamber of a European Parliament. The Council of Ministers would thus become like the Bundesrat in which the Lander of Germany are represented.
To make the Council of Ministers into a mere second chamber of the European Parliament would, of course, make it much more difficult for individual countries to block European decisions. Many British voters, like myself, will feel that states cannot simply become the second chamber of the European Parliament. The Council of Ministers already has much more legitimacy than the European Parliament made up as it is of representatives of national governments. It is with national governments that most ordinary people still strongly identify.
The British people should be profoundly grateful to the German Chancellor for speaking out so frankly about the future of Europe, and helping us in this Election. If only our own Government would speak so openly. It is now three weeks since Mr. Schroder put forward his proposals for a European Government. At no point in this Election has Tony Blair given us any hint of his Government’s views on these vital issues. It’s time that he stopped ducking and answered a few questions.