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Peers battle to defend Britain; attack EU ‘Reform’ Treaty

We called peers Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke defenders of freedom. On the evening of the 5th of December three lords were battling in the House of Lords against the Government’s plan to sign the so-called ‘Reform Treaty’ at the European Council meeting on 14-16 December.

The treaty is appalling, but many people have yet to recognize the danger. The EU constitution in all but name, the treaty will devastate Britain’s sovereignty and British liberty. Fighting alongside Lord Pearson and Lord Willoughby de Broke was independent Labour peer Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Against them were many EU-pensioned Lords who are sitting on the scrutiny committee for the treaty without declaring their financial interest in the EU.

The EXTRACTS FROM HANSARD illuminate the main arguments that the Lords made with clarity and (teeth-clenched) wit -

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, when future historians come to sift through the rubble of what was once our proud democracy, they may stumble on one sentence in last month’s Queen’s Speech that they identify as the tipping point - the moment when the breakdown of trust between the British people and their political class became irretrievable. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has already picked up on that sentence, but it is so beautiful that it bears repeating:

“My Government will take forward policies. . .to entrust more power to Parliament and the people”.

When the Government wrote those words, they knew perfectly well that they were going to Lisbon next week to sign up to what is designed to be the final EU treaty, that that treaty consigns most of the remains of our national sovereignty to the clutches of the octopus in Brussels, that they had promised the people a referendum before they did so and that they were breaking that promise only because they had discovered that the people wanted none of it and would vote against it by a large majority. That they did all this in cold blood is proved by what the then Prime Minister said on 23 April 2004, before the French and Dutch rejection of the constitution:

“What you can’t do is have a situation where you get a rejection of the treaty and then you just bring it back with a few amendments and say we will have another go. You can’t do that”.

Yet that is exactly what the Eurocrats have done, and the Government are doing it, too.

This deception is underlined by statements from leaders of no fewer than 12 other member states that this treaty is indeed the same as the defeated constitution, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and other noble Lords have said. It is also underlined by what has been said by four more leaders, who assure us that the main difference is that the new treaty has been designed to be unintelligible to ordinary people. I am particularly fond of the quotation from Mr Karel de Gucht, the Belgium Foreign Minister, who said:

“The aim of the Constitutional Treaty was to be more readable; the aim of this treaty is to be unreadable. . . The Constitution aimed to be clear, whereas this treaty had to be unclear. It is a success”. . .

The British people, however, are not fools. Their disdain for their political class in general, and of our membership of the European Union in particular, will only be deepened by this story, perhaps, as I have suggested, irretrievably. Let us look at those two developments separately. The first is Euroscepticism. Several recent opinion polls suggest that this is on the increase, with about 80 per cent of respondents saying that they would vote to leave the EU if that meant regaining control of our borders. Some 67 per cent say that they would vote either to leave the EU or to reduce our relationship with our friends in Europe to one of free trade and intergovernmental collaboration. Up to 40 per cent say that they would vote to leave anyway.

I believe that this is because our people are beginning to understand the Eurosceptic case and to realise that they have been deceived for 32 years about the true nature and final destination of the project of European integration. That process started during the referendum campaign of 1975, when they were assured that continued membership of the Common Market entailed no loss of “essential national sovereignty”. I remember thinking at the time, no doubt with many others who voted to stay in the market, that that meant that we would not lose any sovereignty at all because all sovereignty was essential and indivisible. But the slippery Prime Minister of the day really meant that we would retain only such sovereignty as the Eurocrats and our political masters judged to be good for us while the rest was gradually ceded to Brussels.

That process, largely hidden from the people, has brought us to where we are today, with the majority of our national law imposed on us by a secretive system in Brussels. The people have lost the right to elect and dismiss those who make most of their laws and their hard-earned right to govern themselves, and they do not like it. That is why the Motion on the Order Paper says that we are here to “take note” of the forthcoming European Council in Lisbon next week. There is nothing that we or the House of Commons can do. As other noble Lords have said, we can protest and debate as much as we want, but we cannot change a word of the treaty that will be signed. That is why pressure is building up.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, we have had this exchange before and there is a great familiarity to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has asserted, as he has many times in this House, that when we had a referendum on membership of the European Community, people were not told the implications and that, indeed, they may even have been deceived to that end. I have to inform the House that I was involved with BBC programming at that time. There was no secret of the term “ever closer union”, for example, which was already in the treaties. I was involved in three programmes that looked closely at the history and the implications of that. It is simply not true that this was hidden from the British public.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention, which I have had previously. I think that I replied before that I accept that there were a number of insiders. Some people in the House of Commons may even have read the treaties, but the vast majority of British people did not. I stick to my guns: the British people were deceived into believing that they were voting to stay in a common market.

I may be alone, but I am not sure how much good it will do if your Lordships or the House of Commons insist on a referendum and the people vote down the treaty. Of course, we would avoid its frightening provisions, but I fear that we would be left stuck where we are in the treaty of Nice and that the other countries would proceed under the present Article 43 to enhance their co-operation without us. At least the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, who I regret to see has left us, and I agree that that may happen, although he thinks that Nice does not go far enough whereas I think that it goes far too far.

Be that as it may, most Eurosceptics believe that we would somehow reorder our relationship with Brussels in the confusion that would follow our failure to ratify the treaty. But I see no sign of any such desire in the breast of the Government or in the Conservative Party. Although I support a referendum as being a possible step in the right direction, for me the only sure way out remains the door.

However, in the hope that a referendum might lead to more radical change, perhaps I may point out one of the flimsiest arguments advanced by those who do not want a referendum; namely, that referenda were not granted on previous EU treaties after 1975, so there is no need for one now. This does not make sense because clearly there should have been a referendum on each of them. After all, the Single European Act 1986 handed over all our commerce and industry, and our environment, to the qualified majority vote in Brussels. It also paved the way for a common foreign policy and gave up the veto in 12 other areas of our national life. The Maastricht treaty of 1992 made us all citizens of the Union and let Brussels’ tentacles into justice and home affairs, education, public health, culture, consumer protection, trans-European networks and development, among other areas. We gave up the veto on a further 30 areas as well.

Amsterdam in 1997 handed over our social and labour policy to Brussels and let the Eurocrats into human rights, asylum and immigration, and police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, and 24 more areas were moved to qualified majority voting. So it went on at Nice in 2003, with a further 46 areas given over to majority voting in the Council. Clearly, all those treaties should have been put to the people, as should be the proposed treaty of Lisbon, which cedes a further 61 areas to qualified majority voting and surrenders most of our remaining power to govern ourselves. Five wrongs do not make a right.

The other main plank in the Eurosceptic case is that membership of the EU is cripplingly expensive in cash and to our economy and that a great many jobs would therefore be created if we left and carried on our free trade with the single market. Against that, the Government claim that the EU is good for peace, whereas we hold NATO responsible for peace in Europe since 1945. . .

8.10 pm
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggest that the Conservatives should have a manifesto commitment for withdrawal from the European Union, I could hardly believe my ears. Whether that will find favour with my erstwhile friends on the Front Bench I do not know. I thought I saw the noble Lord, Lord Howell, turn a whiter shade of pale when he heard that. We will see; I do not expect him to have to answer that this evening.

I will draw your Lordships’ memories back to the Laeken declaration. How many noble Lords remember that? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, did, but he was on the substitutes’ bench during the later convention. That was when, if noble Lords recall, the leaders of the European Union finally recognised that perhaps the people of European Union states were fed up with not being consulted, with their views not being taken into account, with deals being done behind closed doors and with the apparently incessant transfer of powers from their parliaments to the centre, to the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. The Laeken declaration proposed returning powers to member states, to national and local level, at least to give the appearance if not the reality of some sort of redress of what has been referred to as the democratic process.

Even those minimal fig leaves for sovereignty and national parliaments were soon swept away during the subsequent convention under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, which was given such a resounding raspberry by the French and Dutch electorates. I am rather sorry that they voted against the treaty, because it deprived us of having our say. Had the French and Dutch voted “Yes”, we in this country would have had a referendum; no prizes for guessing what the result would have been. The French and Dutch votes effectively allowed Mr Blair to slip out of his commitment to give us a referendum. The French and Dutch votes did not even dent the Eurocrats’ determination to press on with further integration. They went on as though nothing had happened. As Mr Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg put it:

“If it’s a yes we will say ‘on we go’ and if it’s a no we will say ‘we continue’”.

That is democracy in action for you.

So after what was amusingly called a period of reflection, the Eurocrats have come back with the reform treaty, which is a sort of constitution in drag, if you like; Tommy Cooper dressed up as Widow Twanky. I do not want to do the heads of state of the members of the European Union an injustice; they have been very honest about what the reform treaty is. It is the constitution. I will not weary your Lordships by going through the list. The noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Howell, mentioned all the many heads of state who have said that this is just the same thing as it was before. You can take your pick; 90 per cent or 99 per cent the same, it is the treaty by another name.

. . .What popular approval has there been? This goes to the heart of the whole debate on Europe, as my noble friend Lord Pearson has said. There is the undoubted feeling in this country that we have been conned on Europe and that we have not been told the truth for a very long time, going right back to the early days of our entry to the Common Market - not, pace the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, the European Community; we voted for the Common Market in 1975, not the European Community - when we were told that there would be no essential transfer of sovereignty. Try telling that to the people of this country now; now that we have given away our powers over trade, immigration, social policy, energy, the environment, farming and fisheries. Try telling that to the people now that we have a European Parliament, a European Court of Justice, a European flag and a European anthem. I remind your Lordships that all that has been given away and transposed to Brussels without the people of this country ever being asked if that is what they wanted.

Here we are again, proposing to give away yet more powers without the permission of the people of this country and without a fight, telling another blatant whopper that the treaty is not a constitution because it has no constitutional character, even though it gives the EU legal personality, abolishes the national veto in 60 areas, creates a Foreign Minister and diplomatic service, and reduces our ability to block EU legislation by up to 30 per cent, as well as providing the means to transfer more powers to Brussels without consulting national parliaments at all. Kafka could have written the script.

The red lines have been effectively disposed of by others, particularly by the committee in the other place. Just under six months ago, on 24 June, the Prime Minister said that it was a matter of honour and trust. He said: “the manifesto is what we put to the public, we’ve got to honour that manifesto. That is an issue of trust for me and with the electorate”.

The more the Government talk about honour, the faster we count our spoons. We were promised, finally, a long-overdue referendum on our relationship with the EU. We were promised that; it is a fact. Now the Government are trying to wriggle out of that promise, which is shameful.

Fundamentally, this is about democracy. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, the last time that people in this country had a vote on Europe was 32 years ago. No one under the age of 50 has had a vote on whether we want to give more powers away to the European Union. . .I ask both Lord Watsons, what would be disastrous about actually leaving the European Union? Is it disastrous to be freer, to run our own trade, immigration or foreign policy? Is it disastrous to have powers in our elected Parliament or not to give away £14 billion every year to the European Union? Would it be disastrous to run our own agriculture and fisheries? Of course not. Masses of countries outside the EU prosper. We are the fourth or fifth biggest economy in the world, depending on whether or not you believe the Chinese statistics. Of course we can prosper outside the EU. We can trade with it perfectly happily, even though we trade at a massive deficit. The scare story that we need to be in the EU as a trading, financial and political necessity is simply a sham - a scare story that is not true.

I come back to the Laeken declaration. Is it not ironic that the Government are to give away more power without public consent? The Laeken declaration’s aim was to reconnect - I think that that was the word - with the voters. Why are the Government running scared of a vote if they want to reconnect with the voters? Is it because they might lose it? That would be democracy in action. If they lose the vote, they lose it. That is reconnecting with the voters. I thought that that was what Governments wanted to do. It seems that we are getting back to the position where the man in Whitehall knows best. If that is the case, it will be very dangerous.

8.47 pm
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, everything that I wanted to say about the ‘reform’ treaty has already been said eloquently, and sometimes more than once, by other noble Lords this evening; that is the problem with being the 20th on the list. So I intend to take up one or two points which the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council raised in the eulogy of the European Union in her opening remarks.

Beforehand, however, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, is not in his place. He criticised the idea of a referendum, and said that he had great forebodings about it because referendums were divisive. First, the referendum held in 1975 was a healing process for the Labour Party, not a divisive one. Without it, the Labour Party was in danger of exploding, which I know because I was a Member for it in the other place. Secondly, I believe that the noble Lord, as a good Labour man, would have been in favour of the referendum in Scotland on whether it should have its own parliament. I am sure that he supported it and went out to vote in it. Thirdly, a country is not isolated because it does not join another organisation. Indeed, this country is a member of an organisation which embraces nearly a third of the world’s population: the Commonwealth. How can we be isolated if we are a member of Commonwealth? And even if we were isolated, after the Act of Supremacy this country pulled itself up by its bootstraps and became a great empire and a great power in the world. So sometimes isolation is quite clearly good for you.

. . .Let us look at the question of peace in Europe, raised by the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council. Peace in Europe since 1945 has not been kept by the EC, the Common Market or the European Union; it was guaranteed by NATO and the armaments and weapons of the United States. It was nothing to do with the Common Market or the European Union. That persists today because the countries of the European Union refuse to spend sufficient on defence - and that includes this country. Let us not hear any more about the EU keeping peace in Europe. It is nonsense.

The noble Baroness also mentioned trade and boasted about the £150 billion of exports that we send to Europe every year. She failed to mention that we import £186 billion from the European Union, so we are in deficit by £36 billion a year on our balance of trade. The total accumulated deficit since we have been in is about £230 billion. She ought to take those things into account during her next eulogy.

She did not mention farming. What a disaster farming has experienced as a result of our membership. The number of people working in farming has halved. We have lost 500,000 jobs in farming and it is difficult for farmers to make a living at present. Our fishing waters have been depredated. We are throwing back edible fish, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, because of an edict from the European Union. How sensible is that? What good does that do to Britain and its economy?

What about the manufacturing industry since we have been in the EU? There was no boast about that. In 1973, 32 per cent of our economy was involved in manufacturing; today it is 14 per cent. So, membership has not done much good for our shipbuilding industry, our car industry and so on. Indeed, our car industry was rescued by the Japanese, not the European Union. The noble Baroness did not mention the cost in hard sterling - not euros - to the economy through our contribution to the European budget.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He tells us that the British car industry has been saved by the Japanese. He will of course be aware that the Japanese have said many times that they have been able to locate manufacturing here because of our membership of the European Union.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, that is not the only reason. I do know something about the Japanese car industry. Honda has a great factory in my old constituency and it has provided many jobs. It says that it is not only a question of being near the European market - we have a big market in this country; do not forget that – but that it also values the loyalty and the skill of our people, and, if I might say so, particularly those of my former constituents in Swindon. So that is not the only reason the Japanese bring their factories to this country.

I was talking about our annual contribution to the EU budget. At present, we make a gross contribution of £12 billion, which is £5.5 billion net. By 2013, that amount will have risen to £17 billion gross, which is nearly £7 billion net. So we are paying quite a lot of money to be a member of this club.

Everybody in this House knows my view on the matter - and I think that I have just confirmed it - we should never have got into the Common Market and it would be better for this country if we now got out of the European Union.

Finally, I hope that we are going to have a proper debate on this treaty and that what is said in the House of Commons and here will have an effect. I hope also that the Government and the Opposition will have the guts to say, “We will take the Whips off”. Let Parliament really decide. If it is a Whipped vote, as I have said before, it will not be Parliament that has ratified the treaty, it will be the Government ratifying their own treaty.

I hope that we will have a great debate in the House of Commons and in this House, and that the usual channels will not try to restrict the amount of time we spend on the Bill, as did the Government of the day when the Maastricht treaty came before this House. The usual channels tried to restrict the debate to three days, but, due to the intervention of my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, we got 11 days. We had a very good informative debate and people in this House learnt a lot about the European Union and the Common Market.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in the 1971 White Paper, did not Mr Heath also say that there would be no loss of essential sovereignty? Does that not look a bit silly at the moment?

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, that depends on what you mean by essential sovereignty. If we are going to be invaded by Martians, it might be useful to be able to meet them at the cliffs of Dover. It begs the question. None of these fancy debates gets anyone anywhere apart from going round in a circle.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, sovereignty is indivisible. You either have it or you do not: you cannot divide it out. End of Extract

Sometimes we despair as Britain's affairs seem to go from bad to worse. Then we shake ourselves and feel deeply thrilled. We know that many times in the past life in Britain has been miserable under an oppressive government or the threat of invasion and sometimes both, and eventually the connection between the British people and their oppressive leadership snaps, and the people make great changes and improvements.

Via Idris Francis and thanks to Jeffery Titford MEP

Update: Ret. Magistrate David Rowlands describes the EU's system of Corpus Juris, which will destroy Britain's common law unless Britain leaves the EU.