6.34 pm [p. 82]
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington)
(Con): I am against the motion, in part because
I think the timing, given the financial chaos in Europe,
is highly inappropriate. But that is not the main
reason that I would give to the House as to why the
motion is unwise.
It purports to give three choices to the House and
to the country as a whole—in the European Union,
out of the European Union, or renegotiation, but as
has been pointed out earlier in the debate, that is
not really a third option because it is renegotiation
with a view to purely a trade relationship in Europe.
That is, in effect, leaving the European Union because
it involves no sharing of sovereignty. I fully concede
that any membership of the European Union at the end
of the day must involve, as it always has done, some
willingness to acknowledge that sovereignty has to
Mr Redwood: Has
not my right hon. and learned Friend noticed that
the motion refers to trade and co-operation to encompass
the current Conservative policy?
Rifkind: No, I am sorry, that is not
the case because present Conservative policy is about
sharing sovereignty in certain areas where it is overwhelmingly
in our national interest.
When we consider what the real options are, the real
debate is not whether we should be in Europe or out
of Europe, but what kind of European Union we are
prepared to be members of. The assumption of this
debate and many other debates is that one side or
the other will win. We will either have an even closer
union or the European Union will ultimately implode.
That might be what will happen if the European Union
does not use its own common sense and look to see
whether there is a third route.
my right hon. and learned Friend give way?
Sir Malcolm Rifkind:
Not at this moment, if my hon. Friend will allow me.
There is a third route and we are already partly
along that way—that is, an à la carte
Europe, where each member state decides what degree
of integration it is prepared to accept in view of
its own national history, rather like France being
a semi-detached member of NATO for three years because
it believed it to be in the French interest, and NATO
did not collapse as a consequence.
I say that we are already part of the way there,
because at present, of the 27 member states, only
17 are members of the eurozone. Ten states are not,
some because they do not want to be, and some because
they could not join even if they wanted to.We are
not part of Schengen, nor are the Irish. The neutral
countries such as Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Finland,
have never been fully involved in defence co-operation
because of their neutrality.
The problem at present is not that there is not
an element of à la carte, but that there is
a fiction in the European Union that that is purely
temporary. That it is a transition and that we are
all going to the same destination and the debate is
merely about how long it will take us to get there.
No, that is not the case. What we need is a European
Union that respects the rights both of those who have
a legitimate desire, in terms of their own national
interest, for closer integration, and those of us
who do not choose to go that way. That has to be argued
and negotiated, sometimes on the basis of considerable
Mark Pritchard: My
right hon. and learned Friend talks about renegotiating
and repatriating powers.What powers and what timetable
does he envisage?
Sir Malcolm Rifkind:
As I said, the idea of an à la carte Europe
is already partly there, but it should not just be
a privilege; it should be a right. What we need, not
just for the United Kingdom, but for all the member
states, is a European Union where we will not stop
France and Germany if they wish to move to closer
integration and fiscal union—that ultimately
is their business—but nor must they seek to
impose a veto on the level of integration that we
There is an irreducible minimum because, as I mentioned
at the beginning of my remarks, a member state cannot
simply not participate in the single market, but that
does involve substantial sharing of sovereignty in
a way that a free trade zone does not. That point
does not seem to have been acknowledged by many of
the critics. If there is, as we have at present, free
movement of labour, that is not consistent with a
purist view of national sovereignty, but it is crucially
in the interests of the United Kingdom.
Mrs Main rose—
Sir Malcolm Rifkind:
I have already given way twice. I am sorry, I cannot
give way again without losing my own time.
Those are the points of the real debate that we
must take forward. It so happens that this is not
just a theoretical option. There is a strong possibility
that because of the chaos in the eurozone, there will
be a need for some treaty change. That will require
to be agreed unanimously, and that provides my right
hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary
with what is likely to be an excellent opportunity
to take that debate forward and to argue that if other
countries wish to go further, we wish to consider
the question of the kind of European Union we and
perhaps other countries such as Sweden, Denmark and
Poland would be content with.
On that basis, I say to the House that we cannot
constrain the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister
in the incredibly difficult negotiations that will
take place. To have a debate that might lead to a
referendum on whether Britain will remain in the European
Union or leave it entirely is such a massive distraction
from the real concerns that this country and the rest
of Europe have to address.
I am sorry, but I am entitled to my view, just as
all my hon. Friends are entitled to theirs.
I am conscious that many Members wish to speak and so
will conclude my remarks. There have been other occasions
of this kind when people have had fundamental differences
of principle. I recently read a quote that struck me as
highly relevant to our debate. It was from a politician
who belonged not to the Conservative party, but to the Labour
In 1957, Aneurin Bevan, a great believer in unilateral
disarmament, spoke to a Labour party conference that
was likely to carry a resolution in favour of unilateral
disarmament. He told his own party:
“if you carry this resolution and follow
out all its implications… you will send a
British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked
into the conference chamber... And you call that
It was good advice then and remains good advice