Article 50 Debate: In Europe, but not run by the European Union

31st January 2017

Speaking in the Article 50 debate, Iain Duncan Smith calls for the UK to be in Europe but not run by the European Union and tells MPs that is why he will be voting to trigger article 50.

I rise to follow the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—not that I will agree with much of what he said, but I fully respect his ability and strength of purpose, in line with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said, to stand by his convictions. It is therefore a privilege to follow him.

It is also a privilege for me, as it is for many of my colleagues, to speak on this Bill. It is without doubt that I support the Government and therefore the passage of this Bill. I commend the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Opposition spokesman, who made a particularly measured speech on what the Bill is and is not about. He was clear in his words, for which I commend him because I actually agreed with them when he said that this is about giving the Government the right to invoke article 50, and nothing more. He said in his interesting speech that no place but here can have the right to change domestic laws, and I agree. That is why I and my hon. Friends have urged that we repeal the European Communities Act 1972 at the same time. Strictly speaking, that is not necessary under article 50, but it is the right thing to do domestically and provides an answer to those who say, “But what will we do about all these issues?” Every element of our membership of the European Union is within that Act, and I am certain that the House will debate that for many hours and reach a decision.

I have a huge amount of respect for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe. We served together in the same Government and have debated this issue for a long time. There is nobody whom I respect more in this House than him. He is as constant as the compass. There is absolutely no way in which anyone could have any doubt about where he was going to be not only on this matter, but on many others. I look across the Chamber to my erstwhile right hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), who will agree that during the coalition Government we absolutely knew where my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe was going to be on many issues in Cabinet—invariably not where the Government were.

 

Not only is our right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) to be respected for his views on Europe, about which he has been entirely consistent and courteous, but he was surely one of the most remarkable Chancellors of the Exchequer that our country has seen.

 

I do not doubt that at all. In fact, so successful was he that he managed to tie the following Government in all sorts of knots as they sought to pursue his policies without any of the same drive or intelligence in how they were going to do it.

My purpose today is simply to explain that I opposed the Maastricht treaty. In case anybody asks, I did not actually want to leave the European Union. I originally voted to join the European Union, or the common market as it was then, but when it came to Maastricht I decided that there was something fundamentally wrong with the direction of travel. I am going to raise the name of an individual whom not many people in this House ever raise in debate: Altiero Spinelli. He was essentially the architect of both the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. His purpose was quite clear. He believed that the whole purpose of the European project was the eradication of the nature of the nation state. He said:

“If a post war order is established in which each State retains its complete national sovereignty, the basis for a Third World War would still exist”.

I do not agree with him, and I never did. The reason we fell into the terrible cataclysm of the second world war following the great depression was the absence of democracy and, most importantly, robust democratic institutions in many European states. War will never happen where we have democracy and strong democratic institutions with open trade. Such democracies simply will not do that. My sense was that the European Union’s direction of travel from Maastricht was bound on a course that was going to lead to the UK ultimately deciding that it can no longer stay within it.

I agree with much of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said. I have come to a different conclusion, but I fully respect anyone who decides to vote against the triggering of article 50. They were sent here to use their judgment. Yes, the British people have made a decision, but the job of an MP is to use judgment on such matters. If somebody chooses to oppose the Bill, I will respect that. I will disagree with them, but they deserve a hearing and we should in no way attempt to shout them down.

 

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his thoughts on democracy. Does he accept that Members in this House have less information about this crucial decision than the average local ward councillor has about their annual budget?

 

I am grateful for that intervention, but I do not agree. Given the past 40 years, if anybody in this House does not have enough information to make a decision, I wonder where they have been for all those years—or the years that they have spent here. Of course we have enough information. She is referring to the publication of the White Paper, which the Government have said they will publish. I stand by that and think it is a good idea. I must say, however, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a pretty good of fist of it in her recent speech, in which she set out the 12 points that will guide her negotiation. I hope that the Government reprint them with a couple of diagrams, the odd explanation and a nice picture, which will make an excellent White Paper.

I absolutely do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe that my party is somehow anti-immigrant. When I was in government with him, both in coalition and subsequently, we did more to help those who were displaced as a result of the wars in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan than any other country. As a Government and as a country, we should be proud of our support for immigration. Whatever other countries choose to do, we put ourselves on the side of those who flee terror.

 

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and for that clarification. We are not anti-immigrant, and I do not think that anyone who voted to leave the European Union is anti-immigrant. There is a difference between being anti-immigrant and being anti-uncontrolled immigration. It was the latter that the British public were against. They wanted control, and many people of different backgrounds voted to leave the European Union.

 

That is the point: they wanted to take back control. They are not anti-immigration but simply want to make sure that it is controlled migration at a level that the country can absorb without any difficulties. That is where we should be on this, that is where my party should be and that is where we stand. I intend to pursue that because I am pro-migration.

 

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

 

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman because I have literally a matter of seconds and he will have plenty of time to speak.

The only thing on which I disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe is that we are not the Hatter’s tea party. The Hatter’s tea party is sitting in opposition. I do not know who the dormouse is or who the Hatter is, but I am sure they will tell us later.

Having listened throughout to all these debates, I will be voting tonight to trigger article 50. [Hon. Members: “Tomorrow.”] Tomorrow, I will be voting to trigger article 50 simply because of all the mistakes of the past. We were told that somehow we can place our trust in a larger body that will do a lot of our protections for us, but we cannot. As a nation state, we can be in Europe but not run by the European Union. That is why I am voting to trigger article 50 tomorrow.

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