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Chris Huhne: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would explain the difference between his vision of associated status and the status that Norway currently enjoys with its relations with the EU. Perhaps he will remind us that those in Oslo call it the fax democracy. Directives arrive by fax from Brussels and are put into Norwegian law without any influence of Norwegian Ministers, the Council of Ministers and Norwegian MEPs. Does the hon. Gentleman regard that status as an increase in sovereignty?
Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman should knowI know that he does knowthat the basis of Norway's status is in accordance with the European economic area. I do not agree with that. We need to go back further than that. Norway is confined within that area to commitments that have lead to the fax democracy. I do not want a fax democracy; I want the House to make decisions on its own terms in a manner that enables our democracy, and those who voted for us in the general election, to have a say as to how things are to happen. It is typical of the Liberal Democrats to come up with the rubbish that has just emerged from the hon. Gentleman.
Angela Browning : My hon. Friend will be aware that the EU has more than 60 bilateral trade and tariff agreements with other countries throughout the world, on favourable conditions, without single market regulation. I am sure that he is referring to that.
We are at a fundamental moment of change, which we must seize as an opportunity. There is nothing negative about trying to get Europe right; if we get Europe wrong, we get everything wrong. Given the impact of Europe, it is our duty as a party, as a nation and as a Parliament to remember that high unemployment and low growth are no remedies. Disconnecting the people is no remedy. Being undemocratic and unstable is no panacea for the European people or for this country.
We do not want a centralised and undemocratic state. We want to maintain the sovereignty of our Parliament on behalf of the people who elected us most recently. This is a moment of change. This is the time when we must decide, on behalf of the people who have elected us, that we will put up with this constitution no longer and will reverse the existing treaties that have led to chaos and disintegration in the European Union.
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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is an enormous privilege and a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I am particularly glad that he is a Member of this place. He has always been a fine Member in participating in these debates over the past few years. I am delighted that he is becoming such a prominent member of the Conservative party. His passionate belief that Europe should have been at the forefront of the general election campaign for the Conservative party reflects precisely the agenda that will probably keep the Conservative party on the Opposition Benches for many years to come. During the general election campaign, not one person talked to me about Europe on the streets. That is despite the fact that I have been fairly prominent as a pro-European within my constituency as well as in the House.
I note in passing that the Conservatives had at any one time 28 national billboards in the Rhonda constituency. I guess that it was a good use of resources since they secured 1,800 votes. They increased my majority and saw a 3 per cent. swing to Labour in the constituency. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to play a significant part in the Conservative party. I hope that he returns to the Opposition Front Bench, a position which he occupied briefly, and that we hear a great deal more from him. Undoubtedly that will keep the Conservative party in the shadows.
Kelvin Hopkins: My hon. Friend is right that Europe was not an issue on the doorstep with Labour voters, because they knew well that Labour had promised them referendums on both the constitution and the euro, and that they were free to say no in those referendums.
The hon. Member for Stone said that he believed that the votes in France and the Netherlands showed that the elites of Europe had been rejected. I do not understand that argument. It is clear that the French and the Dutch took a view on the constitutional treaty and on a range of other issues. I do not suppose that there will be a full analysis for many years. Whether the French people and the Dutch people were specifically taking a view on the elites of Europe, whoever they may or may not be, I do not know.
The hon. Gentleman spoke rather curiouslyperhaps with a loose tongueabout the empires of Europe. He seemed to conceive of the EU as another empire in the model of Charlemagne or Napoleon. There is a substantial difference between an empire that is created by war and subjugation and co-operation between member states, which is precisely what the constitutional treaty was arguing for. That is an important distinction. I hope that he will not slip back to his conception of the EU when, I suspect, he returns to these issues in a future debate, or whenever he opens his mouth in the Chamber.
I know that I am meant to be profoundly depressed today. I am a pro-European and argued the case for the constitutional treaty. I argued for us not having a referendum and then I argued for us having a
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referendum when we decided that we were having a referendum. I know that because John Humphrys told me and the whole country that all pro-Europeans should now be very depressed. He said that Europe was in meltdown. He added that Italy would almost certainly leave the euro, with many senior politicians demanding that, saying that their country should abandon the euro and return to the lira.
I do not believe one part of what John Humphrys said in that context and I do not feel depressed. I accept that the French and Dutch voted against the draft constitutional treaty. That means that, at best, the treaty is on a life support system. I suspect that it will be shut down in the near future, but I do not accept that my entire pro-European argument is founded on this particular document. In principle, many of us believe that it is a good thing for Britain to play a role at the heart of Europe. It is our destiny to be an intrinsic part of Europe. We should not be on the sidelines like Norway nor should we be in the marginalia of European history, as the hon. Gentleman would argue.
It is important that we are at the heart of Europe, but that is not intrinsically associated with the future of the constitutional treaty. Indeed, many of us were sceptical from the very beginning about whether the term "constitution" should have been used. Parts of the document were subject to negotiation between different countries. When the European Union Bill was introduced before the general election, many of us said on Second Reading that there were things that we wanted to change. None the less, there was a negotiation between 25 different countries and it was probably the best package that we could get.
In the Chamber and elsewhere, I argued with Opposition Members that the draft treaty was a very good document for Britain that showed how well we had done diplomatically. I am delighted that the French agree with that argument, as 40 per cent. of people who voted no said that they did so because they believed that the European treaty would be better for Britain than for France. People who argue that the constitutional treaty is on a life support system and that the pro-European ideal must die have given a premature verdict. There is a fundamental choice. Many hon. Members have said that this is a significant moment with an historic choice to be made, but that choice is not the one that has been presented to us. It is a choice between a pragmatic and patriotic adherence to Europe and an ideological attitude towards Europe.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman conceded that the treaty is dead. I hope that he will inform the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that that is the case, as they seem to be dithering and giving a different answer on any given day. He may therefore wish to pass his thoughts on to Ministers. Does he agree that there is fundamental paradox in his argument? Many Conservative Members who argue
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against federalism are accused of threatening jobs, yet federalism has caused the highest unemployment in Europe since the second world war.
Chris Bryant: It is good to see new Members taking part in these debatesit would be good to see a few more Labour Members doing so. However, I gather that the Conservative party was so divided last week that it was not until late yesterday that it decided the topic of today's Opposition day debate. Many hon. Members first learned that there were was going to be a debate on European affairs and the European constitution when they saw the Order Paper this morning. I think that that shows a gross discourtesy to the House.
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