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3.59 pm

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am content to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton). I shall read it very carefully in Hansard tomorrow, when I am sure I shall manage to understand it.

We have had a very good debate. We heard a remarkable speech from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who, in effect, punctured the bubble of Conservative party rhetoric and the rhetoric of the anti-European tabloids over the past year or so which suggested that we were to have an omnipotent President. We all remember the remarkable speech about the President of the European Union made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) on Second Reading, and there behind him sits an elder statesman from past Conservative years saying that that is all hooey.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con) rose—

Mr. MacShane: I shall not give way, because I have only four minutes in which to speak.

The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea also went on to say that the high representative would not be the overarching controller of European Union foreign policy. He made the important distinction between a common foreign policy, which we should work towards and co-operate within, and almost the impossibility of a single foreign policy. I think that I understood his metaphor correctly—I hope I did, because I wrote that article in the Financial Times in June 2003. It is good to have my words reflected back towards me.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks is one of our most powerful parliamentary speakers. He can make us think and laugh, and he holds every audience in thrall. He has a clear enemy and he goes on and on. Sadly, the President of Cuba has announced his retirement, but the deputy maximum leader will continue condemning Europe and making us laugh despite being, like the maximum leader in Havana, utterly wrong.

The treaty contains something quite different from the constitution, which a former shadow Foreign Secretary declared dead. Every other Government in Europe have
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declared the two things not to be the same. That is why the pledge offered during the 2005 election is null and void. People may, by all means, make the argument for a referendum—the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) certainly was not making such an argument 10 years ago when he was a Minister and sternly against referendums—but they should do so by being honest and saying that the Conservative party has adopted the position of my former right hon. Friend Mr. Tony Benn that referendums should settle Britain’s international treaty obligations. I do not think that that is the right way forward.

This debate is about defence. I very much agreed when the Chairman of the Defence Committee said that Europe should get its defence act together, but we should be careful before patronising all the other countries of Europe. Many funerals have taken place in the past two or three years as a result of events in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. As has happened in families in this country, men and women have grieved for people who died trying to protect our common security. I wish that there was more commitment, but it will not be secured unless there is engagement in Europe. The trouble for our country, which we are proud to represent, is that we walk with one hand tied behind our backs in Europe, because the Conservative party has entered into the most rejectionist, isolationist position on partnership in Europe of any party in the history of this country and of any other party except the extreme fringe elsewhere in Europe.

Reference has been made to the remarkable article by Caroline Jackson, the Conservative Member of the European Parliament, published in the Financial Times on 18 February. It stated:

The shadow Foreign Minister tried to wriggle his way out of that problem by citing my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Had the right hon. Gentleman been with me in Washington on Sunday he would have heard Mr. Edward Lucas of The Economist promoting his new book “The New Cold War”. He denounced the Conservative indifference to co-operation and partnership in Europe, saying that it was a national disgrace that the Conservative party, far from standing up to Russia’s bullying, was colluding to ensure that the Russian henchman of Mr. Putin became President of the Council of Europe. Had the right hon. Gentleman been there, he might have paused to think.

That is the difference. Tonight, I hope that we will again vote to ratify part of the treaty. The Conservative party will remain isolated, and isolated it does nothing but damage to Britain’s national interests.

4.4 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): Meanwhile, back in this universe. Laughter. ]

It is easy in debates of this nature to get caught up in detail and to miss the big picture, so let us be clear what we are talking about today. This treaty proposes giving
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the EU a defence capability that will duplicate many of the functions of NATO. Worse, it will potentially compete with, rather than complement, NATO. Why does that matter? It matters because we believe that NATO, which has been the cornerstone of our defence for 60 years, should continue to have primacy. We believe that the transatlantic bonds with the United States and Canada should not be weakened. It is the Americans and Canadians who are fighting alongside British troops on the front line in Afghanistan while—with a few honourable exceptions, most notably the Dutch—it is not the majority of our EU partners.

So let me set out what we believe to be the instruments of this treaty that could undermine the NATO alliance. Under the Lisbon treaty, there is further duplication of NATO’s article V, with the solidarity clause, and no change to the duplication of NATO structures that already exists with the EU military staff, EU battle groups, the European rapid reaction force, the ATHENA mechanism and certain aspects of the European Defence Agency. There is no mention of NATO’s right of first refusal for all military missions pertaining to European security. There is no mention of NATO’s primacy. There is no change to the discriminatory attitude that the EU takes against non-European Union NATO member states, such as Norway and Turkey. That is especially true regarding the financing of EU military operations and Turkey’s “administrative agreement” with the EDA, which has been continually blocked by Cyprus.

We also have concerns regarding the democratic legitimacy of the ESDP under the Lisbon treaty. The newly created high representative will serve as a vice-president in the Commission and have a right of initiative for proposing military operations. That will bring supranationalism into EU defence planning for the first time. Consequently, foreign and defence policy in the EU will no longer be strictly intergovernmental. An unelected EU president will have a direct role in shaping the military budget for EU military operations by chairing the ATHENA special committee and will have a direct role in approving the new high representative.

The treaty formally creates the European Defence Agency, which will be headed by the high representative, who is also a vice-president of the Commission. That is just the foothold in defence procurement that the Commission has so long desired, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) correctly pointed out.

Even though the EDA exists today as a part of the ESDP, it has never been part of an EU treaty that has been ratified by all member states. Originally in the constitutional treaty, European integrationists decided to go ahead with the creation of the EDA, even though it failed to be ratified in France and the Netherlands. That was an act of contempt for the citizens of Europe. Consequently, the inclusion of the EDA in the Lisbon treaty is an attempt by the EU retrospectively to justify the existence of an organisation that was created despite being originally part of the failed constitutional treaty.

The EDA sets out to develop defence capabilities and to promote armament co-operation between EU members, but what we need is greater armament co-operation with the military forces that we will be fighting alongside on the ground. We need better interoperability with the United States. We need more joint procurement projects with the United States, such as the joint strike fighter.

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There is no point participating in joint procurement projects with countries whose defence spending levels are too low to purchase the end products and, in any case, it should be done between sovereign nation states and not on an EU, supranational basis.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that the essence of this problem is not a question of isolationism, but the fact that performing independent tasks in a voluntary agreement with other member states requires an alliance? To try to railroad everybody into uniformity and mutual solidarity and to place that in a legal framework is a prescription for disaster and division. It will lead to chaos, as we see in the situation evolving in Afghanistan.

Dr. Fox: My hon. Friend makes an important point. In today’s debate, several elements have been mentioned that are not themselves problems—such as the EU’s operations as a delivery mechanism of NATO under Berlin-plus, or the example of what has happened in humanitarian missions. None of those is a problem in itself. The problem is the incremental nature of what is happening and the creeping competence of the Commission and the EU structures in all those areas, which gradually erode our ability to be masters of our own destiny. That is what is so unacceptable in the treaty.

The EDA offers the UK no tactical, strategic or technological advantage that NATO, bilateral or multilateral agreements, or the UK defence industrial base do not already provide. The idea of a joint market for defence equipment is all now featuring largely at EU level, with the Commission pushing for a deal that could secure more efficient spending among all the bloc’s member states. Internal market rules are not currently applied to the defence market, allowing member states to exclude defence contracts from EU procurement rules. Moreover, national licensing procedures make the transfer of defence material between countries difficult.

According to the Commission, a common defence market would significantly improve the military capabilities of member states magically without increasing defence expenditures. That is nonsense and it is in the same accounting league as double-hatting troops and pretending that that creates greater capability. All the measure does is to increase Commission competence in an area where it has no business to be, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) pointed out in his excellent speech.

The Government claim to share our affinity for NATO and they claim the treaty will not undermine it, but that is not what they said before. During the 2003 European Convention, the Government were opposed to many aspects of the Treaty that they have now accepted. In fact, permanent structured co-operation and the mutual defence commitment are two sections of the text that the Government wanted completely totally deleted from the treaty.

On the mutual defence clause, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) said in 2003:

member states

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So why the change of heart? On permanent structured co-operation, the Government said during 2003:

However, they have now caved in to European pressure and accepted permanent structured co-operation in the Lisbon treaty. It is nothing but integration in defence common policy by stealth.

Our suspicions have been reinforced by the noises coming out of Paris in recent days. The defence spokesman for the UMP—the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party—Pierre Lellouche made it clear that France will push the limits of permanent structured co-operation to the maximum and create a six-nation hard core of EU members who want to further EU defence integration and a common procurement market for defence, and ultimately to establish an EU pillar in NATO. That is absolutely unacceptable.

At the Munich conference on security policy last week, the French Defence Minister Hervé Morin said that NATO was primarily a defence organisation and should not operate as a global policeman. He said that that was the role of the United Nations, and added that the EU must not simply become the civilian arm of NATO. To use new Labour-speak, that is a very clear direction of travel. I expect that, unlike France, the Government will publicly support using permanent structured co-operation in that way only after the treaty’s full ratification. That is no doubt yet another reason why the Prime Minister wants to avoid the public scrutiny of a referendum in this country.

We should welcome France into the integrated command structure, but not with an EU pillar of NATO as a quid pro quo. Integration ought to mean removing NATO duplication and continuing to operate under the Berlin-plus arrangement that has worked so well in the past. Under those conditions, we could easily sort out the potential problems we have with the French position.

With their support for the treaty, as with so many other things, the Government are heading down the wrong path when it comes to Britain’s security. With the threat of global terrorism, problems with energy security and a resurgent Russia the stakes are too high for some of the policy gambles that are being taken today. However, at least the Government have the advantage of clarity, which is more than we can say for the Lib Dems. First, they could not agree to agree. Then they could not agree to disagree. Now they praise constructive abstention, but it may not be unanimous—in other words, they cannot even agree not to have an opinion on the subject. These decisions are far too important for the current Liberal Democrat leader’s frivolous whipping arrangements and lack of authority.

I have spent 15 years in this House of Commons being told that every EU treaty put in front of us was more benign than it seemed and that there was therefore nothing to worry about. Enough is enough. The Lisbon treaty threatens to undermine the defence assumptions that our nation has had for 60 years, and to drive a wedge between us and our transatlantic allies. Britain cannot have two best friends when it comes to defence. The treaty asks us to make a choice, but the Conservative party will not support the weakening of our transatlantic bonds.

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We want the EU to work in partnership with NATO, not compete with it. The provisions of the treaty move in the wrong direction—for Britain, for the EU and for NATO. That is why we oppose them.

4.15 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I am delighted to have another opportunity to wind up a debate on the Lisbon treaty. Today’s debate has been genuinely interesting and occasionally fascinating. It has concerned an issue that I believe should command cross-party support, although it is clear that it does not.

The EU’s common foreign, security and defence policy is a key instrument with which Britain can influence what happens on our continent and beyond. It helps us to project British values around the world, and the Lisbon treaty will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the current intergovernmental arrangements. I shall give some recent examples of what that approach has helped to achieve.

First, I refer to the comprehensive EU sanctions against the vile regime in Zimbabwe— [ Interruption. ]. The hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) makes an intervention from a sedentary position. She has fought against the European project, and I shall be happy to give way to her.

Ann Winterton: From a sitting position, I said that the EU approach has not been successful in Zimbabwe in any way. In fact, the EU has been completely impotent when it comes to bringing about change there.

Mr. Murphy: Britain is much more able to exert influence on Zimbabwe when we work with 26 other member states. The sanctions imposed by the EU against the Zimbabwean regime are stronger than the UN’s. I understand that the hon. Lady would like to leave the EU altogether, so the logical conclusion of her approach is that she must extend her criticism to every international institution.

As a member of the EU, Britain is in a position to shape the agenda, although of course I accept that we have not yet been able to deliver on that in the way we would want. However, the fact that we have not been able to bring about the change in Zimbabwe that we all want is no reason for us to give up altogether and lose the possibility of having any influence at all through the EU, yet that is what the hon. Lady advocates with her fight against what she calls the European “project”.

The EU continues to play a crucial role in arenas other than Zimbabwe. I agreed with the vast majority of the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), although we must agree to disagree about the EU’s role in what is happening in the Balkans. I consider it to have been deeply constructive, both in ensuring that the leadership in Kosovo protect the rights of the Serb minority and in ensuring that the Serbs see a European future for themselves. The EU has helped to influence the behaviour and attitude of Serbia’s authorities, political parties and civic society in an important way. It did the same during last year’s elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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