EU REFERENDUM LEAFLET – 9 May 2016
Dr Julian Lewis: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) for an outstanding opening presentation and for taking so many friendly and supportive interventions. I also echo the thanks to the petition organisers, who have done a brilliant job. As of now we are at 219,560 signatories.
I have just one regret about the debate. It ought to have been held in the main Chamber of the House of Commons, because then we would have been able to have a vote at the end of it and put to the test the sincerity or otherwise of those who say that the Government have behaved decently, fairly and honourably, rather than deeply unscrupulously, over the production of this expensive leaflet. It was produced at the expense of taxpayers, most of whom – hopefully we will find this out on independence day, 23 June – do not believe the Government’s argument.
I must make another striking observation. I may be wrong, and I may have misinterpreted the voting intentions of some of the colleagues from various parties who are here today, but it seems that there is not a single right hon. or hon. Member here, other than the Front-Bench spokesmen for the Government, the official Opposition and the Scottish National party, who is likely to try to defend the production of the leaflet. If that is the case, it may well be that had a vote been possible, at least among Members in this Chamber, any motion deploring the Government’s production of such a leaflet at such expense for the benefit of one side in a contested referendum debate would have been overwhelmingly carried.
There is something else I find deeply worrying about the whole process. It seems that the Government arrived at their conclusions first and are now scrabbling around ever more desperately for one new argument after another to buttress them. As right hon. and hon. Members have already asked, why were these terribly important arguments about war and peace not included in the leaflet that was sent out? Why, indeed, was the Prime Minister willing to threaten – during what appear, I am sorry to say, to have been sham negotiations in Europe – that if he did not get his way on whatever minor changes he was trying to get he would be prepared to leave the European Union? If war, pestilence, flood, boils, frogs and the rest of the 10 plagues of Egypt will descend on us –
Sir William Cash: The apocalypse.
Dr Lewis: The apocalypse as well. A future apocalypse, if not an immediate one. If all that is going to happen, why on earth was the Prime Minister ever willing to contemplate leaving the European Union in the first place?
Mrs Anne Main: Does my right hon. Friend find it rather odd that we are so weak and pathetic that we cannot stand on our own, but are so strong that we are preventing all the other European countries from turning their arms on each other?
Dr Lewis: Indeed, and I will come to the question about war and peace a little further along, if I may.
It is a strange argument to suggest that out of something between 150 and 200 countries recognised at the United Nations, we, with the fifth strongest economy, are somehow deemed incapable of surviving outside the European Union. The vast majority of countries in the world do not, at least so far, belong to the 28-strong European Union network of nations. Who knows where the ambition will end? Perhaps one day half the countries in the world, or all of them, will belong to the European Union. One thing is clear, however. If countries are forced to integrate without the consent of the peoples concerned, the resultant political construct cannot possibly be run democratically.
Sir William Cash: Does my right hon. Friend accept that although we keep being told that we have to stay in the European Union because the other countries want and even need us for stability, democracy and accountability, the one thing that can be guaranteed to come out of the process of political integration is that we will be dumped into the second tier of a two-tier Europe, which I believe will largely be run by Germany? The consequence will be that we will not have influence because of the majority voting system and the lack of democracy.
Dr Lewis: As in so many things, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Let us be in no doubt about this: if, heaven forbid, we vote to remain in the European Union on 23 June, other countries will know once and for all that our ability to assert any independence or influence within that organisation is done for.
Mr Bernard Jenkin: To pick up a refrain from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the entire construct of the document that we are discussing, and indeed of the Prime Minister’s speech today, is that somehow we are withdrawing from Europe. We want to leave the European Union, which is a failing institution, but we want to remain an active member of NATO and remain engaged with our European allies and partners on all the matters that the European Union deals with. We just do not want to be told what to do as a member of the European Union.
Dr Lewis: Absolutely, and in which of the two alternative models can we more influence other European countries? We have one model in which we can express our view and, with a democratic decision of our own Parliament, pursue a policy to try to enact that view. Alternatively, we can take the view that we will have more influence by submerging our voting power in a collective pool of voters, with a construct made up of legislatures and Commissioners appointed by the 27 other member countries as well as by Britain. We can be outvoted time and again by an overwhelming majority of other countries’ Parliaments or Commissioners and have our views totally disregarded.
It is understandable that people on the other side of the Atlantic who on two occasions, against their initial inclinations, have been forced into a conflict originating on the continent of Europe as a result of German militarism would prefer that Britain remain part of an organisation that they know can spell trouble for the United States of America in the future, just as it has in the past. However, they are making a fatal miscalculation if they think that we will be better able to keep the Governments of the remaining parts of Europe on some sort of track of common sense and reliable policy-making by being outvoted by them at every turn. We need a system in which we can make our criticisms, and if those criticisms are not accepted we can go on making them and formulate policies to try to mitigate the effects of foolish policies that others might adopt.
I must say that the developments we have seen in the past couple of days are frankly very worrying. First there was the use of intelligence chiefs to say publicly that we would somehow be less safe in our intelligence sharing if we left the EU. At least one of the two intelligence chiefs concerned told me privately that we would be no worse off. We have seen that before – we saw the same operation when Downing Street tried to get a large number of retired military figures to sign up to a letter. Several of them did, but quite a lot of them refused. One of those whose signature was attached had not agreed, and Downing Street had to apologise to him. Another who had reluctantly agreed said that it was nevertheless unpleasant that he felt pressured to sign and that it was not the sort of letter he would have written himself.
Let not the Government turn around with innocence in their eye and say, “Good heavens, the very idea that we would try to manipulate senior figures or public opinion is outrageous.” The reality is that they have been caught doing it before. For that reason, they probably did not do it directly with the two intelligence chiefs, but we all know the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s official line on Britain remaining in Europe. No. 10 would not have to do a great deal to persuade a former senior diplomat—later the head of an intelligence agency – to put forward a line amenable to the Government’s standpoint.
Kate Hoey: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that many of the people who are being asked to do things on behalf of the Prime Minister – or indeed by the Prime Minister himself – are looking towards a future job with the European Union, perhaps when they retire from whatever they are doing at the moment?
Dr Lewis: I would not like to attribute any particular motivation. It may often go no further than the fact that for someone with a long and honourable record of public service, who is used to serving democratically elected Governments, it is very difficult to refuse a request from high up in the political establishment – possibly from the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s representative – that they should speak out in support of Government policy. Let us put it this way: to refuse might be deemed ungrateful and against the ethos of civil servants’ obedience to Government rule. One does not have to look for base motives; one can simply say that it would take a special sort of independence of mind for someone to tell the Prime Minister or his representative that they were not going to help out in his hour of need.
It certainly seems to be an hour of need, because the reality is that the campaign seems to be getting more and more desperate and unscrupulous. Everything the remain campaigners do seems to be unavailing in shifting public opinion. The further they dig themselves into holes through dodgy tactics, the harder it becomes to defend them. I revert to what I said at the beginning: it appears that no Back Bencher is willing to attend the debate and speak up in favour of the Government’s tactics in producing this one-sided leaflet. These things do not happen by accident.
Steve Double: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it goes further than that? Many Back Benchers – I include myself among them – feel desperately let down by the Government. We genuinely had an open mind. In my case, I am generally Eurosceptic, but we genuinely wanted to see what the Prime Minister came back with from the negotiations before we made up our mind. Now we discover that the Government had no intention of ever recommending that we should leave, and were completely set on the remain campaign from the very beginning.
Dr Lewis: Yes, it is absolutely clear that the Government are and always have been set on remaining come what may. The manoeuvres do not happen by accident. It is no accident that there appears to be a total boycott of the debate by Members from the remain side of the argument, other than the Front Benchers who have to be here. It was no coincidence that we had the intervention from the retired heads of MI5 and MI6 just 24 hours before the Prime Minister made his speech today. Such things are orchestrated. I can only assume that the more questionable the Government’s tactics come to be, the less able they will be to find people to stand up and defend them.
I had better bring my remarks to a close, because many other Members wish to speak. I do not know whether the debate will go right to 7.30 pm, but although I will stay as long as I can, I apologise for the fact that I will not be here for the winding-up speeches if the debate goes to its full length.
The Government’s only defence of the leaflet, which they have produced at such great cost to the public purse, is,
“We can only look at the facts honestly, and the facts as we see them all come down on one side of the argument.”
If that were honestly the case, there would be no need for a referendum in the first place. There would not be huge disagreement among a large part of the population with the idea that Britain should remain in an organisation hellbent on doing away with the system of parliamentary democracies that has kept the peace and replacing it with an undemocratic supranational Government. That could bring about the tensions and conflicts that always happen when we do not have democratic Governments dealing with other democratic Governments. Who can name an example of a modern democratic Government of one country going to war with a modern democratic Government of another? No one, because it does not happen. The idea that breaking up our system of peace-loving democracies and shoehorning people into a supranational state will somehow keep the peace rather than undermine it clearly shows that the Government have entered into something of an “Alice Through the Looking Glass” existence.
I once again thank everyone who has contributed to the debate so far. I am sure that when the time comes, the country will seize its one and only opportunity. If the Government win, they will expect us to accept defeat with good grace, just as we would expect them to accept defeat with good grace if we win. In reality, by adopting one-sided tactics such as producing this propaganda leaflet at public expense, they are delegitimising the result, and no-one will benefit from that.