Firstly, David Nuttall’s motion sums up the EU question which faces the nation: do we carry on with EU integration on present terms of membership; or get out altogether; or renegotiate revised terms of membership? Your amendment seeks to narrow the terms of the debate by removing reference to one option which is clearly available to this country, which is to leave the EU. I personally don’t agree with an in-out referendum, but I recognise that that it is a legitimate option to be debated. The argument that this was not in our manifesto is irrelevant.I think we all appreciate your and others’ efforts to build bridges here, but I feel I must make it clear to colleagues why I (and probably most colleagues) cannot support the amendment as drafted. I am copying this to backbench colleagues.
Second, you advance your amendment on the basis that it is consistent with the coalition agreement, but this is not relevant either. Both the coalition agreement and our manifesto have both been overtaken by events. Support for fiscal union in the Euro area was not in either – and would have never have been entertained if it had been proposed for either document. It is fiscal union which is leading to a fundamental change in the character of the EU, and which has given rise to the demand for this debate.
Third, as a supporter of renegotiation, why am I not tempted by your amendment? Because any remit for renegotiation must set out the objective of establishing a new relationship with our EU partners. For such a new relationship to be meaningful, there must be a fundamental change in that relationship. It must restore the basic democratic principle that the authority to pass laws should be democratically accountable to those who are affected by them. The powers delegated to the EU (or withdrawn) must in future be determined by Parliament, and not by the EU institutions acting autonomously. Without this, nothing much will change. The difficulty we now face is that the EU Treaties are now so all encompassing, and the institutions so assertive, that the exercise of merely nibbling back powers and competences here and there would not reverse the effect of the Lisbon Treaty on the UK, or Nice, or Amsterdam, or Maastricht, or the Single European Act, or address the fundamental problems which actually arise from the Treaty of Rome.
Finally, there is a great danger that Parliament will emerge from this looking very out of touch if the House is not to debate the original motion or at least something which reflects its spirit. The BBBC adopted this motion in response to the e-petitions which demand an in-out EU referendum. Had the authors of the amendment approached the BBBC with their motion, it would not have been entertained by the BBBC, since there are no e-petitions behind it. If this amendment were to be selected, the debate and the vote which followed would be on the amendment, and not on the main motion – hardly an example of e-petitions working as they were intended!
Bernard Jenkin MP (Harwich and North Essex)
Chairman, PASC (Public Administration Select Committee)