Yesterday in the Lords, 3 on the #EURef

The other day, a very senior German Minister said to me, “Whenever I go into a European Union meeting with my British colleagues, their very first question is: ‘Excuse me, please tell me the way to the exit?’”. They are spending so much energy trying to get out that they spend none building the alliances to try to win the things that we want. Canning and Castlereagh would be spinning in their graves. The truth of it is that there ​are things we can win in the European Union, but we will not win them by removing ourselves from it.

So said Paddy Ashdown yesterday in the Queens speech debate which touched on the imminent EU referendum. You can read the full speech here.

And it wasn’t just Paddy.

So why take the risk? I understand that for some the economic consequences are a price worth paying in order to regain sovereignty and democracy, which many believe have been lost through our membership of the EU. Indeed, my understanding from the Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman is that the good people attending a Vote Leave rally in Stirling 10 days ago were told that they should consider the Declaration of Arbroath, written by one Abbot Bernard—no relation, I think, to Bernard Jenkin—as providing a clarion call for leavers: “We fight not for riches nor honour nor ​glory, but for freedom”. Thus the idea of Scottish independence in the EU was a cruel lie because no state can be truly free in the EU. As such, the logic must go, the UK cannot be free within the EU.

The words of the declaration are beguiling—if I have misquoted them, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will correct me—but in reality they are a siren call. The problem raised is a false one and the solution proposed illusory. The EU is not some self-created superstate run by unelected bureaucrats; it is an international body, based on the rule of law, in which the UK is represented at every level. It is a voluntary union, not a forced marriage. So why should we contemplate a divorce? What benefits could that bring? Leaving the EU would not lead us back to some halcyon days of parliamentary democracy, nor to the days when Britannia ruled the waves.

That was Julie Smith.

Former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski had some double-edged words of praise for the UK a few years ago. He expressed frustration at us, but he first stressed the assets that we have put into the European pool:

“Britain … You have given the Union its common language. The Single Market was largely your brilliant idea. A British commissioner runs our diplomacy”—

this was in 2011—

“You could lead Europe on defence. You are an indispensable link across the Atlantic”.

Apart from hiring the guy as our brand ambassador, we should realise what our friends realise and have been saying for months: we need you, we want you, you have so much to give. Stop messing around. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, being in the EU strengthens our voice in the US, the UN and the Commonwealth.

And finally Sarah Ludford.

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This entry was posted in Parliament.


  • Richard Underhill 24th May '16 - 4:38pm

    Those who have seen the “Young Winston” have seen him say that at different times in different circumstances he might have the opposite opinion (about defence spending).
    He offered political union to France in 1940, he arranged that his funeral should go through Waterloo. He was a Conservative and a Liberal and a Conservative again, etcetera. He had strategic vision. When Margaret Thatcher MP offered him a drink, he said “Whisky you fool!”.

  • If you cut me in two you’d see EU Citizen running through me like a stick of rock. I value my EU citizenship above my British citizenship. And yet the EU is seriously mismanaged and has developed into a form of overseas aid from wealthier and more industrialised nations to poorer, less developed, more agricultural nations. Cynically, when combined with the Euro, its main purpose is to provide markets for primarily German goods, and it is exceptionally effective at that so not dysfunctional. Change is needed and not the silly concessions Cameron claimed to have agreed which don’t amount to anything visible to the naked eye. If we leave we have zero chance of change and we’ll be directly competing with the 27 countries that stay in – any concessions we get will only be where those 27 directly benefit. If they don’t then you can huff and puff about the unfairness of it all but it gets you nowhere.

  • Reading through the speeches it’s clear that there is a much greater degree of common sense and intelligent discussion of the EU in the Lords than many of the idiotic and ill-informed comments in the Commons. A case for abolition of the lower House, perhaps?

  • If we Remain, I think Britain will always be ‘half in / half out’ of the EU. We are a proud, independent island nation and if you cut me in half you’d see ‘Cornish’ running all the way through me! Times may be changing and the youth of today may say they are prouder to call themselves European than British but if anyone thinks the dysfunctional EU ‘family’ is ever likely to stop squabbling, I think they are sorely mistaken. Can the EU be reformed? Are today’s politicians even capable of explaining what a vision for a reformed EU would look like? Can Britain really hold the tide against the formation of a European Super State or will we look as foolish as Neptune!

  • Richard Underhill 29th May '16 - 5:19pm

    No exit poll on referendum, pollsters cannot agree, result about 5 am.
    Bite the ballot.
    Avoid complacency.

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