Lords debates Prime Minister's speech on Europe

01 February 2013

Members of the Lords debated Prime Minister David Cameron's speech on Europe yesterday (Thursday 31 January).

Baroness Noakes (Conservative) opened the debate and said: 'It is well known that my party includes people across the whole spectrum of views on Britain in Europe. However, I believe that the prime minister's plan to negotiate a sustainable basis for the UK to remain in active membership of the EU hits the sweet spot for our party and, I hope, for the whole country.'

She highlighted the main points of the speech saying: 'The Prime Minister put forward five principles as the basis for a new start: the EU should be more competitive; there should be a flexible structure of membership, particularly for those who do not sign up to ever closer union; powers must start to flow back to member states; we need a bigger role for national parliaments; and any new arrangements must be fair for all members, particularly those outside the eurozone.'

Lord Triesman (Labour), opposition spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, followed. He argued the speech was 'populist' and 'tactically bizarre' saying: 'Detailed questions about what he would seek and what would be enough for him to agree to stay in have not been answered. None of those issues has been either set out or explored.'

He said: 'What we have instead is five years of what I believe will be crippling uncertainty. I declare an interest because I lead a finance business. Investors, I know, avoid uncertainty like the plague and look to de-risk. The longer the period of uncertainty and the greater the uncertainty about de-risking the less likely it is that they will do anything other than withhold their investment.'

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (Liberal Democrat), former party spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office, highlighted the consequences of the prime minister's speech. She said: 'Broadly, there are three. The first is that by "coming out" so clearly, he has created considerable uncertainty for business, investment and jobs in terms of investment decisions and planning.'

Speaking of the 2017 referendum date she said: 'The second consequence is that we have a firm commitment accompanied by a date. The Prime Minister might have done better both by his party and the country to have left things more open. Nailing the date of 2017 to a mast is perhaps unwise when he is not clear as to what exactly is to be renegotiated, with whom and in what manner.

'Finally, while we greatly welcome the Prime Minister's robust rejection of the Norway and Switzerland model, he risks creating greater confusion by not spelling out exactly what we would negotiate for. This government have gone further than any other in ensuring that significant powers cannot be transferred to the EU by putting in place the European Union Act 2011. This is surely the right way forward, both for the UK and the European Union.'

She concluded: 'We proposed an "in or out" referendum in the previous Parliament against a backdrop of relative stability in both the eurozone and the European Union. It was right for the time. The situation has changed dramatically since then. A new architecture for the eurozone, and consequently for the European Union, is unknown, hence our view that this is not the right time to be putting up these lines.'

Baroness Warsi (Conservative), senior minister of state for the Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office, responded on behalf of the government. She stated: 'Europe is facing a time of crisis. The prime minister highlighted in his speech the three main challenges facing all of us in Europe: the changes within the eurozone and the crisis that it brings; the lack of competitiveness in the face of a transformed global economy; and the democratic gap between Europe and its people.'

She argued: 'As Europe changes, our relationship with Europe will, and should, change.' If the Conservatives are re-elected in 2015 she said: 'If we win the election we will hold an in-out referendum to stay in the EU on new terms or to come out if those terms cannot be negotiated. We will complete this negotiation and hold the referendum within the first half of the next Parliament.'

 Other speakers included:

Further information

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