1 Lord Callanan debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

European Union Referendum Bill

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Tuesday 13th October 2015

(8 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. I provide consultancy services to a number of companies and organisations in Brussels and across the EU. I discovered that the problem with speaking 50th in a debate such as this very popular debate is that many of the points that I wanted to make have already been made many times over by people who are much more senior and eloquent than I am. The Minister will no doubt be pleased that I will be relatively brief; I pay tribute to her forbearance in sitting on the Front Bench for eight hours listening to the EU being debated, though I notice that she brought along her own cushion to make the experience a little bit more pleasurable.

Many of the contributions that have been made so far have been almost a rehearsal of the arguments of the referendum campaign itself, rather than discussing the merits or otherwise of the Bill. I have listened with great interest to all the arguments about whether we should leave or remain, about whether we are a small island or not, about people’s experience from the war onwards and of their time on the Council of Europe—all of which, of course, have very little to do with what is actually in the Bill. I totally support the Bill: I campaigned in my party for many years for a referendum on Europe and I am delighted that my party sought the permission of people in the general election for that proposal. We gained their consent and we are now putting it forward into legislation, so the Government have my full support on that, not least because I am looking forward to the opportunity of voting in the referendum myself. I suspect that I am in a minority in this House in that I did not get the chance—I was not old enough—to vote in 1975 in the previous referendum. My father, who did, tells me that as a businessman, he voted enthusiastically for a Common Market and is now somewhat perplexed to find himself a member of a European Union—a point that has been made many times by other people as well.

I wish the Government well in their renegotiation attempt. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, I have taken part many times in negotiations in the European Union. It is a bit like wading through treacle, but I wish the Prime Minister well in his attempt to renegotiate the relationship. Actually, this referendum is probably the best tool that he has to enable him to get a satisfactory conclusion to those negotiations. To go into the debate and say: “Well, we would like all of these concessions; I know that they’re very difficult for you, but don’t worry, whatever happens at the end we are going to stay in anyway”, is not the best mechanism for persuading our partners to give us significant concessions.

I supported wholeheartedly the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech; I thought it gave an excellent list of problems with the relationship that he was seeking to rectify. I am somewhat concerned about some of the reports of backsliding from that speech since then, but I hope that the reports are incorrect and that the Government are going to surprise us and produce an excellent deal that will enable us all to support the renegotiation. I hope that when negotiations are completed —another point that has been made many times—the Government will feel able to produce a White Paper setting out the full details of what has been achieved and the consequences of voting to remain or voting to leave. That would be a great contribution to the debate, and I hope that the Minister will feel able to give us that assurance this evening.

On the subject of purdah, I welcome the amendments made in the other place and I hope—I know that the Minister has given us some assurances to this end—that the Government will not seek to use regulations to remove the restrictions that were voted on in the other House. It is also important that we ensure impartiality of the broadcasters, and to a lesser extent, of course, of the media as a whole.

I have heard many times references on the BBC to the claim that, if we vote to leave, we will be “leaving Europe”—as if we are going to take our island and tow it off into the mid-Atlantic. Of course we are not going to leave Europe: we will remain part of Europe, and we will still trade and be friends with our partners in Europe. The decision on whether to remain in the EU as a political organisation is entirely separate from whether we should leave Europe. It is impossible for us to leave Europe.

It is also important to ensure that the referendum is fair and equitable, and that spending restrictions apply equally to both sides. I know from my experience the power of the European Commission and its considerable ability to spend money. In addition, the European political parties are extensively funded by taxpayers’ money in Europe, so I hope that the Government will ensure that the spending restrictions are applied equally on all sides of the debate, and that they apply also to the Commission, the Council and the European political parties.

On the subject of the franchise, I am agnostic about the subject of 16 and 17 year-olds voting. I can see arguments on both sides; I suspect that most of them would not bother to vote anyway if they did have the franchise, but I look forward to taking part in the debate and hearing that argument explored further.

With regard to EU citizens, I do not see why they should be permitted to vote. If they are so keen to vote on whether the UK should remain part of the EU, it is open to them to apply for UK citizenship. If Spain, France, Germany or some other EU country had a similar debate, I would not expect British citizens working in that country to be given the right to vote there. I think it is fair that, as the Government have suggested, we restrict the franchise in this election basically to people who can vote in Westminster elections. I look forward to taking part in further debates as time progresses.