Europe needs Britain as much as Britain needs Europe – Hayes

Speech by Brian Hayes MEP to the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, Tuesday 19th May 2015

Speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union event in Strasbourg last night (Tuesday), Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes described the upcoming UK Europe Referendum as a golden opportunity to resolve Britain’s issue with Europe. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Britain and Europe. The European Union needs to be generous and willing to meet the UK government at least half way in the negotiation that will follow.”

“Britain is a creditor country within the EU, in that it pays into the EU budget more then it draws down. But more importantly it is just one of 6 EU countries who have a Triple A status currently. If Britain were to leave the EU, would other creditor countries follow them? There is a real concern in Europe that a British exit would have a knock on effect and that other countries, such as, Finland or the Nederland’s, might be tempted to go it alone following a British withdrawal. Europe needs Britain.”

“I also believe that the European Parliament needs to play a full roll in these negotiations. The Parliaments’ roll has dramatically changed in recent years from been a talking shop in the 1970s and 1980s into being a genuine legislative assembly today. Co-Decision making between the Council and the Parliament is now the order of the day. Whatever deal is negotiated for Britain – must be fully in line with the wishes of the European Parliament. Britain and the European Council need to understand this. The rules of the game have changed forever as a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty. Using the Parliament to simply rubber stamp some backroom deal on the question of Britain; will not wash. I believe that the European Parliament and other EU Institutions will be generous and politically aware of the deal that needs to be concluded between Britain and Europe.”

“On eight occasions the people of Ireland were given the opportunity by way of referendum to vote on the European Union. By way of contrast the British people were only given one opportunity to have a direct say by way of referendum on the then EEC and that was in 1975, forty years ago. Interestingly on that occasion the decision to join the EEC was taken by Parliament and subsequently endorsed in referendum two years after the event. No one in Britain under the age of 60 has ever been given a chance to vote on the EU. A direct referendum involving all UK citizens will resolve the EU issue in Britain one way or another for this generation.”

“The British people I have spoken to have often expressed the view that they are entitled to have a direct say on something that so profoundly impacts their lives. And who can disagree with them? The EU is a much transformed institution since 1975 and I believe David Cameron made the correct judgement call when he stated in his Bloomberg speech on Britain and the EU in January 2013 “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics”.

“Britain’s membership of the EU continues to be a disruptive influence in British politics, particularly in Conservative party politics. The divisions being caused on this issue are reminiscent of the divisions in previous generations on Home Rule for Ireland and the abolition of the Corn Laws.”

“There is now a deep fracture within the Conservative Party on the merits of membership of the EU. There is also a strong anti-EU sentiment in some sections of the Labour Party and of course UKIP which won 12% of the popular vote in the recent general election is in favour of withdrawal from the EU. The debate on membership of the EU is no longer a matter exclusively for the London government; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all have their own independent viewpoints on the way forward”.

“Now that the general election is over the British government will begin a process of negotiation with its EU partners. The British negotiating team is clear, it wants to put the terms of a new settlement to an in/out referendum to the British people no later than 2017. The Governor of the Bank of England has very recently made the point that the prospect of a referendum is stoking business uncertainty, which will hurt the economy if firms put off investment plans. He is an advocate for an early referendum. I believe that the sooner this matter is resolved, the better it will be for business certainly and investment in Europe and Britain.”

“Other members of the EU should not see a request for renegotiation from Britain in a completely negative way. It should be seen as an opportunity for reform across the EU but not on exclusive British terms.  We all have an interest in this debate. All political institutions are subject to mission creep by political and administrative elites. That’s especially the case in the EU. But this debate on EU reform must not be simply about the UK.”

“Some national parliaments, including Ireland’s, are failing to exercise the extensive rights of participation in decision making now available to them under EU treaties. There is still a democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. I believe the EU parliament which is the only fully democratic EU institution should take a central role in the negotiations on British membership and reform of the EU.”

“I believe Ireland will also have a very important role to play in these coming negotiations. We can be bridge of interpretation between the two sides. Relations between Britain and Ireland are closer than ever before. There is a particularly warm political friendship between David Cameron and Enda Kenny. These things matters. It is in Ireland’s clear interest that negotiations between Britain and its EU partners are brought to a satisfactory conclusion and the referendum is carried in favour of continuing British membership of the EU.”

“Britain alone against the world still exercises a very powerful tug on the English imagination. However as Mark Carney rightly pointed out- “The EU is the largest economy in the world. It is Britain’s largest investment destination. It is the largest investor in the UK.” David Cameron’s broad demands that the EU be competitive, flexible and accountable will resonate in many other countries. I believe that the British PM is personally committed to Britain remaining in the European Union. He made that point very clear in his Bloomberg speech when he said, “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and such a European Union is best with Britain in it.”

“Polling evidence in the UK, insofar as polls have any credibility after the recent election, is indicating majority support for staying in the EU. The Better Together campaign was successful in the Scottish referendum last year. A similar style campaign on Britain’s EU membership is also likely to succeed when the time comes. But time is of the essence.”

“Britain does face a dilemma however. The EU is not static; it is an ongoing process of integration, creating an ever closer union. This process will not stop. The Eurozone, of which Britain is not a member, is accelerating a process of co-ordination and deeper integration among its nineteen members. In effect a two tier Europe is already in place.”

“Continuing membership of the EU will at some stage involve further treaty changes. When this happens, Irish voters will have their say by way of referendum. Perhaps the only long term solution to Britain’s ongoing difficult relation with the EU is to give to British voters the same rights to have their say as Irish voters have.  In the meantime Britain’s negotiations with its EU partners will get the closest possible attention from the Irish government. It would be a disaster for Ireland, North and South, if Britain decides to leave to EU. While we have no vote we certainly can help in the negotiation with other EU colleagues. We should concentrate on that in the time ahead.”

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