I had a light-hearted exchange with the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Treasury questions today:
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The Treasury cannot even get its forecast for growth and the deficit correct for next year. Does the Chancellor realise that instructing his officials to produce a speculative report based on thoroughly tendentious figures about what might or might not happen in the event of Brexit simply belittles the reputation of the Treasury for economic competence and forecasting? Instead of relying on fear, why does he not give us his vision, compared with our vision of a free people in a free Parliament, controlling our own borders and leading the world towards free trade?
Mr Osborne: Our positive vision is that by being part of a reformed EU we can raise living standards, create more jobs and make sure that consumers have access to lower prices. We have set out in the Treasury analysis a range of possibilities for the alternatives that might happen if Britain leaves the European Union. All of them would make Britain permanently poorer, but if my hon. Friend and the leave campaign want to produce their own plan and their own analysis, then be my guest.
In response, I have sent him a somewhat cheeky letter asking him to lend me the Treasury to produce a 200-page report outlining the positive case for leaving the European Union.
I enclose the text of my question to you today and your response in which you suggested that I and the Leave campaign produce a report showing the positive case for leaving the European Union.
As you recall, at the beginning of the previous parliament you very kindly appointed me an Independent Advisor to the Treasury and asked me to produce a report on improving budget accountability, and helped by putting Treasury officials at my disposal. The Procedure Committee of the House has taken it up and will report on it further in the hope of enacting some of its proposals.
You know that as a mere backbencher I do not have the resources to produce 200 pages of long economic analysis. You have hundreds of Treasury officials capable of this and, as you have now suggested me producing a report putting the case for ‘Leave’ – as you put it, ‘be my guest!’ – would you be prepared to back up that suggestion by lending me a few Treasury officials to do so?
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) has given a consummate performance, in which he really summed up the arguments well. There is only time to give a few headlines. The first hero of this debate is, of course, our Prime Minister because, but for him, there would not be a debate. Even our heroine, Margaret Thatcher, never gave us a full referendum on Europe, so we should thank our current Prime Minister profusely for giving the British people the chance to make this historic decision. It will be a most interesting debate, and I will make one or two points about it. Read the rest of this entry »
House of Commons, 7 September 2015, after 11:00 pm
Sir Edward Leigh: I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) and his new clause 11, but the House will be relieved to hear that I shall do so rather more briefly. There is a quote by Sir Winston Churchill in the No Lobby, which says that he wants to spend the first million years in heaven painting. As much as I love my hon. Friend, I fear that I might spend the first million years in purgatory listening to his speeches.
Sir William Cash: Shame. You might learn something.
Sir Edward Leigh: My hon. Friend has identified an important point. The Minister will remember that I made precisely this point in my amendment 53 in Committee, before our summer break.
Although there has been a lot of fire and emotion and a vote tonight about purdah, the question of spending by both sides is probably more important. Lord Lamont, the former Chancellor, has written a number of articles about it. It is incredibly important when we have the referendum that we get a sense of closure. At the end of this, whatever the result, people should feel that it has been broadly fair. Otherwise, we might reap the whirlwind. We should remember what happened after the Scottish referendum. If the yes campaign should win, we do not want to create a sense of unfairness for the other side.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken seriously the points I have put to him. In our earlier debates, the way he put it was that there should be a “broad equality” of forces, but we fear that that simply will not happen. Although there are sensible, firm and clear limits on how much public money will be available to the no and yes campaigns—say, £600,000 or something on each side—and that is completely fair, the party establishment of the main political parties, the Conservative party, the Labour party, the Liberal party, and the SNP, will almost certainly campaign to stay in Europe. Their ability to spend will be based on the votes that they got, with the Conservative party allowed to spend £5 million, the Labour party £4 million, the UK Independence party only £3 million—they will be the only people on the other side—and the Liberal Democrats £2 million. We could reach a situation in which the yes campaign is spending up to £17 million and the no campaign only £8 million.
That has already happened once before. In 1975, the no side was outspent 10:1, which simply cannot be fair. When I put those points to my hon. Friend the Minister in the past, he said that although he accepted that morally and logically there was force in my arguments, that was not in our tradition, as we do not have limits for general elections. I am sure that he will make the same argument again tonight. However, a general election is somewhat different. Separate political parties all have their own position that they are putting forward, rather than ganging up, in a sense, on one side of the argument. There is no sense of unfairness at the end of the process, or a sense that one important political point of view has been massively outspent by the other side.
Although I accept that the Minister will make those arguments, I hope he will feel that there is some sort of moral force in what we have said. For instance, the official yes side in the AV referendum spent £3.436 million and the official no side spent £2.995 million. There was a broad equality in what the yes campaign and no campaign were spending on the AV referendum, was there not? I think we all felt it was a fair referendum. The arguments were put, there was a clear decision and people accepted it. Surely we do not want to be in the situation that has arisen with so many other referendums in Europe, in which there is a sense that the political establishment—the European establishment—has a massive imbalance of resources on its side when it comes to spending. That creates a sense after the referendum that it has somehow been unfair.
Our sole UKIP Member is not present for this important debate, but we do not want to create a situation like the one that existed after the Scottish referendum, do we? There was suddenly a great surge in support for the SNP, and we would not want to recreate that position. [Hon. Members: “Why not?”] There will not be a surge in support for the SNP after this referendum; there might be a surge in support for somebody else, which SNP Members might not welcome.
I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will try to convince us that the Government do want a broad equality of resources during the campaign, so that we can feel that the yes and no campaigns have put their points of view fairly, that the public have listened to their arguments and that a fair decision has been made.
Gainsborough MP Edward Leigh called yesterday for a real-term cut in the amount the UK contributes to the EU.
In his speech to the House of Commons, he said:
“The figures we are talking about are truly enormous. In the three options—the EU proposal, a real-terms freeze and a cash freeze—we are talking about commitments of £990 billion, £885 billion and £771 billion.
“We were created to guard the nation’s finances and look after the interests of our own taxpayers. Why cannot the House of Commons, on this great occasion, make a stand on behalf of the UK taxpayers? Why can we not say to our taxpayers that we stand with them? We are having to make appallingly difficult decisions about the police, the armed forces, education and health. All we are saying is that there should be a real freeze in the EU. This is not just about EU civil servants, 40% of whom earn more than £70,000 a year.
“The House of Commons now has a chance to take a stand and we should put principle before partisan politics.”
Edward Leigh, the Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, joined with 110 of his parliamentary colleagues in voting for the motion calling for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union on Monday 24 October. The majority of the MPs supporting the motion made a demonstration of independence by voting against the instructions of their own Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat party whips. Mr Leigh, who has represented Gainsborough in Parliament since 1983, is a public supporter of the People’s Pledge campaign arguing that Britain’s relationship with the EU should be put to a vote. Read the rest of this entry »
I am now supporting the People’s Pledge. This campaign represents a noble effort to bring what both coalition parties favoured before the election – a referendum on Europe. A great number of British people are disillusioned with the political system and my support for this referendum, I hope, will reassure my constituents that they are getting what they voted for. The surge of support that this referendum has enjoyed in its first 48 hours is a testimony to the British will. We, the elected representatives, have a moral obligation to support you. I am pleased to commit my support for an in/out referendum.
Click here to find out more about this cause.
It is pleasing to see such busy shops during the Christmas sales. Our recovery will be driven by a freer financial environment.
The wealth of virtually every developed society in history has depended on a free interaction between market supply and public demand. It is amazing, therefore, to see this basic balance ignored by educated politicians whose egos and ideology stand in the way of progress. Read the rest of this entry »
I care passionately about waste, which is why I am very alarmed by the influence of the European Union. For sixteen years in a row, the European budget has not been accurately accounted for. This means that part of our contribution to the European Union (which is higher than any member state apart from Germany), is being lost. During these tough times, people are quite rightly concerned that we are raising our contribution to the EU when we are cutting nearly everything else. Read the rest of this entry »