Brooks Newmark backs the Government position that at a time when the EU is seeking a 10% increase above inflation, that seeking at least a real-terms budget freeze is a realistic and negotiable option.
You can watch Brooks’ speech by clicking here.
Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). I feel rather uncomfortable with what I am about to say, because I agree with pretty much everything that has been said, particularly by Government Members. Of course we all want a real cut—I am sure the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary do. The nub of the debate, however, is what my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said. It is about how the Prime Minister goes and negotiates, and negotiation is about achieving realistic objectives.
I think that the multiannual financial framework, or EU budget to use a simpler term, is insane. For the European Union to ask for a 10% real-terms increase above inflation is insulting to our constituents and to the people of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland, who are being told to pull in their belts. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) said—I think I am getting this right—that people are being asked to make painful cuts in their household budgets. Each and every one of us has constituents who are being told to pull in their belts, and we all agree with that.
Mark Pritchard: I am flattered that my hon. Friend has quoted me. One way in which the Prime Minister’s hand can be strengthened is by having a united Parliament rather than a disunited Parliament when he goes to Brussels to negotiate on my birthday, 22 November.
Mr Newmark: I hasten to add that it is my wife’s birthday as well.
Let us discuss and decide today what message the Prime Minister should be given. Clearly he will read Hansard, and he will know the message that the Whips give him and so on, but do we want to bind his hands when he goes into the negotiations? He has already discussed a real-terms freeze with the Germans, French and Dutch, who are buying into the fact that this is a reasonable prospect. Do we want to push him over the edge and ask for something that we know he can never realistically achieve?
Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): The real-terms freeze that the hon. Gentleman says is realistic is of course an inflationary rise. Does he really believe that it is unrealistic that the European Union can find modest efficiencies to deliver even a modest cut? When I am to his right on a subject, he is definitely wrong.
Mr Newmark: If it was the hon. Gentleman and myself negotiating, I am sure we could find some realistic efficiencies. The fact is, however, that for the time being—I say this for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash)—we are in something called the European Union. We therefore have to negotiate with more than 25 other countries.
Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr Newmark: No, I think I will proceed.
On the Labour party’s chutzpah and hypocrisy, the hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) argued for more financial restraint and for looking after taxpayers’ interests, but there was a 47% real-terms increase in the EU budget while Labour was in government. What has suddenly changed their minds? We need not take any lectures from them. Their policies are incoherent, opportunistic and completely lacking in credibility.
That brings me to the nub of the argument: which way will we go? Will we ask the Prime Minister for something that he can achieve, which is a real-terms freeze? That does not mean that he will not do better than that, because I believe he will fight our corner for real-terms cuts. I am sure he is listening to everybody who is fighting for real-terms cuts, or at least to Government Members, but what is his bottom line? What is the red line beyond which we should pull out the veto, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East has not admitted he is willing to use? That red line has to be at least a real-terms freeze. That is what today’s debate is really about.
I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider what message we want to give the Prime Minister. It should be that he should negotiate in the best interests of UK plc. That means fighting for a real-terms cut—I want that, and so do all my right hon. and hon. Friends—but the bottom line should be a real-terms freeze, which I believe is achievable in the negotiations.