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A new Tory policy for the EU: Renegotiate or Quit

May 11 2005

First published in Freedom Today

EU Commissar Margot Wallstrom marked VE Day , the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, by claiming that a Yes vote on the EU Constitution would honour the memory of our war dead, while a No vote would "risk a new Holocaust".

Her words were so preposterous, indeed grotesque, that they will surely be counter-productive. WW2 was fought, above all, to secure freedom, democracy and independence for the nations of Europe, and to oppose the imposition of an undemocratic centralised political system. Those who gave their lives would surely cry out from the grave against an EU Constitution which surrenders everything they fought for. Ratification of the EU Constitution would betray not only our country, but also the memory of those who fought and died to protect it.

Yet the issue of Europe was curiously absent from the May General Election. It was the dog that did not bark. On May 4th, the Daily Telegraph commented "You have to be a bit sorry for UKIP. They are a single-issue party whose single issue did not surface during the course of the campaign".

Arriving at the election count in Northampton on the night of May 5th, the first person I met was East Midlands UKIP MEP Derek Clark, who was also the UKIP candidate for Northampton South. I quoted him the line from the paper, and to my astonishment he stamped his little foot and declared that he would not speak to me again! I had been too horrid! He went on to lose his deposit, like hundreds of other UKIP candidates up and down the country.

It's a tough lesson, but he needs to learn that if you can't laugh at yourself now and again, other people will be only too willing to do it for you.

Of course I was pleased that in 2005, unlike 2001, we saw no headlines on "Tory splits on Europe". Yet I am uneasy that this vital issue went by default. We fought the campaign on five domestic issues -- yet delivery on every one of those issues could be prejudiced by EU law. Most conspicuously, Brussels actually said that our immigration proposals would be illegal. Of course if elected we should have delivered, in defiance of Brussels if necessary. But this demonstrates that the EU is the most important issue of all, because if we fail to get it right, we can get nothing else right either.

Our Conservative EU policy was a two-headed monster. On the one hand, we promised renegotiation, and repatriation from Brussels of a range of key policies, plus the abrogation of all or part of the ECHR, which would be necessary to deliver on some of our domestic policies. On the other hand, Michael Howard declared that Britain would remain "a full and committed member of the EU".

These two policies are clearly incompatible. You cannot be "a full and committed member" while at the same time repudiating large chunks of the acquis communautaire. This ambiguity amounted to a pact designed to keep Ken Clarke quiet during the election, and it worked. But it is clearly unsustainable. It is simply not credible.

Where do we start to design a realistic EU policy? First we must recognise that membership of the EU on today's terms, and still more under the Constitution, offers no net benefits at all. It is damaging our prosperity, our democracy and our security. It is intolerable and it cannot go on.

Even EU apologists like Peter Mandelson admit that the costs of EU membership substantially outweigh any benefits. Extra-EU trade is growing faster than intra-EU trade. Non-members are as successful, or more successful, in trading in the EU than members.

The EU economy, under the dual handicaps of the euro and the European social model, is in long-term relative decline. Indeed it is bizarre that those who support euro membership for the UK call for "economic convergence" with the least successful advanced economic grouping in the world.

In terms of democracy, the President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus has rightly said that the EU "is a post-democratic institution". It fails the Tony Benn democracy test. In a democracy, the people can dismiss their law-makers. In the EU, we can't.

And the EU's posturing on defence, its separate military structures outside NATO, its desire to lift the arms embargo on China, are undermining the transatlantic relationship on which our security has depended for all of my life-time.

So we must start from a recognition that if the only choice is membership on today's terms, or withdrawal, we should be hugely better off out. We can only remain in membership if we can negotiate dramatically different terms. We want market access, but we absolutely reject political union and all the goes with it.

In short, we want a relationship based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation. This is what we thought we were voting for in the 1975 referendum -- a Common Market based on trade and little more. Some people would say this amounts to withdrawal. I don't mind what we call it: membership, associate membership, withdrawal, take your pick.

But our policy, and our negotiating position, must be crystal clear. We will have this new relationship, or we will ask the British people to reconsider our membership of a club which has consistently damaged our national interests.

This magazine is called Freedom Today. The greatest issue of freedom today for the British people is to re-establish the independence and self-government of our country.