The “Fresh Start” paper that’s been published this week has come at a good time. With the Prime Minister’s much-delayed and highly-anticipated speech on Europe finally scheduled for this Friday it should serve to remind him that maintaining the EU status quo is simply not an option and that he must abide by his promises of real change. I agree with much that’s said in the report. In particular, a commitment to a referendum is a definite necessity as part of Mr Cameron’s speech. The British people haven’t been given the opportunity to have their say on EU membership since we entered in the 1970’s, and of course the landscape now has changed beyond all recognition. It’s something that affects everyone in this country at some level – it’s about time we politicians took a moment to listen to what people really want.
Anyone familiar with this blog will also know that I thoroughly agree that we need to re-patriate many of the powers that have been ceded to the Brussels bureaucrats and Strasbourg suits over the years. My concern with the Fresh Start report, though, is that it’s all very well saying we need to shape EU development from within, but I think in reality that’s more than a little naive. With the way that Europe’s going, how much influence can we really hope to have? Too often it seems as if everyone except us is determined to pursue the path of more integration and more regulation. As a lone voice in the storm we’re simply not going to have any meaningful effect on the future development of the EU. That’s why when David Cameron goes to the negotiating table he needs to make it absolutely clear that a complete withdrawal from the EU is a distinct possibility. He has to tell the other EU countries that if they won’t allow us to re-negotiate our current relationship then they could be facing a Brexit. It puts him in a strong position because, for all their antagonism towards Britain, no-one in the EU wants to lose such a major player. Ideally, I’d like to see us come out of any negotiations with a new relationship akin to the Swiss-style set-up, as I advocated with Ruth Lea in our recent report “Britain and Europe: a new relationship.” But whatever happens we need to put things in motion soon. The PM must aim for negotiations to take place before the next election.
And let’s not listen to the latest scare-mongering by Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem Europhiles when they say that British businesses will suffer. It’s a bit rich for a man who’s never had any experience of life outside politics to wax lyrical about the realities of running a business. The truth is that the EU is a dead weight on the development and growth of most British businesses. Far from being bad for business, a release from the overbearing EU regulations and directives would allow us to take advantage of better trade links with emerging economies. Unlike the Lib Dem’s themselves, British business would flourish.