Like many of my Parliamentary colleagues and, indeed, most of Britain, I’m eagerly awaiting David Cameron’s big speech on Europe which he’s promised later this month. I don’t think it can be overstated just how important this is – for the Conservative Party and for the UK as a whole. Our relationship with the EU has huge impacts, not only on the UK economy but on almost every aspect of life in Britain. Any change in the relationship is therefore a potentially seismic shift, which is why every word of the PM’s speech will be scrutinized in depth. So what is he likely to say? And what should he say?
Firstly, if he’s serious about establishing a new relationship (and it’s about time that he got serious) then he should take the opportunity to de-bunk some of the myths that the Europhiles rely on to stymie progress. In that respect he should take a look at the Global Vision report I recently co-authored with Ruth Lea – “Britain and Europe: a new relationship.” The most commonly used piece of scaremongering at the moment is that if we get out of Europe, or even just re-patriate a few of the powers we’ve given away over the years, then we’ll be left isolated. The argument seems to be that if we dare to stand up to the bureaucratic behemoth then the countries of the Eurozone will turn their collective backs on us and refuse to trade with the UK. Well, that’s just nonsense. It relies on the assumption that EU countries and businesses would resort to playground behaviour – refusing to play with us as a sort of petty revenge. As capricious as the EU can be, not even they would be that foolish. It would be a case of cutting of your nose to spite your face; most European countries enjoy a healthy trade relationship with Britain and the idea that they would risk significant portions of their economies just to punish us is ridiculous. If nothing else, it simply wouldn’t be affordable in the current climate.
Far from isolating us, a re-negotiated relationship would actually provide the UK with more flexibility to pursue trade links with countries outside the EU. The problem with Europe (or rather, one of the myriad of problems) is that it’s too Euro-centric. It’s almost entirely inward-looking and, given Barroso’s plans for even greater integration, that’s only going to get more pronounced. This navel-gazing comes at the expense of establishing relationships with emerging economies elsewhere across the globe. But that’s exactly where we should be looking. As a global economic force, Europe is on the decline. Future opportunities will come mainly from the rapidly growing countries in South America, Africa and the Far East. We should be pursuing these avenues and making the most of our Commonwealth links, not devoting resources to patching up the sinking EU ship.
So David Cameron must be robust in his dismissal of the scare-mongering by the opposition. And he must be equally robust in setting out a plan to take back control from the bureaucrats in Brussels. The key to that plan lies in the promised referendum. It’s absolutely imperative that he sets it in motion ASAP. It’s through a referendum that the PM can best approach the negotiating table in the strongest position, knowing that he has the will of the British people behind him. The Europhiles in the Coalition do not reflect public opinion. The surge in UKIP’s popularity is more indicative of the real depth of feeling among the public. Britain is fed up of putting in too much and getting too little back. It’s time for a change. We don’t just want headlines when the Prime Minister makes his speech – we want action.