Whose side is David Cameron on anyway? Ours or Johnny Foreigner’s?
Ok, I admit it, I only used that title to grab people’s attention, I’m not quite as xenophobic as all that! Anyway, in Prime Minister’s Questions on last week, David Cameron gave an unequipocal ‘Non’ when asked whether he would ‘follow in the footsteps of other great Prime Ministers’ on giving Britons a chance to vote on how far we are integrated with the EU. Mr Cameron cited the recent European Union Act as Britain’s safeguard against a further depletion in this country’s powers without a referendum. Indeed he said it was Conservative policy to actively seek ways in which to get powers returned to Britain. In other words, there is no need to have a vote on it as a whole. As we all know, the motion on Monday was defeated, with 79 Conservative MPs rebelling against the wishes of their leader. My colleague Natalie Cox has already questioned whether the three-line whip was really necessary over this issue, which lead me to muse over where Mr Cameron’s loyalties lie.
From a party political view, one can see that Mr Cameron is in a difficult position; how does he satisfy the more right-wing element of his party without alienating all those wavering Lib Dem or Labour supporters who might just think about voting Conservative should they be satisfied with his first term as Premier. At a time when money is so very tight, few people have criticised him for keeping Britain from contributing to further Eurozone bailouts; but many Eurosceptics will have been left feeling very bitter at the thought of having this opportunity to renegotiate the terms upon which we integrate with Europe, snatched away. For them, with the Eurozone in turmoil, this would have been a golden moment.
If we look a bit further afield we can see that there are very good reasons why Mr Cameron would wish discussion about British membership in the EU was curtailed. Chief among them being trade; as James Grey freely admitted in his article on the subject last week. It would be foolish to leave the EU and make it more expensive to sell British goods to a potential customer base of 500 million people. Many die-hard anti-europeans seem to be blinkered to the fact that Europe is in many ways, essential to the future success of Britain. As Mr Grey puts it, “Ten per cent of UK jobs rely on exports to other EU member states and UK households are estimated to benefit from EU trade by as much as £3,300 per year. There are also benefits for UK individuals, such as the right to study and work within the EU. Simply leaving the EU therefore slightly reminds me of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face!”. We no longer live in a cosy jingoistic 1910 sort of a world, where we can just ship goods out to the colonies and make lots of money. It’s very easy to laugh at the absurdity of EU bureaucracy particularly if you read stories in the Daily Mail about how Brussels wanted to stop eggs being sold by the dozen, and issuing directives about the length of carrots; the reality of it is that we need the EU. That is not to say that I agree with surrendering legislative powers or fishing rights to Brussels, but it seems fool hardy to make it more complicated to have the Europeans as trading partners. Access to that single market ensures, in theory at least, greater competition and better consumer choice.
Furthermore we can’t overlook the issue of terrorism and counter-terrorism; being part of the EU ensures that Britain has access to massive counter-terrorism resources. In the wake of the appalling attacks in Norway earlier this year, the EU was very swift in its response, not only to establish whether or not there were links between the Norwegian attacks and other organisations in Europe, but to review their own procedures. With limited domestic funds, surely it is better to be able to tap into the pooled resources of Europe, and potentially avoid horrific scenes similar to those of July 2007?
Mr Cameron has said that there will be no come back to the Tory rebels, but he can afford to be magnanimous in victory, the motion was quashed with a very comfortable majority. In what seems to be a bit of a compromise, he has pledged to try to repatriate powers from Brussels, whether this will happen remains to be seen, especially since he tried to play this possibility down at the Party conference only weeks ago.
Posted on October 29, 2011, in Comment, Conservative Party, Foreign Affairs, General and tagged conservative party, david cameron, EU referendum, eurozone, James Grey. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.