October 30, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cameron’s EU betrayal

It gave no pleasure at all to write that headline, and even less to write the rest of this post.

And that intense heaviness of being is alleviated only very slightly by the undoubted reality that the Coalition is doing very much the right thing in prioritising repayment of the national debt, balancing the fiscal deficit, reforming education, confronting the welfare behemoth and localising a whole raft of previously centralised competences to give people real power over the way their communities are run.

But we come to the elephant.

It has been in the room since 1973.

And over four decades it has produced a mountain of dung the stench of which has reached the nostrils of God.

It is essentially about trade and Britain’s status in the world, which have been the polarising issues within the Conservative Party since its nineteenth-century inception. The Repeal of the Corn Laws (1846) and Tariff Reform (1903) were both fundamentally about free trade versus protectionism; whether imports of foreign or non-Empire goods should be taxed. These great splits kept the Party out of office for 28 years and 18 years respectively. But these schisms find their modern equivalent in the Party’s debates on ‘Britain’s future in Europe’, divisions about which contributed significantly to the party losing power in 1997.

And another lengthy period in the wilderness.

It hasn’t gone away.

Disraeli’s darkest days were re-lived through the successive leaderships of John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, during which time there was little unity or sense of political purpose. After the Single European Act, Margaret Thatcher’s stance in Bruges is widely perceived as a principal reason for her downfall; Maastricht bedevilled John Major and gave the enduring impression of a weak leader. The others scarcely had time to leave a fingerprint on the Party.

David Cameron won the leadership of the Conservative Party promising to remove his MEPs from the EPP – the federalist centre-right grouping in the European Parliament whose aims and objectives were and are antithetical to everything the Party professed to stand for. It wasn’t achieved ‘within weeks’, as he promised.

But he did fulfil his promise when the politics permitted.

And let us not pretend that the formation of the ECR group – the EU’s first ‘opposition’ party (that is one which is constitutionally opposed to the founding principle of ‘ever closer union’) – was not without political cost. It was a bold reform, and Mr Cameron delivered.

And then there was this his ‘cast-iron guarantee’: “If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations. No treaty should be ratified without consulting the British people in a referendum."

Often against the intense and unpleasant criticism of its readers, this blog defended Mr Cameron, agreeing with him that a post-ratification position changed the game; that you could not renegotiate a treaty which had been ratified.

And then came the idea of a Sovereignty Bill. It is such a piece of legislative nonsense that it stretches the patience of all intelligent and discerning people: to hear David Lidington, the ‘Europe Minister, talk of binding this government and all future governments into having to hold a referendum before further competences are ceded to the EU is either purposeful deception or appalling constitutional ignorance.

The British Parliament is and remains sovereign because its sovereignty rests with the people and you can’t bind them. Parliament therefore remains omnipotent in everything save the power to destroy its own omnipotence. Whatever Sovereignty Bill is enacted today can be repealed tomorrow, ergo there can be no ‘referendum lock’.

And so we come to the EU budget negotiations.

The Commission wanted a 5.9 per cent increase (some sources say 6.1).

The Council favoured a more modest increase at a time of such economic hardship.

And so Mr Cameron’s ‘victory’ is an increase of a mere 2.9 per cent.

Quite why we’re not slashing our EU contribution by 25 per cent, as we are doing in many government departments, is unknown.

David Cameron promised – he promised a wholesale shift in power ‘from the state to the citizen, from Whitehall to elected councillors, from Brussels to Westminster’.

Yet still half of our laws emanate from Brussels.

And the Coalition has carried on ceding.

David Cameron has now agreed an increase in the EU budget of 2.9 per cent which will cost Britain an additional £430 million. This is nothing short of a betrayal of the nation’s teachers, doctors, nurses, police, fire service and the armed forces.

Such a sum would put around 30 Harrier jump-jets on our presently aircraft-less aircraft carriers.

In EU negotiations, the UK has rarely been dealt such a strong hand to play: France and Germany want a new amendment to the Treaty of Rome to grant the EU ‘economic governance’; the UK wants a budget cut (or even a freeze, please) and the repatriation of certain competences in accordance with the subsidiarity provisions provided by Maastricht.

And what did Mr Cameron achieve?

More dung.

A 2.9 per cent increase in the EU budget is not as bad as 6.1, but it is still a very poor deal for Britain. It is unacceptable that Britain – a net contributor – should be forced by greedy net recipients to accept any increase in its contributions at a time of hardship and austerity.

And the most insulting part about this is that David Cameron will put this sell-out down to the cost of being in coalition.

It is not.

It is his personal conviction that the UK is best served by our continuing membership of the EU.

This blog expects this Conservative Prime Minister to act in the national interest.

He has failed.

Could someone please find the man a handbag?