EU debate disappointment at TPA’s post-election conference

The Taxpayers’ Alliance, in conjunction with Conservative Home, Business for Britain and the Institute for Economic Affairs, held a post-election conference in London on 11th May. The four-hour event covered a number of topics, including Scotland, the election campaign itself and the prospects for change in the EU. Although three of the four organisations co-hosting the event would claim to be cross-party, the meeting had a very strongly Tory flavour to it, with most of the keynote speakers being Conservative Party members.

Dr. Liam Fox was one of those who addressed the conference and his speech sounded a distinctly EU-critical note. He was particularly concerned about further possible calamities within the Eurozone, calling the Single Currency “an economic pass-the-parcel; a time bomb which they all hope will go off when someone else is holding it.” He claimed that senior figures in Brussels live in a parallel universe, quoting Mario Monti, a former Commissioner and Prime Minister of Italy who said recently “We have done so well with the Euro”. Dr. Fox appeared somewhat sceptical about the prospects of any meaningful renegotiation, especially in the light of recent comments by José Manuel Barroso, a former President of the European Commission, who stated that he would support renegotiation “as long as it is compatible with the objectives of the European Union.” Given that the main objective of the EU is “ever-closer union” and the logical end-point of “ever-closer union” is “union”, this does not sound promising for Mr Cameron, said Dr. Fox.

The panel for the debate on reform in the EU consisted of Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s sole MP, Matthew Elliott of Business for Britain and Laura Sandys, the former MP for Thanet South and Chairperson of the European Movement. For someone such as myself who had attended CIB’s rally and the recent presentation on “Flexcit” by Dr Richard North, the level of debate appeared pretty puerile by comparison. Admittedly, with a time slot of only half an hour including questions from the floor, there was not going to be long enough to do this subject justice, but it was particularly frustrating that neither of the other panellists took Laura Sandys to task for repeating Cameron’s statement that we had to stay in the EU to be “at the top table”. This shows a sad ignorance of how the EU now works. So much regulation landed on us by the EU does not originate in Brussels at all. The EU merely acts as a conduit for various organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, UNECE (the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) and other global bodies. These are the real “top tables” and we do not have our own seat here. The EU represents us, but not just us. It represents all 28 member states. We would have far more clout in influencing legislation as an independent country, especially given that these bodies are not so keen to see national vetoes surrendered as the EU. (Your scribe attempted to raise this subject when the debate was opened to questions from the floor, but there was insufficient time for all those who raised their hands to be given a chance to speak)

Douglas Carswell stated his belief that David Cameron would try and repeat Harold Wilson’s trick of 1975, trying to sell a piffling concession to the electorate as a major triumph of renegotiation. With that one would agree. His endorsement for Business for Britain and its importance in the forthcoming referendum is a different matter.

Matthew Elliott said that remaining in under renegotiated conditions was better than the status quo. However, his contribution was most disappointing. He clearly shows no understanding of the EEA/EFTA option which would satisfy the concerns of businesses he claims to speak for while opening the door to a much better future. It would be by far the best way of satisfying on the one hand, a desire for a looser trading relationship with the EU while on the other ensuring a seamless exit. One was left with grave doubts as to whether he really does want to see our country regain his liberty.

However, given Laura Sandys’ senior role within the European Movement, it is apparent that fear, uncertainly and doubt are the only real weapons available to those who support our membership. She said that the pro-EU movement had failed to make the case for the positive role played by the EU. To which one must reply that it is because it hasn’t actually played a positive role; it has done far more harm than good. Supporters of our EU membership really don’t have any convincing arguments. Their arguments are very weak and easily refuted, Unfortunately, although right is on our side, we have a long way to go to win the argument irrevocably. Withdrawalists are still not at all clear what to do with the aces in our hand which, if played correctly, should finally persuade the public how much better life will be on the outside. I therefore left the meeting with a mixture of hope and frustration.

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John Petley

John Petley

John Petley is Operations Manager for Campaign for an Independent Britain

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  1. ian hollasReply

    the tory press together with the support of labour and the Scottish voters and cameron not being honest with the electorate will make it almost impossible to gain a vote to leave the union

    • John Petley
      John PetleyReply

      We’ve got a tough battle on our hands but we do have the better arguments. We are, after all, only trying to persuade people to vote for something that is very good for them. We therefore ought to be able to win with the right arguments and the right exit strategy. The biggest weakness of the “out” side is that we are disunited and haven’t really taken the issue of how to withdraw seriously enough. It has been easy to pick the “Low hanging fruit” e.g., to win round those for whom immigration is the number 1 issue or older voters who remember the Second World War and its aftermath and who feel that the sacrifice the country made between 1939 and 1945 has been thrown away. However, a different approach is needed to win round, among others, younger voters and the business community and we need to address this deficiency quickly.

  2. Will PodmoreReply

    Very interesting. All of us who want Britain to leave the EU have to work hard to make the case that leaving would improve both our economic prospects and our democracy. Our opponents are going to play the ‘Project Fear’ card, because, as you say, there are no good arguments for staying in.
    Nigel Farage and UKIP speak well to their demographic, but we need also to convince the young, the professions, the trade unions, Londoners, Scotland and Wales. To do so, we have to show how Brexit will benefit us all.

  3. Gordon WebsterReply

    Some people are suggesting that the Frankfurt Group make the important decisions for the EU, and Britain is certainly not included. What we can be sure of is that there will a torent of lies regarding job losses, loss of influence and retaliation by Brussels. Immigration will be pushed, by the three main parties, as the reason people want to leave; so that they can then be branded racist, xenophobic and small minded. Any truth about the damage immigration causes will be hidden and figures massaged to show that those promoting Brexit are wrong.
    The fact is, the answer to an F.O.I., Request was reported in the Lords in 2012. That showed that there were over 64 million “Active National Insurance Numbers,” in Britain. Add 14 million children and net migration of 300,000 a year, and whatever they say will be fabricated; the figures do not lie. We will need fact and figures to hand and push them wherever and whenever we can. I challenge lies on an almost daily basis in The Mail Online, under the name Grandpa Brown. But I fear that the propaganda machine, when it gets into full flow will be too strong. We see what the scare tactics of SNP and Labour together did to UKIP’s and the Toy Vote. The Big Corporations just love the EU and Brussels, so it will be a tough fight.

  4. Philip CroftReply

    I fully agree that the road ahead will be steep and full of obstacles, thrown by the opposition. But a point mentioned here, that really frustrated me, during the general election campaign, because it wasn’t seized upon and made full use of. It was the absolute hypocrisy by all the EU lover’s, of all parties, shown during recent memorial services, for all those millions ” Who sacrificed their lives in the defence of their sovereign country ,it’s freedoms and democracy”– only to be handed on a plate by fifth columnist traitorous politicians, by deception and plain outright lies. It’s a pity that BLIAR –on his first day in office, removed the last remaining crime of treachery, by hanging. Anyone would think he had a premonition—or amazing fore thought–

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