Sunday, 18 April 2010


Can I first apologise for the length of this post but the detail is crucial to destroying the latest Conservative attack on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

The election campaign has a hard but enjoyable slog but it was still nice to have something to genuinely laugh about this morning as I heard on the radio that the Conservatives have attacked us over our stance on Europe. We must remember that this is the issue which effectively destroyed the Conservatives in the 1990s and from which they are only just emerging.

Liberal Democrats, building on a long tradition of internationalism, are of course pro European but we are also highly critical of a creaking institution which - let no one forget - the Conservatives took us into without a referendum.

Let's review that proposition for a moment. Britain joined the 'Common Market' in 1973 under Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath and he certainly didn't allow voters a real say on this major issue. A referendum on membership was only held in 1975 under the new Labour government.

The embarrassment doesn't end there for the Tories. In 1986 Margaret Thatcher's government signed up to the Single European Act - once again without a referendum. The Tories will tell you that this Act improved the efficiency of Europe and was thus a major step towards the 'trading bloc' which they profess to favour. However, one detail they won't own up to is that the Single European Act also signed Britain up to joining a single currency.

Let me repeat that: the Thatcher government signed Britain up to a single European currency without a referendum in 1986.

The embarrassment for the Tories continues when we jump forward to 1992 when the next Conservative government signed us up to the Maastricht Treaty - without a referendum - which created the new 'European Union', among whose innovations was a common foreign and security policy and greater powers for the European Parliament. Effectively, you could say that 'Europe' as a self-supporting entity came into existence in 1992 and the COnservatives signd up to it.

As many people will be aware the aftermath of the Maastricht Treaty was the near-extinction of Conservatives over years of in-fighting and argument, culminating in the 1997 Labour election victory.

Now the policy detail. As I mentioned, Liberal Democrats are completely committed to the European Union but we also want to make significant changes which the other parties have ducked for decades:

* We want to stop the pointless and hugely expensive monthly movement of MEPs and their entire offices between Brussels and Strasbourg purely to satisfy the French. Why haven't the Tories or Labour done this before?
* We want to remove trade barriers to help create green jobs, benefiting British businesses and helping to address climate change across the Union.
* We will stop the 'gold plating' of European directives, whereby British Civil Servants add extra aspects to European laws, making them more onerous and putting the blame on to Brussels.
* We will use the European Union to work for stricter international regulation of financial services and banking.
* We will keep the pressure up for reform of the outlandish agricultural subsidies to give farmers, consumers and taxpayers a fair deal.
We will seek continuing reform of the EU budget to make sure your money is only spent on things the EU really needs to do.

Britain is a small island off the coast of Europe. The so-called 'special relationship' is so one-sided that it is not a real relationship at all. We are a very successful international actor in most forums across the world but this is increasingly because of our cooperation with our European partners. Britain is a European country and has been for all but about 150 years of its existence, when it looked outwards towards the empire.

We must work towards a better, reformed Europe which serves our interests and those of our partners. We won't achieve anything if we cut ourselves off from the debate. I hope the Conservatives think long and hard about this attack on the Liberal Democrats. To say they have left a flank open is an understatement of continental proportions...If they do wish to pursue this I trust Nick will show them no quarter.

1 comment:

  1. You could also have mentioned our stance on the euro. The Tories are claiming we favour immediate entry into the euro, but our manifesto makes clear that because of the way Gordon Brown has wrecked the economy, that's simply not feasible for now.