It goes without saying the Conservatives are deeply split on Europe. Despite Euroscepticism on the backbenches, many in the party are resigned to Britain’s future within the EU.
The policies they have wheeled out to win over voters considering backing UKIP are a sorry demonstration of the lacklustre state of Conservative policy on Europe.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has offered us an In/Out referendum; however whether we get this or not is solely dependent on whether the Conservatives win a majority in the election this week or if they can secure another coalition deal.
If not, none of the other parties are even hinting at any kind of renegotiation with the EU, so we can only hope the electorate vote Out, bearing in mind a referendum is vital for Britain’s future in the world.
Extending the period before EU migrants can claim benefits, and abolishing child benefit for offspring living in other EU countries are not serious strategies to calm concerns in Britain against our EU membership.
These are short-term measures to make Britain’s EU membership palatable to voters who are ‘concerned about immigration’. It neglects the core Eurosceptic argument: EU membership cannot live side-by-side with British democracy.
Besides popular issues like immigration, there is no real effort by Cameronites to address the hazards of EU membership. There is no plan to tackle the impact on democracy; our national sovereignty; or our economic prosperity.
The few measures suggested are a knee-jerk reaction to the narrative deployed by UKIP, which remains heavily focused on criticising EU migration. The reforms promised by the Tories are detailed when it comes to cracking down on ‘welfare tourism’, but rather more vague when it comes to restraining the flow of regulations from Brussels which hamper the competitiveness of British business and growth to the rest of the world.
Get Britain Out has said before, the ideal arrangement for the EU is to be as decentralised as possible – no European Parliaments, no Courts, no Commission. Instead, it should function as a large free trade area. A decentralised economic partnership is what ‘real EU reform’ would look like, but it is not on the cards.
It is too ambitious, and politically impossible. While Juncker recently conceded that treaty changes could be made to accommodate Cameron’s reforms, what we are proposing involves tearing up all the Treaties altogether.
It is why our best option to halt Brussels’ influence over Westminster is to win the In/Out referendum and leave the EU, retaining access to the Single Market. The vision of Europe the Tories are
Modest checks to restrain the relentless flow of regulations is conceivable in the short term, but futile in the long-term while the EU has the machinery to coerce members into uniformity of law.
The Tory manifesto 2015 has two pages on Europe under a chapter strangely titled ‘Keeping Britain Secure’. It promises lightweight reforms, replete with clichés like ‘stopping power flowing to Brussels’. In addition, a promise to repeal the Human Rights Act is thrown in for good measure, again to try and appease potential UKIP voters. None of this scratches the surface of what Eurosceptic criticism is really about.
The real questions are:
Does Europe need a Parliament?
Does it need the European Court of Justice?
Does it need a Commission?
Focusing solely on immigration instead of the core issues about democracy will certainly discredit the Eurosceptic movement.
It has been too easy to characterise Euroscepticism
It is not necessarily concerned with the cultural question: is society changing too quickly? Instead, Eurosceptics conclude the EU is too undemocratic, and reverting back to a looser economic partnership is impossible under current circumstances.
Cooperation between our neighbouring countries is essential, but it needs to be on a voluntary basis. A British Government elected by popular mandate cannot continue to be pressured and coerced from above by Brussels – without doing great harm to the Great British Public’s faith in our ailing democracy.
There is little hope for the EU to evolve into a looser free trading relationship. So the only alternative is to Get Britain Out of the EU by winning the In/Out referendum, then negotiating a strong free trade agreement with Brussels. The question is, will the Tory High Command ever embrace the right solution?
This article is cross-posted in The Commentator.