Continental misunderstandings

On Tuesday I was sounded out by a senior representative of a continental government over the position the UK will adopt towards EU issues, in the event of a Conservative majority in Parliament after the next election. Given the large number of misunderstandings or wishful thinking on the part of several continental governments, I thought it a good idea to set out in a more public forum the position, to try to clear up some of the misunderstandings.I list beneath nine misunderstandings put to me during the course of the meeting.

1. “Presumably David Cameron will not fulfil his promise to withdraw Conservative MEPs from the European People’s party grouping, as that would entail loss of influence etc”

On the contrary, David is determined that all official Conservative candidates in the next European election will stand on a ticket which precludes membership of any federalist grouping including the EPP. The only reason existing MEPs have not withdrawn is they promised to belong to the EPP before the last election. He will keep his word to the party, and our candidates will keep their word to the electorate if elected.

2. “We assume the Conservatives will go along with the European project and with the Lisbon settlement – the UK has always in the past joined in, albeit reluctantly and late.”

It would be unwise to make such an assumption this time. When Margaret Thatcher came to power she did want to complete the Single market, and when Tony Blair came to power he did want to give the EU more powers over social and employment policy. The modern Conservatives have no wish to grant any more power to the EU. Moreover, we have voted against Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon because we disagree fundamentally with them, and expect powers back. As William Hague has said, we cannot leave matters as they are if Lisbon has been ratified by all countries.

3. “What can the UK do if Lisbon has not been ratified by all countries?”

An incoming government can keep its pledge to give the people a referendum. If they vote No to Lisbon the government will repeal the legislation and the Treaty is dead.

4. “ Isn’t the UK business community strongly pro the EU, so doesn’t that mean any new government will in practise have to go along with EU plans?”

That is a typical continental misunderstanding of elite versus popular opinion and the relative importance of the two. It is probably the case that senior corporate managers of EU multinationals like Unilever are well disposed to EU integration. If you poll UK managers and executives as a whole they are likely to be as Eurosceptic as the rest of the population. Entrepreneurs are likely to be against higher taxes and more bureaucracy, whether it comes from London or from Brussels.

5. “Surely the UK government will just accept what has gone before as it will want to have influence over the EU”

We will be happy to reach common agreement with other countries on matters of common concern if that is possible, but we have no wish to use the system to force other countries to do things they do not want to do, any more than we want to be told what to do by a majority vote we have lost. We are seeking to run the government of the UK better – we do not harbour ambitions to try to run Germany or France by proxy through the EU.

6. “Isn’t the UK worried that it might lose jobs and investment if it does not go along with the majority”

No. We believe companies in neighbouring countries will continue to invest and trade in the UK all the time it makes business sense to do so. The WTO trade rules also prevent retaliatory action, were any member state thinking of such a course. We do not believe our neighbours would wish to behave like that, especially as they sell us so much more than we sell them.

7. “Won’t the UK join the Euro in due course, once a few more years have passed showing it is a success?”

No, we have won the battle to save the pound. If Blair could not persuade the British people to vote for it during his period of popularity, it is not going to happen. An incoming Conservative government will be against joining the Euro in principle, so it would be foolish of the EU to raise it during any Conservative government’s period in office.

8. “ The UK should understand that Lisbon marks the end of changing the institutional arrangements”

We don’t believe that. Every enlargement to date has been accompanied by the transfer of further powers to the EU. The EU is already working on ways of strengthening the Common foreign and security policy and common defence. David Cameron has ruled out contributing to a common European army.

9. “The UK has to show some flexibility to be a good European. After all France has to show flexibility on defence in return for the Common Agricultural policy. Germany allowed a wider range of countries into the Euro than might have been sensible to show willing over European political union”

The continent has to understand that the UK electorate does not want to be part of a political union. We want CAP reform, as it means dear food whilst penalising developing countries.

10 When I asked “Now the EU has extra powers, what is it going to do with them?” Will it do anything that we might like – cutting regulation and lowering taxes for example – there was no real reply

It seemed to come as a surprise to people who do see the whole thing in terms of constantly changing the architecture to give the EU more power, without communicating the purpose or vision behind taking those powers. It seems to be a case of “We need these powers because we need them because we need them”.

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25 Comments

  1. geoff Mortimer
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    As a senior member of the voting public at the next GE a very large number of us need to know the position of a Conservative gov regarding the policy towards the UK fishing industry which as you well aware has been decimated by the current EU regulations. Continuing the nautical theme, what are the policies regarding the Royal Navy after the speculation about the use of our new aircraft carriers with France and the proposed mothballing /depletion of our existing fleet. Has David Cameron ruled out contributing to a common European Navy?

  2. Crossfire
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    John, That really is scary. Is there a risk that Gordon Brown will do some kind of deal in Europe in return for funding or some kind of publicity stunts to give him some political capital?

  3. [[NAME EDITED]]
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    If this is truly the official policy of the Conservative party it is the most cheering article I have read for a long time.

  4. Freeborn John
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    The federalists seem to be cottoning on that they likely have about 600 days to get Lisbon (or at least its provisions) ratified somehow before a Conservative administration takes over. My hope so far has been that they will fail, because Nice should represent a better starting point for future UK-EU negotiations than Lisbon. However there is also a concern that the Conservatives might settle for Nice, which in my opinion would be disastrous.

    It seems to me that if the Conservatives do not grasp the nettle of the EU issue in a first term they will be unlikely to take action later on, and we would then have to wait an entire electoral cycle, i.e. perhaps until ~2035-2040, for a government finally prepared to tackle the problem. That would mean 30+ more years during which the Brussels legislative machine is daily producing new EU law which, through its ECJ-declared supremacy, pre-empts the very ability of Westminster to legislate ever again in the areas covered by all this new EU law. By 2035-2040 we could fully expect that Westminster would have very little law-making authority left in any of the areas where Nice and the earlier treaties on European Union gave the EU either a shared or exclusive competence. Therefore the worst thing possible would be for an incoming Conservative government to dither on this issue so missing the opportunity to use a large majority in the next parliament to achieve a fundamental and lasting change in our relationship with Brussels.

    There are of course numerous negotiating options post-2010, but the heart of any satisfactory solution should be to make national law supreme to EU law in areas beyond the common market, such that we can in the future elect British governments able to reject the application of EU law (including that which was agreed to by previous British governments) in this country. Whether this is “Europe a la carte” or Norwegian-style EEA membership or Swiss-style EFTA + bilateral treaties seem less of an issue to me. My main concern is that a Conservative government enters into such negotiations, and then avoids get dragged into interminable discussions that drag on beyond the initial phase of popularity of a Conservative government, possibly into a second term with a reduced majority, and finally running into the sand.

  5. David Hannah
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    What a crying shame that you could not tell the representative that "under a future Conservative Government, the European Union will be divested of all authority and pre-eminence over the United Kingdom, as is required by the 1689 Bill of Rights."

    As this will not happen, I fear that his assumptions may be correct.

  6. mikestallard
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    1. I find this quote from the Open Europe Group very encouraging: "EUobserver also reports that Declan Ganley, a prominent Irish campaigner, is currently touring Europe to try and establish a new anti-Lisbon political group in time for the 2009 European elections. If elected, Ganley plans to write a reader-friendly, 20-page EU treaty based on the US constitution to replace the 400-page long Lisbon text. Ganley reportedly told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Dublin last week that French people would also have rejected the treaty if France had held a referendum. "You may be surprised to hear that he agreed with me," said Ganley."
    2. About point 4: Playing a bit hard to get in Europe is no bad thing – they export (Open Europe again) more to us than we do to them: they ought to be begging us,not the other way round.

    Having said all that – very well done! You are the first main line politician I have heard who has said, in detail, what he actually thinks without spin and without prevarication.

  7. Michael Gale
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you John. All you have said is so true, and needs repeating endlessly. It is far more important than the current obsession with who is going to be the next undertaker officiating at the internment of the Labour Party.
    We are not morally committed to Lisbon. We must not let other nations think that we are. All is not "lost". Long live the Independence of the UK – or failing that, England!

  8. Julian Nicholson
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    I was heartened to hear David Cameron say (on the Andrew Marr show a couple of weeks ago) that if there is a Conservative government after the next election, and if the Lisbon treaty has still not been ratified by all 27 states he will hold a referendum.

    At last we may soon have a government that is prepared to stand up for Britains interests within Europe right from the start.

  9. no one
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    yes but the rules which would allow Brits to seek treatment from foreign health systems when the NHS lets them down should be agreed and implemented asap

    we need some quick solutions to the mess of the NHS, and allowing Brits to go abroad when the NHS fails them is a GOOD idea, as would be just writing them a cheque and letting them go private

    we cannot continue to sponser failing state run medical providers, we need to ensure the poor patients are protected by funds rather than state owned health care which we can all see is a failed experiment

    there are good things in Europe and significantly better health systems than our own, while protecting the poor and the vulnerable, we need to learn from

    the NHS maybe a national religion, but it is the delivery of services to the patients which should be protected, not failing providers of care

    shut the bad hospitals, why not, get on with it quickly
    http://notdrrant.blogspot.com/

  10. Tapestry
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    11. What relationship do we want with the EU?

    (I approve of 1-10)

  11. Robert
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I am not convinced that Cameron would agree with all your comments. It is good however to have them outlined by someone who has the respect of the more Eurosceptic members of the public.

    Unless the Conservative Party comes clean on Europe before the next election there are a lot of people who will not be voting for them at that election. What I have heard so far does not go far enough although your comments have a more reassuring ring to them.

    I am not against the EU,but I would rather not be a member.

  12. David morris
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    10. Well they were hardly going to answer honestly were they?

    "we'll do what we want and you should be grateful, anyway what do you think this is , some kind of democracy?"

  13. Colin Hart
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Absolutely brilliant. This should be our Euro Carta 2010. Framed copies signed by D Cameron should be hung on the walls of every Conservative Cabinet Member's office – and every Permanent Secretaries' (if they don't like it they can take the money and go). Should also be sent regularly as a reminder/greetings card to EU commissioners and commission officials as they return from their numerous public holidays.
    They will need to be told several times before they understand it, a few more times before they believe we mean it and even more times before they start/stop doing anything about it.

  14. APL
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Colin Hart: "Framed copies signed by D Cameron .."

    Fat chance you will get Cameron's signiture on any document of this nature.

    Even if you could, it would have as much value as pre revolutionary russian bonds – worthless.

    Geoff Mortimer: "a very large number of us need to know the position of a Conservative gov regarding the policy towards the UK fishing industry which as you well aware has been decimated by the current EU regulations."

    Yes we would! Problem is we know what Cameron thinks of UK fishing policy. There was an embroynic policy under the Hague or was it Howard's leadership, broadly it was to persue a repatriation of british government authority over our fishing waters.

    Since fishing policy was entrenched by that quisling Heath in the '73 EEC act, any change in british attitude would strike directly at the treaty.

    That would really set the cat among the pigeons, and why Cameron killed the policy.

    To Mr. Redwood.

    Fine words butter no parsnips. We need to see action not flannel.

  15. Mark Rigby
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. I concur with the other comments, this is most heartening. It will certainly get my vote for the local conservative candidate in a four way Edinburgh marginal (all the other parties including the SNP being pro further EU integration).

    However the Conservative party's policy is to remain in the EU, as opposed to the alternative EEA (trade and freedom of movement only) construct, which personally I would prefer.

    Therefore I think the party's attitude to the next EU budget will be perhaps the most important decision.

    A vote on Lisbon (whether ratified or not) will significantly demonstrate where the UK public stands to the other members which will certainly help the negotiating position.

    Practically however I assume it's with the budget where we potentially call the tune with our very large net contribution and an effective veto, Lisbon or no? My view of course is that we should be looking to very large cuts in the EU budget as our renegotiation vehicle.

    What is your view on the size of the EU budget, and what is a tolerable level for you think the UK should accept as a net contribution if we remain full members?

    Appreciate this is perhaps rather hypothetical but would be interested to know at least if you think I've got hold of the wrong end of the stick?

  16. Susan
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood, I agree completely with your stance yet I have a certain disquiet about Conservative Party policy as a whole regarding Europe. I make no bones about the fact that I would rather we were out of what I see as an aspirant monolithic socialist empire which doesn't recognise the words "people", "democracy" and "accountability".

    Surely if DC put your views to the electorate, not as part of a manifesto because that is far too late, but began to lay out the stall now, people would have more confidence in voting Conservative – thus shunning the smaller, single-issue, vote-dividing parties?

    William Hague suffered because of the Europe issue – he would have been a great PM at another time but people seemed not to see beyond their noses. I believe that now, they do see. They realise that almost 80% of our laws originate from the EU but I don't think DC has the courage to openly address the issues, simply because he has failed to do so to-date. As leader of HM's Opposition he knows far more than I, yet even I know that the EU is corrupt and I will take no part in it. I'm an elderly woman and you can jail me, fine me, do what you will but I shall never be "a citizen of the European Union".

    Thank you for your continued good work.

    • mikestallard
      Posted August 1, 2008 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

      You already are a citizen of the European Union.

  17. adam
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Even stopping the tide of integration would be a great achievemet, if unpopular with many.

    Closing down regional assemblies would be a real step, a strong sign to those who are worried about europe and yet they are still off the radar of many anglophobes, so minimum political backlash.

  18. Idris Francis
    Posted September 4, 2008 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    EU Citizenship as conferred by Maastricht has been formally admitted to be nothing of the kind, as only States can have Citizens, and the EU is not (yet) a State. I have a form Counsel's opinion confirming that this is the case.

    That Lisbon again seeks to imose Citizenship, but seriously this time, can only mean that it intends to be a Srate, as confirmed by its new legal identify and treaty-making powers.

    I have spent thousands of hours, travelled thousands of miles, spent thousands of pounds and stored gigabytes of information about the EU since I first realised at the time of Maastricht that they intended to make working long hours a criminal offence and are therefore, by definition, both clinically insane and doomed to economic and therefore political collapse.

    The error common to all comments here, including John Redwood's (though I understand the pressures that apply to him but not to most of us) is to assume that we can negotiate sensibly to achieve something totally different from what the EU has been planning for more than 60 years. Who do you think you are kidding? Do you SERIOUSLY imagine that, as they are about to slam the last gate of the totalitarian EU cage, these people, with effectively unlimited amounts of taxpayers' cash but no scruples whatever, are going to resond to our polite requests for different sort of EU involving just trade but not politics, by saying, "Oh all right then, let's not bother!"?

    There is ONLY ONE SOLUTION – and from what I read here, whether open and above board or veiled or hinted at, is that everyone has had enough, more than enough, and WANTS OUT. I do not believe that anyone here seriously believes that renegotiation as advocated by Global Britain is a serious option, and certainly not without the explicit threat that unless we get it (ie a trade only deal) we will leave.

    The good news is that the tide of anti-EU opinion, which I have been watching and listening to for 16 years, is swelling by the day and is now unstoppable. There could never be any possibility of the Lisbon Treaty being approved in a national referendum if (and its a big IF) Cameron keeps his word. Incidentaly, his claim that he could not do so once it had been ratified by all 27 countries is nonsense – that is precisely what Wilson did in 1975 over abrogating the 1972 ECA. Once Lisbon had been rejected its a whole new ball game, and whether we get kicked out or leave makes no odds.

    From innumerable conversations I have had for years with thousands of people I meet casually, in the street, in shops, at cash desks etc, anti-EU views are at least 95%, and the few who are in favour turn out to know nothing whatever about it. The tide will continue to flow towards the exit as more and more people read and hear about what the EU really is and really means for them. But any honest referendum now would see us out on a flood tide.

    Pity we cannot rely on the Conservatives to put it to the test. Maybe a massive vote on June 4th 2009 for UKIP will make them see sense.

    How different things would be by now had John Redwood gained in 1995 that handful of extra votes that, as Major later admitted, would have forced him to resign. As things are, we face the imminent prospect of Britain ceasing to be a sovereign country and appearing on maps of the world instead as 11 regions of a State called Europe. I refuse to believe that this is what the British people want, and I believe that we will reject it, if not soon by peaceful means, then later by inevitably violent means when none other remain.

    It was I believe as long ago as the early 1980s that a Conservative MP replied to a constituent who had complained about the EU take-over that "These matters will not be resolved here in Parliament, but on the streets." I fear that he will be proved right.

    Reply: The aim must be to get a referendum to prove the strength of feeling against political union to the federalist majority people keep electing to the Commons.

    • mikestallard
      Posted September 4, 2008 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      I hope you are wrong, but, in my heart, I suspect you are right.

  19. Idris Francis
    Posted September 4, 2008 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, and I agree that (short of the election of a new government whose manifesto committment is to leave the EU) there has to be a referendum if we are to avoid the fate I set out.

    But whether the nominal basis of any such referendum, it will inevitably be fought on an In/Out basis, because that is the only basis on which the Federalists can hope to win. They would use every tactic and every threat known to man – "alone", "bobbing like a cork on the Atlantic", "3.5m jobs"and all the rest of it, to threaten voters that rejecting Lisbon will mean being thrown out, and that this would be a catastrophe.

    That is why our side has to be prepared (as indeed many sections are) to argue the opposite – Better Off Out, with all the facts and figures, because unless we do that effectively we might still lose, due to fear of the unknown.

    And that is why all talk about compromise, reneogotiation etc is so dangerous, because it gives the impression that if we vote not to leave but to stay in, we would then be able to
    achieve a satisfactory position from within. As before, this is simply not credible and the reality is that ie Lisbon is fully ratified, all the debate in the world will thereafter be a waste of time, and only violent revolt will recover our freedom.

    That surely is a point for Cameron and Hague to bear in mind if Lisbon has been ratified by all 27 countries by the time they take office (as they onevitably will, in June 2010 and not before) It really will be no good at all for a Parliament which under our constitution may not bind its successor to tell us that "it's too late, it's a done deal, it cannot be undone." Of course it can be undone, especially if the alternative to undoing it by
    long established constitutionsl means is undoing it with shot and shell.

    • mikestallard
      Posted September 5, 2008 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I am afraid that I see this scenario as very likely: nothing will be done for the simple reason that the government (and that includes the Conservatives when elected) will see their EU colleagues as "our allies" or some such. Europe, remember, is extremely attractive to politicians. Mr Sarkozy's warm smile, Angela Merkel's admiring glances, the elder statesman Mr Zapatero coming to you for advice……..
      This means that the time is not yet.
      With the denial of religion and any form of patriotism in Europe, the gradual impotence of the EU militarily and therefore politically, and the swooshing of European capital into the Far and Middle East, Europe will soon be becoming much poorer. This is already happening. Europe has lost its heart and is soon to lose its power.
      Against this background, we need an issue that will divide us unmercifully. When that issue comes, war will be the result: we are a warlike bunch over here.
      That issue is not yet visible – but it may suddenly appear like a robber. In Nigeria, it was religion. In the USA, it was slavery. In the USSR, it was Lek Walesa.
      Of one thing I am sure: that issue will surface.

      Reply: No-one sensibly wishes a war on us. I do not think the tensions within the EU will come to war between members. Nor do I think the current structure and centralising tendencies are stable.

  20. Idris Francis
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    It is precisely because I do not wish to see violence being used as the last available means of recovering freedom that I fight and argue for us to do so by peaceful, legal and constitiutional means.

    It may well be in any case that the break-up of the EU will come about precisely because "the current structure and centralising tendencies" are unstable. Just one example – the euro always was a stupid idea, before the EU became a single State, and the current economic pressures, not just here but world-wide may well cause the euro to break apart. The problem if it does is that the EU dare not allow it to happen, and will apply even more centralising pressures including forcing EU member states not currently in the eurozone to join, so that other countries would see the euro no longer as an orphan currency but like all others, backed by a single State and therefore immune to break-up. Incidentlally, Torquil Dick-Erikson, who first exposed Corpus Juris in 1997, made precisely that prediction about the euro to a small number of us in 1998, warning that the EU would see it as "a beneficial crisis" that would allow it to declare a state of emergency and do anything it wished.

    In predicting that the result might well be violence, I do not rule out the many other perhaps peaceful outcomes, no one knows, I warn only that violence – including HMG calling in the European Gendarmerie Force to restore order, as Mr. Miliband pointedly refused to rule out in a Commons reply to Bob Spink MP, is one of the possible consequences.

    If it were not, why is the EU busily building the EGF? Have a look at its boastful web site, showing clearly that THEY are preparing for violence, and note a EU resolution recently that the hithertoo "nothing to do with the EU, just a few countries acting together" status is shortly to change to make the EGF officially a EU organisation. I don't know if they frighten you but by God they frighten me!

  21. Idris Francis
    Posted September 6, 2008 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I should have added, in relation to the possibility of violence becoming the only way available to resists unwanted integration, that in the mid to late 1990s Milton Friedman and Martin Feldstein wrote an article, subsequently published in Bill Cash's European Journal, setting out the basic requirements for single currency areas and how their absence in the EU could lead to civil war.

    As an engineer I have always thought of economics as something of a pseudo-science, one part being stating the b** obvious, the other part so nebulous as to be meaningless. Indeed, because my compulsory course in economics was one lecture a week at 9 am, too early for me, I slept through most of it but gained a good pass on the basis of one day's reading of the coursework on a sunny day, the day before the examination. However, the basic principles are these:

    Even if the exchange rates at which currencies of different areas are combined are notionally correct at the start, over time "asymetric shocks" such as the discovery of natural resources, inflationary pressures greater in one area than another, changes in world demand for products from each eara – eg high tech v old tech, will inevitably mean that over time the rates at which were originally set will inevitably become wrong for some countries – eg Italy is now 30% overvalued due to inflation having been allowed to let rip, compared to Germany where it has been controlled.

    Friedman et al pointed out that there are only 3 ways for the resuatant stresses to be absorbed

    1/ Mass migration from the failing areas to the successful areas

    2/ High taxes on successful areas to subsidise unemployment in the failing areas

    3/ Changing the exchange rates between these areas to even up competitiveness – but that of course is not allowed within the euro.

    We have seen the first two work in practice over generations, as in Britain where the South in general subsidises the North while Northeners move South, and the opposite in Italy and East to West in the USA when the virtual collapse of the "Rust Belt" of the old industries in the North East led to mass migration to prosperous California etc.

    Friedman's point of course is that the ties that bind Britons together, Italians together, Germans together and Americans together. including language, "culture", newspapers, politics, TV programmes, simply do not exist across the EU and that there is no prospect whatever of (for example) Germans working harder and harder and paying more and more tax to subsidise uncompetitive and therefore unemployed Italians and Spanish to lie back and enjoy the sunshine.

    As I recall, a particular example quoted went something like "does anyone seriously expect an unemployed Sicilian peasant to move to Bradford to find work? In reality the majority will simply stay where they are, for reasons of language, climate, culture, etc, and riot when the system implodes.

    This seemed to me to be an entirely reasonable and logical analysis when I read it back in the 1990s, and although the euro has lasted rather longer than I then expected, the trend in that direction is surely undeniable, with ever more frequent predictions that the euro if bound to break apart. But if it does not, then sooner or later the violence that Friedman predicted will be inevitable.

  22. Patrick Harris
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    When you are leader of the CONservative party or at least on the opposition front bench, when I see all of the above enshrined in the CONservative manifesto underscored with a solemn promise so to do, or, when hell freezes over.
    I will vote CONservative.
    I'm still waiting to see your last vote catching shopping list (regionalisation) to appear somewhere in officialdom.

    reply: it does! Read the post again. It was a statement of official Conservative policy for heaven's sake.

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