Many people in the UK want a new relationship with the EU. Indeed, so many have warmed to this idea in the recent Prime MInisterial speech on the topic, that now all the pressure is on him to get on and deliver it far sooner than he proposed or thought possible. Many want it now, not in 2017.
Some people in politics point out that the EU is not a major preoccupation of voters according to the opinion polls. They tell us to change the subject, to talk of jobs and other matters that concern us in our daily lives. That can be good advice. People talk to me about their energy bills, about immigration, about the need for more industry in the UK and about the prospects for their children after education.
The trouble is these important matters are now heavily influenced by or even dominated by EU policies and laws. The number of jobs we can generate is affected by EU rules and regulations, which can get in the way of new businesses trying to set up or expand. Our high and rising energy bills are the result of energy policies set by the EU, requiring us to generate much more power fropm expensive windfarms and forcing us to close older power stations that produce cheap electricity. We have open borders with the rest of the EU, which makes it difficult for a UK government to pursue a migration policy that reflects the wishes of many. Creating more industry int he UK is difficult given energy prices and other EU imposed constraints.
One of the myths in the debate is we need to be in the current EU to trade with the EU. Last week I spoke to a gathering of senior business people and opinion formers at the annual German British Forum, in London. There were the usual warnings to the UK to understand that we have an important trade with the rest of the EU so we must stay in the current EU to enjoy that.
I asked the audience, which included numerous senior Germans, if they were seriously suggesting that if the Uk inststs on a new relationship or even leaves the EU, they would no longer want to trade with us. Of course they did not hold that view. I then asked them if we left would they seek to impose tariffs and controls on our trade,. Again, no-one thought that a good idea. It would, of coruse, be against international trade rules anyway. It woudl also invite retaliation from us, as they sell us more than we sell them it would be especially silly.
An increasing number of Conservative Ministers are in dispute with the EU, as they are unable to carry out the wishes of many electors to change things for the better. There are disputes over our borders, over extradition, over welfare eligibility, over energy, over financial taxation and over VAT, amongst others. I am pressing the government to engage more widely with the EU. We need that new relationship as soon as possible.