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. â€œPresumably David Cameron will not fulfil his promise to withdraw Conservative MEPs from the European Peopleâ€™s party grouping, as that would entail loss of influence etcâ€
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 The only reason existing MEPs have not withdrawn is they promised to belong to the EPP before the last election.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. â€œWe assume the Conservatives will go along with the European project and with the Lisbon settlement â€“ the UK has always in the past joined in, albeit reluctantly and late.â€
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. â€œWhat can the UK do if Lisbon has not been ratified by all countries?â€
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. â€œ Isnâ€™t the UK business community strongly pro the EU, so doesnâ€™t that mean any new government will in practise have to go along with EU plans?â€
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. â€œSurely the UK government will just accept what has gone before as it will want to have influence over the EUâ€
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 â€“ we do not harbour ambitions to try to run Germany or France by proxy through the EU.
6. â€œIsnâ€™t the UK worried that it might lose jobs and investment if it does not go along with the majorityâ€
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. â€œWonâ€™t the UK join the Euro in due course, once a few more years have passed showing it is a success?â€
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 governmentâ€™s period in office.
8. â€œ The UK should understand that Lisbon marks the end of changing the institutional arrangementsâ€
We donâ€™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. â€œThe 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 unionâ€
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 â€œNow the EU has extra powers, what is it going to do with them?” Will it do anything that we might like â€“ cutting regulation and lowering taxes for example â€“ 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 â€œWe need these powers because we need them because we need themâ€.