The issue of Europe will not go away, much though the federalists wish it would. The BBC have gone back to saying the Conservatives are obsessed by Europe and split over it. The truth is somewhat different. Most Conservatives want the UK Parliament and government to be able to make decisions in the interest of the British people. In all too many areas the Coalition finds it cannot do that, because huge powers were given away at Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon in the more recent treaties agreed there. The last Labour government surrendered control of our borders, our energy policy, our financial regulation policy and much else besides.
The government would like to decide who is eligible to receive benefits in our country. Should someone recently arrived from a continental country qualify for a full range of benefits if they cannot find a job or should their own country support them? Should they qualify for all the UK top up benefits and public services if they do find a low paid job? Ministers discover the EU has views on this which entail UK taxpayers paying out full benefits to people who have not made any previous contribution themselves to UK taxes, who are not going to become UK citizens, and who may keep their family in another country.
The government would like to decide who we invite into our country. It cannot do this when it comes to people arriving from the rest of the EU. The government has stated it wishes to cut the numbers of migrants, as in recent years very large numbers have imposed strains on the provision of housing and public services in the popular parts of the country. As a result the government has to be less fair to the rest of the world to accommodate more arrivals from Europe, but struggles to tackle the overall problem.
Many of us want cheaper energy. The UK’s energy bills are particularly high. The US is benefitting massively from gas prices half the level of our own. That boosts people’s spending power, and helps the US economic and industrial recovery. Here in the UK standards of living are cut by high energy bills. Industry is moving activities abroad to get the benefits of cheaper fuel. When Ministers try to do something about it, they find much of it is laid down in EU rules they cannot change. A number of older power stations are being closed to comply with the EU before replacements have been built, leaving us dangerously short of power.
There are many more examples of how the EU dominates our daily lives in ways many people do not like. That is why many of us Conservative MPs are demanding a new relationship for the UK with the EU, and seeking a popular vote on our relationship with the EU. Far from being split on this issue, most Conservative MPs think the EU has too much power and often uses it in unhelpful ways. We all want to see a changed relationship where UK democracy can flourish again. In this Parliament where no party has a majority, expect plenty of lively debate as we try to find a way forward. We are busy trying to persuade the federalist parties that they too need to help us restore our right to self government in the areas that matter.