The Foreign Office was keen to get the views of a range of states and people likely to praise the current state of the UK’s relationship with the EU. In doing so they seem to have overlooked the views some of us were putting to them regularly in the Commons and elsewhere explaining why the current relationship is unacceptable to most UK voters and is not in the UK’s national interest. The Foreign Office also seem to have ignored the Prime Minister’s own Bloomberg speech, which made clear it is now government policy to negotiate a new relationship with the rest of the EU. Surely one would only do that if you had already agreed that the current relationship is not working.
I wish to explore how this new relationship can be defined and brought about. Let me begin today by reminding the Foreign Office what they should have picked up from the debates in Parliament in recent years.
The Conservative party in opposition opposed the Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon Treaties. We did so willingly, as a united Parliamentary force. We did so because we thought these Treaties transferred far too much power from UK democracy to EU decision taking. We did not accept the loss of 68 vetoes over important policy areas at Lisbon, the loss of 46 vetoes at Nice and the loss of 24 vetoes over key areas at Amsterdam.
The arrival of Conservative Ministers in office has not changed the Conservative party’s view on the unacceptability of these Treaties. The need for Conservative Ministers to reach an accommodation with Lib Dem enthusiasts for the EU does not mean the Conservative party has now given up its principled and fundamental opposition to the mass transfer of power recorded under the previous government in these three large Treaties.
There is also a strong feeling amongst many Conservatives that vetoes sacrificed on a lesser scale under previous Treaties in the name of promoting freer trade have not lived up to billing or should no longer go unchallenged. Far from fostering more trade, these qualified majority votes are all too often used to impose more regulation, backdoor taxation and charges on business activity. There has been a continuous erosion of our right to settle decisions democratically at home, and put the results to the British people in elections.
Conservatives are not looking for some minor adjustment of powers, or the amendment of a few directives to settle a new relationship. Just as the name implies, most of us want a very different relationship to the present one. We want to preserve and foster trade with the continent, which is as much in their interest as well as ours. We did not wish to be locked into collective decision taking across most of the range of government activities before the Euro started to place greater pressures and tensions on the EU. Now the Euro members are seeking even more intense unification, seeking political as well as monetary and economic union, it should be obvious to all that the UK, a non Euro member, must have a new relationship with what emerges.