Cllr Roy Perry is Leader of Hampshire County Council and a former MEP.
Harold Macmillan made Britain’s first application in 1961 to join what was then known as the Common Market. Since then every Conservative Prime Minister has supported British membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), later the EU. David Cameron is the latest in a long line to believe Britain is stronger in Europe.
Mrs Thatcher was key in Britain signing up to the Single Market in 1986, which took the Common Market far beyond free trade. In her renowned Bruges Speech in 1988, she made it crystal clear she believed that Britain’s place was inside Europe.
” And let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.”
Eurosceptic Conservative MPs have long tried to hijack the Party but no Conservative Prime Minister, nor leader when in office, has sought to take us out. Like John Major, his predecessor as Conservative PM, Cameron has faced carping and sniping from the back benches and even in his own Government from Eurosceptic Conservatives. This constant bickering over our EU membership needs resolving if the PM is to be free to concentrate on the real problems we face in the world today such as:
- Unrest in the Middle East fuelling international terrorism and mass movements of asylum seekers
- A fragile world economy – China losing momentum, American recovery modest, Japan stagnating, Brazil in recession
- A resurgent and expansionist Russia
- Global warming, sea levels rising and health scares such as Ebola and Zika Virus.
None of those problems are caused by the EU, nor will they be resolved by Britain quitting the EU.
Geographically Britain is clearly a European nation. Our history tells us if we turn our back on Europe and ignore our neighbours then problems emerge that impact on us. Who can argue that the decision of European nations post World War II to combine into the Common Market and then the EU have not had a better outcome than our post World War I stance?
This is why Churchill recognised the Common Market was good and Macmillan applied to join. The experiment of an alternative European Free Trade Area (EFTA) proved to be no answer. Conservatives more than any other party believe in promoting trade to help the economy prosper. Almost half our trade is with the EU member states. We sell more to Ireland alone than we do to China.
Whilst we rely on Europe to take almost 50 per cent of our exports, EU countries sell only ten per cent of their exports into UK. They don’t need us as much as we need them. Margaret Thatcher signed Britain up in 1986 to the Single European Act. That one act, more than any other, took the EEC well beyond being a customs union, and removed non-tariff barriers to trade. A single market requires issues like safety compatibility to be addressed, so goods can be easily traded across the whole market. The argument about noise limits on lawn mowers highlights that point. If the rules of a country limit noise emissions on a lawn mower, unless you meet those limits you cannot sell it. So it is with almost every product sold across national frontiers. One EU standard is simpler than 28 different standards. Equally it is better to have a voice on the inside influencing those standards than absenting yourself from the discussion.
It was Conservative MEPs, led by my predecessor as an MEP for Hampshire, Basil de Ferranti who formed the “Kangaroo Club” to get those artificial barriers removed. The single market is a great Conservative success story. There is still more to be done in this respect so that the single market includes the service industries like insurance and finance.
Defence is a Conservative priority. We are staunch supporters of NATO but peace and security depend not just on military force but also on economic and social factors. NATO undoubtedly deterred the USSR militarily but the fall of the iron curtain was achieved as much by the juxtaposition of the wealthy EU countries alongside poverty stricken eastern Europe.
From the late 1950s onwards, when I joined the Young Conservatives, the Conservative Party has been consistent in support of links with Europe. The very first Conservative rally I attended with my grandmother back in 1959 was addressed by Harold Macmillan. I recall he was heckled by supporters of the League of Empire Loyalists who hankered after their cosy idea of Empire. They were wrong then and their heirs are just as wrong now. We achieve more working with our neighbours than turning our back on them.