John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay and in this article he suggests a route-map would be helpful in the European storm.
It is nearly a month since the Prime Minister vetoed the EU’s misguided proposals to defuse the Eurozone crisis. He returned from Brussels to a warm reception in Parliament and a significant boost in the pre-Christmas polls. However, now that the fanfares have died down, and as the political year re-starts after the festive break, the country needs some clarity on where Britain stands.
Across the Channel, the Eurozone is still in the mire. Spanish unemployment is hitting a 15-year high, and there is renewed talk of an Italian bailout. Germany meanwhile enjoys record employment figures and a buoyant housing market. Such are the strains and contradictions within the Euro – which may yet sink it.
The Prime Minister was right to stand up for British interests but, as I have said before, the veto should only be the beginning of a much wider process of recasting our entire relationship with the EU. As a country we may have managed to steer clear of the Euro, but the Prime Minister’s success in the polls underlines the fact that many are fed up with the EU’s constant meddling in our affairs, that many baulk at the cost of EU membership (some £40 billion over the next seven years) and that our businesses are frustrated by the endless reams of EU regulations and associated red tape.
There is much discussion over the repatriation of various powers from Brussels. However, the experience of the Working Time Directive – from which Britain secured an opt-out, only to have to renegotiate concessions – demonstrates that this is not a productive approach. Instead, we should pursue a looser partnership along the lines of free trade, competitiveness and growth. Switzerland and Norway both present compelling and enviable examples of prosperous nations able to set the parameters of their own engagement with the EU. Britain should do the same.
When he returned from the Brussels summit, the Prime Minister knew he had his Party and the country behind him. What both now need in return is a strong sense of direction. The Prime Minister has made it clear what he does not want for Britain, but he must clearly articulate the corollary of what he does want. This will give politicians and officials – on both sides of the Channel – an indication of where Britain wishes to position herself in Europe, and how the British Government intends to get us there. Having a map always makes it easier to plot your way out of a storm.
Already there are reports of British officials buttoning their lips in EU discussions, no doubt because they are unsure what policy the Government wishes to pursue. There is a narrow and closing window of opportunity for the British Government to steal a march on others, take the initiative and put across its grand design. However, at the moment, we are all still waiting to hear it.