Dr Liam Fox is Conservative MP for North Somerset. Follow Liam on Twitter.
Minister’s speech in Amsterdam will be one of the most important of his
political career. It will be an opportunity to redefine the terms of a debate
that has divided opinion inside and outside the Conservative Party. It must be
clear, consistent and courageous.
There are a
number of things I would like to hear. First and foremost we need an
unambiguous declaration that we cannot continue to support the concept of “ever
closer union”. It is both the essence and interpretation of this that lies at
the heart of the strains between Britain, especially the Conservative Party,
and our European partners.
British people voted, or believed they voted, for a common market in the 1975
referendum. Yet what was delivered was the ‘ever closer union’ contained in the
preamble to the Treaty of Rome by increment. Treaty by treaty the EU has become
more and more entwined with areas of our national life, largely uninvited, and
all the while successive British Governments have told us that we are ‘winning
the arguments in Europe’ or that ‘Europe is coming our way’. To break with this
consensus, which has bedevilled Britain’s relationship with Europe since the
1970’s, would be a landmark moment for the Prime Minister, the Conservative
Party – and more importantly still – the British public. As I said on 19th
December in a speech at RUSI in conjunction with Open Europe, ‘Back to a Common
Market’ would be an ideal slogan for the Conservative Party at the 2015 general
Kingdom is different from most of our EU partners in two crucial ways. The
first is economic- we trade much more outside the EU than inside. Around 58% of
our exports go to countries outside the EU. The second is political. Britain
has never felt the need to bury its 20th century history in a pan-
European project and our horizons have always been more widely set in terms of
So, if we are
to genuinely renounce the concept of ‘ever closer union’, I believe this leaves
us with three options. The first is to retain the current relationship we have
and veto any future treaty changes. It is hard to see how this would help
Britain diplomatically and I, for one, would not put my trust in any future government
containing either Labour or Liberal Democrats to honour such a course of action
even if it were endorsed by the British people. This option is a non-starter.
option is a genuine renegotiation with the intent of remaining in a single
market and customs union but without the excessive interference in our national
life that the burden of EU bureaucracy, law and regulation have brought us. There
will be those who will say that this is too difficult and therefore we should
not attempt it – we should ignore them. There will always be those who lack the
national self confidence to put forward a genuinely alternative view to the
conventional wisdom of the Brussels bureaucracy.
We should be clear about the benefits we
see to the whole of Europe of a less rigid approach and try to bring others
If we act
decisively in what we believe to be our national interest, even if that is a thorny
route to take, it will go a long way to restoring the British public’s faith in
the integrity of our political system. At the conclusion of any process of
renegotiation we must give the British people the choice whether to remain in
the European Union on these terms or leave and pursue a new course for our
should be a clear in-out choice based on the renegotiations and their outcome.
Of course, there
will always be those who are completely irreconcilable with the concept of EU
membership itself and who will want to take the third option, to leave the EU,
irrespective of the deal on offer. For most of us this would be a course of
action which we would take reluctantly, but without fear, only if we could not
achieve a new, more open and flexible EU relationship.
I believe that
the vast majority of Conservatives, reflecting a growing consensus among the
British people themselves, would opt for a clear and unambiguous partnership
based upon trade and political cooperation at a time when the global economy is
becoming increasingly competitive and where the cost of EU institutions and regulations
are slowly becoming the noose around the neck of economic recovery.
concept of ‘ever closer union’ by negotiating a new agreement – on the basis is
that it will settle the European question in Britain for a generation with a
clear in/out referendum choice for the British people based on re-negotiation –
is what many of us hope we will hear from the Prime Minister tomorrow. I
believe it would forge an even greater consensus in our party and in our
country, where for the first time official policy on Europe will actually
mirror what the people of Britain really think.
courage and conviction will be needed and the road will not be easy, but the
rewards could be truly historic.