Bill Cash is the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and MP for Stone.
The greatest danger to the Euro-realist cause, let alone the Conservative Party (which is increasingly Euro-sceptic), is now presented by UKIP, which could deprive the Conservatives of enough seats and votes in Parliament at the next election.
My record against European integration on the EU issue is there in Hansard, and in my motions and votes, not to mention in my pamphlets and books. My aim is, and always has been, to preserve the right of the British voters to govern themselves – a right which was gained by those who fought and died for our freedoms, whilst we continue to trade and co-operate with other countries including those in the European Union.
I decided to debate against Nigel Farage and UKIP in Manchester’s Town Hall during this week’s Conservative Party Conference because they are increasing their attacks upon us, and are now a real threat to our capacity as Euro-realists within the Conservative Party to reverse European integration and to save our Westminster democracy. This is also a battle to prevent us from being relegated to the bottom of a two-tier European Union dominated by other countries and Germany through majority voting, and by the rapid surge towards greater European integration and federalism.
In a nutshell, UKIP cannot deliver, but the Conservatives can. Worse still, it is becoming increasingly clear that UKIP do not care that they cannot deliver. If they cannot deliver they become dangerously pointless. It is called cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Yes, of course, they have every right to express their views and campaign in democratic elections and, as I said during the debate, on their own terms, they have been successful. However, they pretend to more than they can achieve. They have become self-defeating, because if they prevent Conservative MPs in marginal seats from being returned to the Commons, they will guarantee a Labour or Lib-Lab majority in the next Parliament. This would not only prevent the Conservative Party from carrying through its resistance to Euro-integration, but would also undermine their own objectives at the same time while, almost certainly, not having one UKIP MP in the House of Commons.
Indeed, I am concentrating on their impact on the marginal seats because that is where the battleground exists. They have stood against me personally in all recent elections – and it is said that UKIP will stand in every seat across the country – but, despite this, my majority has gone up from over 3,000 to over 13,000 – as with many other Conservative MPs. The marginal seats are a very different matter because UKIP are now at about ten per cent in the polls and although, as applied to individual constituencies, this may produce a variable pattern, taking votes from different parties, they have now reached a threshold where about 60 Conservative seats are now severely at risk. In the last General Election, when UKIP had only 3 per cent, they deprived us of over 20 seats.
Why do I say that UKIP cannot deliver when they are clearly becoming more popular?
It is very, very simple and very practical. Everyone knows that they take a view on the European question which is very similar to my own long-standing and public position. However, for example, take the Referendum Bill which contains an In or Out question. This bill, which I helped to draft, has been promoted exclusively by the MP James Wharton and the whole Conservative Party, with the backing of David Cameron. This fulfils, at last, his “cast iron guarantee”.
Under pressure from Conservative MPs in the House of Commons and not UKIP, Cameron has listened and has vetoed a Treaty. Let us not forget, also, the fourth principle of the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech: that national parliaments lie at the root of our democracy. In similar circumstances, he has agreed to press for a reduction of the EU Budget, as an amendment tabled by me proposed in the House of Commons. Whether it is pressure or, to put it another way, the interplay of democratic consultation, the result is the same – but it is Conservatives in Parliament, working together, who have made this progress.
We are now intending the repeal of the Human Rights Act – a policy which I put through as Shadow Attorney-General, and which became Conservative Party policy until the Coalition Government in 2010. We need Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, and the votes and the continued and remaining pressure and effectiveness of the 1922 Committee so that we can deliver these changes together.
As I made clear in my speech in Manchester, there is another fatal aspect of UKIP. UKIP, on any reasonable estimate, will not win a single seat in the House of Commons whatever damage they do to our marginal seats. According to recent surveys, they would need to get at least 20 per cent to get even one MP into the House of Commons. But even if they did, above all and fatally for UKIP, they would not have a majority in the House of Commons to repeal or amend the European Communities Act 1972 itself, or even one European law.
It is from this Act that every single piece of European legislation flows in relation to every law and policy within the legal framework of the European Treaties and which, with the majority voting of the European Union, is imposed upon the British voter under that Act – despite whatever voters decide in a general election and despite the contents of any Party manifesto. It is utterly absurd for UKIP to claim that they would have enough Members of Parliament, if any, to alter or determine our relationship with the European Union.
Yes, as I said in Manchester – and it is not only my view but also that of so many Conservative MPs and Associations and British voters – that the Conservative Party can and must go further than at present in insisting on a fundamental change in our relationship with the European Union. In common with so many others, I believe there should be a referendum through the powers contained in the Wharton’s Referendum Bill (whose Report Stage takes place in November) and which should be held before the next election.
The overall position of the Conservative Party generally and in the marginal seats is increasingly Euro-realist. The Conservative leadership has become increasingly prepared to listen to Conservative MPs and to act in accordance with their views. I have no doubt that this will continue, as will the interplay and the pressure.
On the other hand, voting for UKIP in the marginal seats is in itself a “cast iron guarantee” that the Euro-realist power to which I have referred within the Conservative Party in Parliament (and which has so far been increasingly successful) will be undermined.
Furthermore, the fight to save the freedom of voters to get the laws and policies they want, from whichever political party, through general elections will be destroyed if we do not succeed in getting the consent of the British people to reverse European integration and European government. This will happen if the Labour and Liberal Democrat integrationists are allowed to win the day.
Because of electoral law, the kind of pact which Nigel Farage promoted in the Times last Monday is simply unrealistic. This is why I demanded (not “pleaded”) at Manchester that he lay off our marginals because, his strategy and his tactics will simply prevent even his own EU policies, many of which I share, from being achieved – the ultimate pyrrhic victory.
Farage absurdly accused me on the platform at Manchester of being “tribal”. Far from it. I am pursuing in the national interest, through the Conservative Party – the objective of preserving Westminster democracy which is what he claims he wants to preserve, but which, in practice, he will undermine. Despite my having voted 47 times against a 3-line whip, he also bizarrely accused me of “not having the balls” to vote against John Major on the Maastricht Confidence Motion – in fact, I was voting not with John Major but against Labour leader John Smith on his European federalist agenda. You can’t get more ridiculous than making an accusation like that. Farage’s self-delusion, if it continues, is not only undermining common Eurorealist objectives but even his own. This will be the ultimate proof of political castration and impotence.
UKIP can’t do it; the Conservative Party can.