Andrew Lewer MBE MEP was elected as a Conservative MEP for the East Midlands in 2014. Before that he was Leader of Derbyshire County Council 2009-13 and Deputy Conservative Leader at the Local Government Association 2011-14.
“Are you Remain or Leave?” – the updated version of “Are you In or Out?” – is asked of me at every event I attend. I hate to disappoint and be accused of giving a “politician’s answer,” but I honestly cannot say at the moment. My hopes that our renegotiation/reform team will, in the end, ask for the right things are still alive, but hopes that the European political establishment will countenance an injection of reality into their beloved (to them!) “Project” are barely registering on the life support machine. The flat-line came significantly closer with a recent report from the European Parliament, the poorly titled Learning EU at School. As my friend and ECR Group Chairman, Syed Kamall MEP, highlighted on ConservativeHome, MEPs are reduced to creating wish lists and resolutions in a bid to fill the gap left by the Commission’s welcome decision to cut the volume of new laws emanating from Brussels.
The Euro is still in crisis, with Portugal looking like it might just go Greece’s way. Endless delays bedevil the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and other such key deals. We are still far from a satisfactory Single Market in services (or indeed goods, in some cases), with valiant efforts from my Conservative MEP colleagues to move on to a more relevant Digital Single Market being frustrated as well. Then, over-shadowing them all, there is the truly colossal migration emergency. What are my fellow MEPs, especially from the left (and, yes, that includes the British ones), up to? Why, formulating proposals to make schools across the EU teach their pupils about the glories of European institutions and the benefits of their inevitable federal future, of course.
The debate on this in Committee (you can watch my contribution to it in a short clip here) was a depressing reminder to me that all those who assert, Douglas Hurd style, that “Europe is heading our way” are as wide of the mark as they ever were. Ringing endorsements of the “Project” were to be heard, mixed with savage indictments of “sceptics”, the word spat out and equated with racism and – favourite one of the federalists, this one – xenophobia.
I resort to cliché because the debate was full of it. The clichéd nature continued, I have to admit, with the lone Brit coming along to spoil the Euro-party. I pointed out that the EU does not have competence over education. I pointed out that it is no more virtuous – much less so, in fact – to be a nationalist for some fictional and historically illiterate federal project than it is for one’s own country. I pointed out that those trying to keep the UK in the EU, which includes me (sometimes!), run an ever higher chance of being frustrated when nonsense like this emerges from MEPs.
It all fell on deaf ears and following speakers queued up to denounce my impertinence. It was suggested that I did not understand history (I read history at two universities, wrote articles for the Oxford Companion to British History and am a university governor), and even that I should only eat British food or read British books if I cannot see that our young people could only benefit from EU propaganda in their classrooms. The assumption behind all of this being that the more people learn about the EU, the more they will come to love it. All I can say is that after eighteen months as an MEP, it has not worked for me!
Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, quoted in Thomas E Ricks’s The Generals, says of those seeking to bring intelligent criticism to an organisation that they “…are most valued when the dominant paradigm begins to break down. In this moment of crisis, the heretics become the heroes, as they have already constructed alternative paradigms that others haven’t considered… in large organisations, the challenge is to keep the skeptics from becoming extinct.” The European Parliament – and, by extension, the other EU institutions – is failing that challenge. Time, at least for continuing British involvement, is running out.