Priti Patel is an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee. She is also a member of the Party’s Policy Board and MP for Witham.
Last week’s European election results sent out a clear message across the European Union. The message was one of mass disillusionment and the message that the British public have had enough of the unaccountable decision making processes and the hideously expensive, out of touch Brussels bureaucracy that have defined the EU.
Conservatives should not be downbeat about last week’s results. Although it was disappointing to see our number of MEPs fall, there were many positives that we can take out of the election. Indeed, we should use the results to act as a springboard to reaffirm our commitment to reform the EU, repatriate powers, renegotiate our membership and give the British people an in-out referendum.
Those in Britain who would deny the public a referendum – namely the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats – were resoundingly snubbed by voters. Across the country, the pro-European LibDems were almost completely wiped out, saved only by scraping enough votes in the South East, the UK’s largest European electoral region, to maintain one MEP. Labour, which betrayed the public on the Lisbon Treaty and opened our boarders to uncontrolled EU immigration, failed to make any significant gains, and fell well short of where the main opposition party would usually expect to finish in a mid-term election. Its increase in vote share was inflated by the fact that, during the last set of European elections, they hit rock bottom while Gordon Brown’s Government was falling apart. In the East of England, Labour lost vote share and was almost wiped out in that region.
Unsurprisingly, the British people do not trust Labour on Europe and probably never will. They have rejected the vision of Europe that Blair and Brown signed us up to, and the devastating legacy that this has had on Britain. The loss of a large part of the rebate, the failure to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, the mismanagement of fisheries, the opening-up of our borders to millions more immigrants and their refusal to trust the British people with a referendum should never be forgotten. Ed Miliband defends Labour’s arrogant legacy on Europe by insisting that he knows best, denying the public their say in an referendum, failing to recognise Labour’s disastrous legacy on European issues and deluding himself with the view that his federalist views are supported by the majority of the British public.
The overwhelming verdict of the British people is that they want change, they want to be liberated from the shackles of European Union and understandably they are now impatient for that change. They want to see an end to unrestricted free movement, abuse of our welfare and benefits system by other European nationals, and for powers to be brought back from Brussels. Importantly, they want to see an end to the cosy consensus of the liberal elite, driving forward Europe’s federalist agenda, which the Lib Dems and Labour are fully signed up to. Thanks to the last Labour Government, the EU has become a socialist dictatorship that uses bureaucratic and judicial tools to suppress the aspirations, freedoms and the entrepreneurial spirit of the British people. In the remaining eleven months to the General Election, we must take this opportunity to prove to the British people that only the Conservative Party can deliver a new generational change in direction for Britain and Europe.
At a Europe-wide level, we must strike now while the iron is hot, and vigorously pursue our national interests to reform, repatriate and renegotiate. Elsewhere in Europe and for a variety of reasons, public apprehension towards the ‘European Project’ is reaching a crescendo. The people have spoken, and have declared that they have had enough of the complete lack of transparency and accountability, and of undemocratic decision-making and power exerting by out of touch bureaucrats and judges in the EU. Vanity projects developed in ivory towers in Brussels, costly pro-EU propaganda, the funding of organisations to act as cheerleaders for the EU and the hundreds of millions wasted on European citizenship initiatives have all been resolutely rejected.
We have heard from Europe’s leaders that Europe must take note of the results and change, although for many these are merely words that will never be backed up with actions. After the 2009 Elections, when scepticism with the EU was in the ascendancy, we heard similar sentiments but there was a lack of commitment to drive forward reforms. Already, just days after being comprehensively rebuked by voters in Britain and Europe, the European Commission has been caught out developing underhand plans to take more money from British taxpayers. But now that Euroscepticism has cemented itself as the prevailing view of the public towards the EU, we cannot afford to let the Euro-elite off the hook this time – and in Britain we can be confident that the Prime Minister and Conservatives will be leading the charge.
Alliances for reform are already being forged, building on the achievements we have already secured. Ministers are also looking beyond Europe to boost our economy, with trading links to countries outside Europe being strengthened. As a result, exports to non-EU countries are exceeding those going to Europe and we are gaining important footholds into new, emerging and growing markets. We must drive forward the case for further reforms to open up more markets and help businesses to reduce their costs and expand trade. To do this, we must see the red tape and regulations that bombard this country and cost British businesses and taxpayers billions of pounds a year overhauled. In the last few years alone, at a time when economic growth and job creation is so important, regulation and red tape emanating from Brussels is costing businesses and families billions of pounds. At least £5 billion of additional costs have been imposed on this country by Brussels. Freeing Britain from Europe’s red tape would trigger a new era of supply-side reforms that would add billions of pounds to our economy, create many new jobs and cause exports to increase.
The European rules on free movement of people also need to be reviewed and the process of renegotiating the terms of our membership of the EU presents an opportunity to achieve a favourable outcome for Britain. The principle of the free movement of people across the EU to underpin the free market should not be used as an excuse for some to come here for a better life and contribute little or nothing back. Existing powers to ‘restrict the right of entry and right of residence on the grounds of public policy, public security and public health’ should also be more vigorously applied.
Reforming free movement rules is a priority for Conservatives and further restrictions on who can stay in the UK and access to benefits and public services will need to be introduced. It is utterly scandalous that the European Commission is able to undermine our benefits system by challenging decisions that we make to control welfare spending. But under a reformed EU, we should be able to repatriate powers back to the UK so that we can exert full control over our borders and our benefits system.
An ambitious reform, repatriate and renegotiate agenda for the EU therefore presents an opportunity to change our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR has frustrated and blocked this country from protecting itself from dangerous foreign criminals and terrorists. It meddles and interferes in our criminal justice system and its decisions are often completely out of touch with the British people. Whether it is Abu Qatada, prisoner votes or decisions to block deportations of foreign national criminals on spurious human rights grounds, the ECHR has been on the wrong side of public opinion. While Labour and the Lib Dems will always capitulate to these institutions, only a Conservative Government elected in 2015 will be able to turn the tables, stand up from Britain and put British interests first over the ECHR and the EU.
Just as we are working hard to transform the EU and give the British people a truly democratic voice through a referendum, there will be pro-EU forces at work trying to block our efforts and do everything possible to continue to pursue the federalists’ dream. In view of the results in Britain, the public will expect all UK MEPs to get behind the Prime Minister’s plan to reform, repatriate and renegotiate. Those who do not support change will only serve to play into the hands of Europe’s political elite who want the opposition to their project to be divided and weak. What’s more, the Labour Party and LibDems will be betraying the British people once again in a repeat of the shameful way they backed the Lisbon Treaty if they continue to ignore the British people.
The status quo of EU membership is simply not an option. The British public want less Europe and more Britain. The British public want our political leaders to say ‘No’ to the unaccountable federalist European agenda which has led to the widespread failures of the European Union we face today. As other other political parties in the UK continue to deny the public a referendum and are unwilling to be advocates of change, the Conservatives will pave the way for the radical reform that is needed, to win back powers, restore our sovereignty and ultimately restore the trust of the British people on Europe.