By Matthew Barrett
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Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, has written for the Guardian today, on Labour's new policy of "mature patriotism" towards Europe. Alexander writes:
"Our task is instead to tell a new story about Britain and Europe, rooted in the need for reform revealed by new economic and political realities. To cut ourselves off from a market of 500 million customers wouldn't just imply we had lost faith in Europe, it would suggest we had lost faith in the ability of British companies to outcompete their European rivals. High-value services and high-skill manufacturing need to be underwritten by common standards and competition laws."
This makes it clear that Labour's interest in Europe is in the success of the single market, rather than the possibility of joining the Euro in the future. Perhaps the most notable remarks are these:
"The Conservatives have stated that repatriation is their priority. They seem worryingly complacent about the prospect of a two-speed Europe – an outcome that Conservative and Labour foreign secretaries have spent decades opposing. Such a development would pose fundamental risks to our interests within the single market. We should engage now with the fact that Germany is seeking treaty change and seize this opportunity to safeguard the rights of non-euro members. The present balance of powers can be considered, but to suggest that repatriation should be Britain's overriding priority – and to start negotiations by threatening vetoes – reveals a government that misreads present risks and realities. A hard-headed view of Britain's national interests should be the hallmark of our approach to the coming negotiations."
On the surface, Alexander is critical of the Government. At a deeper level, however, he is carving out a position not very different from Nick Clegg's – and, in the absence of any power repatriation proposal from the Government, David Cameron's – by signalling Labour's agreement with the Coalition's top policy line: "a hard-headed view of Britain's national interests".
Ed Balls has been agitating against further IMF payments for some time, and it appears that the Shadow Chancellor has won that particular battle. Alexander's article provides an important internal corrective.
Both will be well aware of the impact the overall policy will have on Conservative backbenchers. In general, the Opposition having a broadly similar view on the EU to the Government may well encourage larger Conservative rebellions than we have seen so far. More specifically, Balls will be waiting for an opportunity to ambush the Coalition, particularly on any Commons vote relating to the EU and money.