George Eustice is the MP for Camborne, Redruth, and Hayle. He has proposed an amendment to the current motion on an EU referendum. Here is a full list of current signatories to George's amendment.
Two years ago I took part in a “war gaming” exercise with around half a dozen other politicos which sought to predict some of the challenges that would present themselves to a possible future Cameron government. One conclusion was that within the first eighteen months there would be an EU crisis and possible melt down within the parliamentary party and that the party leadership would be completely ill prepared for it having tried to avoid discussion of the issue.
So, here we are. The debate in parliament tomorrow has become so contentious because Conservative MPs have an uneasy suspicion that the government has no intention of trying to sort out the EU any time soon and that the Foreign Office will just continue to drift along the path of least resistance and fall back on the timid “events, dear boy, events” mindset that has corrupted it for half a century.
The urgent need to get our economy moving again becomes clearer by the day. The sheer burden of debt within the economies of the developed world threatens a decade of austerity and economic stagnation. There are no easy ways out of the current mess. We need radical thinking to get this country moving again and that should include pressing the reset button on the morass of silly EU laws and regulations which were designed for easy times but are now dragging our economy into the ground.
Any government that is serious about getting growth back in our economy must start by sorting out the EU and my amendment aims to force the Foreign Office to do its job and start work on this project. It would have three phases. Firstly, you need a plan setting out which powers you are taking back and we must start that work right now. Secondly, once you have a plan you should move quickly to start negotiating to achieve your aims and finally, once the negotiations are completed you should put the outcome to the country in a referendum so that they can be the judge of whether the government has delivered. My amendment is consistent with the coalition agreement and, if selected, should be allowed a free vote, even at this late stage. It would be better by far to have my motion passed rather than the current one inevitably defeated.
My proposal has had its critics among some eurosceptic activists but it was ever thus. When I was a UKIP candidate back in 1999, I remember one meeting where someone advocated a plan to specifically target Conservative MPs who were in favour of Europe but against the euro on the basis that they were something described as “intellectually inconsistent”. When I pointed out that this would be entirely counterproductive both to our overall cause and our chances of staying out of the euro, she replied, “at least we can tell our children we tried” while others in the room nodded.
A tendency for martyrdom has dogged euroscepticism since 1975. Eurosceptics have a habit of picking fights prematurely when they are ill prepared on ground where they could never win anyway. The only exception I have ever come across was Business for Sterling which developed a unique culture partly because of the early leadership of Nick Herbert, Alex Hickman and Dominic Cummings under the chairmanship of Rodney Leach. At Business for Sterling, we played to win and aimed to ensure that battles were won before they even started. We chose our ground and the timing of our attacks carefully and we planned things properly. It was a campaign that took no prisoners. We instigated a civil war in the CBI, turned the Trade Unions against the Labour government and repeatedly de-railed Tony Blair and his much vaunted New Labour spin doctors. Its success then is the main reason we are not in the euro today.
To those eurosceptics itching to embark on yet another noble Charge of the Light Brigade, I would say this: once this latest fiasco is out of the way, recognise that it is not enough to try, you have to learn to succeed. If you want to succeed you need to win votes in parliament rather than lose votes and if you want to win votes you need to unite the Conservative Party, not drive a coach and horses through the middle of it.