Downing Street press officers will no doubt be marketing
Friday’s discourse as the “biggest speech since Bruges”. When David Cameron steps
up to the podium, one trusts the media managers will have conscientiously swept
the room of metaphor, covering up signs above doorways saying ‘Exit’.
Will a stray EU flag be allowed to linger symbolically in the
room? On the off-chance that those twelve stars are visible from the podium,
here are twelve suggested principles to help guide responses to some of the sticky
questions from journalists afterwards.
i) Amid all this talk of
Eurorealism, be genuinely Eurorealistic. The country is overwhelmingly
critical of European integration and doesn’t support it. If it were otherwise
we would have had a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. By standing up tomorrow,
you are simply fulfilling your democratic mandate and obligations. But,
realistically, there is no chance of changing the EU as a corporate entity into
what we want. That
battle was fought and lost during the Convention on the Future of Europe, thanks
in part to Labour indifference and with Lib Dem connivance. We are where we are
because of them. We cannot fix the EU; we can only fix it as it applies to us.
ii) Fundamental change is needed,
not tinkering. The review that Chris Heaton-Harris, Andrea Leadsom et al have been working on will imminently
set out proposals that, reports suggest, have been colour coded, with ‘green’
representing minor tweaks, ‘amber’ some directional shift, and ‘red’ major
treaty change. Taken as a whole, a report that reflects the hue of tranquil
green uplands and scattered corn fields may be diplomatically easier for a
season; but only one of harsh desert tones can generate lasting reform. The
problem is not with the odd item of legislation that can be repealed. It lies
with treaty articles that need to be ditched. One might add the same radicalism
is needed with the separate, but increasingly intertwined, Gordian knot of the
iii) Withdrawal is a real option.
It may not be your preferred one, and it has its difficulties, but these are
matched and, in
many more areas, outpaced by other advantages. By accepting this premise,
you are improving your negotiating hand, and at the same time increasing your
chances of getting a new arrangement with the EU that will both endure and be
acceptable over the long term to the majority of the British people.
iv) Withdrawal is a legitimate
route. Logically this is a no-brainer. If the choice is either to stay
in an EU which has become a super-state, or leave, the only option if you wish
Britain to continue as an independent state is to leave. Everything in between
is a matter of relative degree. At some point the balance tips. The question is
purely when we are at that point. Some
convincingly argue we reached it a while ago (and I agree); others that we
are on the cusp. But that bandwidth for debate is now over and the issue needs
to be fixed now. Never forget that in terms of trade, the continentals do
better out of us than we out of them. A cynic would start a Cabinet sweepstake
on how long it would take before French farmers and German car manufacturers
successfully lobbied even a spiteful and vengeful government to ensure
continuing access for their exports to us. Inside the EU, the costs of the
Single Market collectively, across the entire economy, probably already now outweigh
the benefits to that nine per cent of British trade it regulates. The goal is
to remove as many costs while keeping as many reduced tariffs. It’s a sliding
scale but a trade deal outside of EU membership features prominently as an
option on it. In the cold light of day you may well find it the best.
v) Stop supporting a federal
Europe. If you want to push for European integration, join the European
Movement. Let their leaders come
clean to their voters about where the
EU project is taking them (and good luck to them once they explain the price).
It’s true that British diplomats have long argued in Brussels, when trying to
block legislation, that this was the consequence and direction, having mutely
recognised the reality as early as the original accession talks. That’s no
reason that you should facilitate their folly while surrendering a key
bartering point (and the moral high ground).
vi) Carpe diem. Other
countries play hard ball during treaty negotiations. The CFP was bolted onto
the acquis just hours before the
application letters from the 1973 joiners arrived. Spain and France both
threatened Norwegian accession demanding special access to their fishing
grounds. Slovenia threatened to block Croatian accession over a disputed cove.
The list goes on. The UK has a strong hand today because of the Eurozone
Crisis. It needn’t be played recklessly or vindictively, as other countries
might have. But it should be played better than Whitehall’s wont (such as when timorously
refusing to apply Hague Preference rules on Total Allowable Catch, because it might
offend other fisheries ministers if our boats are allowed slightly more).
vii) Commit to a referendum.
Establish a precise time frame. Set the agenda, take the lead and make the
others in Westminster follow. Make it an in or out question, based on your
negotiated terms, and don’t be afraid to support the Out lobby if the
negotiations foul up. That way you’ll avoid the folly of Labour in ’75. Even if
negotiations fail, you still have two years to sort out a new friendship treaty
with the EU as an outside party. If you need more time, you can even then plump
for briefly sliding across into the EEA, which is what countries wishing to
join the EU do, while the Single Market access deal is reached. It triggers no sweaty
rush or blind panic. There are no rocks and this is not an Italian cruise
liner. You will not be paddling to shore while the ship of state founders.
viii) Exploit the Balance of
Competences review. If the Civil Service wasn’t aware of the scale of
the issues before it started, they will be when it concludes. Encourage ordinary
people with “victims’ experience” to participate. Anyone who attends Brussels ministerial
meetings should find it holds no surprises. But it is a hugely important
exercise, particularly if you can add an appraisal of the democratic deficit to
its reasoned conclusions, and then turn it into a costed audit.
ix) Be ambitious. To
need changes that transform the architecture of Europe – or at least
rebuild Britain’s annex. Make it somewhere others might want to live and you
may well in time find fellow tenants. It’s better to live as a good neighbour
than as a bad lodger always complaining about the taps, the noise and the rent.
x) Follow principle, not fashion.
Some banshees are currently wailing about the risk to the UK from adopting a
bold and visionary approach. The Lib Dems are in favour of European
integration. Labour are strapped in the kiddy seat and offer no change on past
failed routines. Other critics represent narrow vested interests. The UK
economy is the bigger vested interest and you should be true to that.
xi) Make sure your team gets the
data right. Stop talking about Norway being a fax democracy for
starters. It has already been eloquently
explained why this is an Aunt Sally. Talk to Nordics themselves and they’ll
detail how the more Europhile Norwegian ministers (of the type that awarded the
EU a Nobel Prize) have used the EEA aggressively as a halfway house to full EU
membership. EEA countries do have a greater say and veto rights, even if they
choose not to use them. The reality even so is that, as an EFTA report showed, by
2005 for instance only 6.5% of EU legislation had fallen under the EEA
agreement, and in turn under 4% of that
number had required a change to Icelandic laws already in place. Suggesting
otherwise suggests your office’s reading list has been skewed. Correct it by bringing
someone both experienced and with ideas on board, like Daniel Hannan or David
xii) Work on what’s at fault in
Britain too. Demonstrate in the meantime that you’re dedicated to
meaningful change, by fixing what’s bust about how Parliament interacts with
and implements EU law. It’s been twenty years now since MPs were suggesting
something as anodyne as simply printing EU-sourced legislation on different-coloured
paper, and departmental compliance cost appraisals still leave much to be
desired. Begin by changing the system so civil servants are physically
incapable of gold-plating EU regulations. That will give your team plenty to
get their teeth into while the negotiations are being prepped for, and alone
would be cause enough to bring Steve Hilton back.
So, Prime Minister, stop staring now at the stars on that
flag at the back of the room. It’s time to respond. We’re desperate to know the answers.
Dr Lee Rotherham is a
former adviser to three Shadow Foreign Secretaries and to a Parliamentary
delegate on the Convention on the Future of Europe.