Here are the alternatives for the UK with respect to Europe:
A) Repatriate powers, soon;
The position of desiring to repatriate is now (as it has been for some time) the Europhile position. The position of those such as Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband that oppose all repatriation of powers will have only one destination: the UK’s exit from the EU, within some five to ten years. Those that call themselves “Europhiles” are now what Lenin would term the “useful idiots” of the get-outer movement.
Even amongst the repatriators (the true Europhiles) a deep confusion has arisen. Many now seem to describe the view that we should have a trade agreement with the EU akin to that of Norway as being a “repatriation” position. Some even describe John Redwood’s proposal that the UK should be able to pick and choose what EU directives and regulations it feels like applying as a modest “repatriation” idea. In fact, each of these is a hard-core get-outer view – even UKIP-ers would favour a Norwegian-type arrangement.
On the other hand, there are those such as William Hague and David Cameron who appear to believe that all that needs to be repatriated are a few minor details of social and employment legislation! The gulf between “repatriators” is immense. Opponents – both get-outers and their “useful idiot” “Europhile” unconscious allies – allege we have no idea what powers we really want to repatriate. They have a point.
It’s been so long since we had a proper healthy and open debate on Europe within the party that it seems to me that many folk have forgotten what the Eurosceptic (as opposed to get-outer) position really is.
I am a classical mainstream Eurosceptic, of the 1995-2005 vintage. That includes the following propositions:
a) We don’t object to our continental friends forming a Single European State if that’s what they want to do. (As it happens, in my own case I am positively a fan of that idea. But the classical Eurosceptic position does not require advocating it – it merely says that it’s their business if that’s what they want.)
b) We do not want Britain to be part of the Single European State, or to be entangled with the project of building the Single European State in ways that impose upon our constitutional traditions.
c) We are positively in favour of full, deep involvement in the single market, which means us sometimes accepting changing our regulations in ways proposed in Europe that we don’t like for the enormous gains of (i) participating in those debates, shaping and moulding them with our ideas (and British ideas are enormously influential upon the European Commission); (ii) having other countries change their regulations as proposed in Europe in ways that reflect our ideas and values (especially in respect of competition, freedom of trade, and the limited role of the state) and often benefit our firms.
d) We are positively in favour of other forms of friendly engagement through the European Union, such as no travel visas, cultural exchange (e.g. through student swaps), and providing (on specific occasions) a forum for a co-ordinated voice speaking to Eastern Europe and North Africa.
e) However, to reiterate, the ways in which we deliver the Single Market and broader friendly engagement must not impinge upon our legal and constitutional traditions.
The problem with the EU is not, then, that we do not like some EU regulations or some particular aspects of economic cooperation (e.g. the CAP or CFP). All treaties will involve some things we don’t like, and reform of the CAP (less so, the CFP) are things that are best argued for from within the EU – reform within, not change of relationship with.
Similarly, although it is probably the case that certain social and employment powers for Brussels go a little far, most such powers sit clearly within the general ambit of economic engagement that the Single Market is about. We probably should repatriate some such powers, but here we are talking of details, not principles.
The key issues lie elsewhere. A true repatriation needs to include the following elements:
• We must pass a proper “Sovereignty Act” (not this worthless “referendum lock” nonsense) that asserts that, in respect of the UK, conclusions of the European Court of Justice do not have independent legal force. They constitute only an arbitration over whether we are or are not in violation of our Treaty obligations. Thus, a British bureaucrat or minister is not acting against the law, and hence potentially subject to malfeasance, if she acts in ways that violate Treaty obligations but have not been specifically implemented by Parliament.
• Britain must explicitly be exempted from the obligation to seek "ever closer union".
• We must withdraw from the common criminal space and defence space (each of which were established in the Amsterdam Treaty, which the Conservative Party opposed).
• We must withdraw from the common foreign service provisions of Lisbon (e.g. the EU embassies and EU High Representative).
• We must repudiate our involvement in the passerelle clause of Lisbon.
• We must state that the UK is not part of the single legal entity, for international negotiations, created by Lisbon.
• We must repudiate our commitment, under Lisbon, to be in good standing with the European Convention on Human Rights and to accept as binding the findings of the European Court.
The above would not constitute the end of repatriation / renegotiation. That occurs in respect of all parts of the EU every time the Treaty is changed – every Treaty change renegotiates the Treaty. There would be much further development of the Single European State (SES) and its connection with the non-SES members of the EU. Multiple Treaty changes will clarify this, and Britain can use each such change to hone its involvement.
But with the above changes in place, our involvement with the EU Treaties will be that of a sovereign country dealing with other countries in an international agreement that has its pros and cons, of course, and will not last for ever, but which we regard as being to our benefit for now.
If we achieve that, the pressure to leave the EU altogether will pass. If, instead, we try to pick away at particular pieces of our engagement with the EU – repatriating an employment competency here, a competency over financial regulation there – that will create enormous frustration amongst those concerned about our relationship with the EU and feed the get-outer cause.
I repeat: the options are to repatriate or to leave. I am a true Europhile – what we used to call a “Eurosceptic” – so I want to repatriate, so we can stay. The “useful idiot” false “Europhiles" need to wake up and smell the roses. The longer they delay and frustrate those of us that genuinely do want to stay in the EU, the more they strengthen the hand of those that want to leave.