By Matthew Barrett
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Liam Fox's speech to the TaxPayers' Alliance this morning – previewed in an article for the Sunday Telegraph – is the highest profile Eurosceptic intervention so far in this Parliament. As I wrote yesterday, Fox defies the wisdom of the Conservative leadership by arguing that if we are not able to renegotiate significant powers back for Britain, we should leave the European Union. Dr Fox has put the argument against the European institutions in even tougher terms in his speech.
Dr Fox criticised the €uro as flawed and intellectually compromised:
"The euro was always a flawed project. Intellectually, it was never clear whether it was a political or economic entity… Such was the rush to entry that woefully scant regard was given to considerations on how to manage and choreograph the exit of a member. The consequence is that no one has any idea how to get out in a crisis. Off the euro sailed, lauded as unsinkable as once the Titanic was, and still no one worried about the lifeboats."
Dr Fox was also strongly critical of Germany's attitude towards the austerity imposed by the governments of smaller €urozone nations…
"[Germany] says that the euro is an indispensable landmark on the road to ever closer union but that Germany will not make the fiscal transfers necessary to make it happen- at least not yet. Worse, the view from Berlin has been interpreted to mean that Germany is willing to tolerate any level of austerity in any other country apart from Germany in order to make the project succeed. This is a recipe for instability and the rise of nationalist sentiment in Europe. It potentially makes the stability pact a suicide pact. The idea of austerity being forced upon smaller nations by Berlin has too much historical resonance to succeed without fostering potentially dangerous political backlashes on both left and right."
…and of the cultural problems that make the inefficient Euro-nations so economically under-performing:
"[T]his is not simply a fiscal problem – it is also an economic and cultural one… It is the persistent divergence of the member economies and the virtually irreconcilable cultures of some member nations that produce the fault lines. You can throw as much good money after bad as you fancy and apply all the fiscal discipline you like but Thessalonika will not transform into Dusseldorf any time soon."
Dr Fox made his stark "central point" – that Britain is not best served by its current relationship with the EU, but rejected an in/out referendum…
"I do not believe that Britain’s national interest is served by its current relationship with the EU. … There are those, including a growing number of my Parliamentary colleagues, who call for a simple “in or out” referendum to be held in Britain soon. I too believe that a referendum will be vital but I believe that having one now would be a huge error with enormous tactical risks."
…before spelling out his preferred scenario:
"I would like to see Britain negotiate a new relationship with the EU based on economic rather than political considerations and set out in clear and unambiguous language. If we succeed a referendum should be held and formal acceptance advocated. If, on the other hand, this approach is rejected outright or falls short of necessary “red lines”, then we would have no alternative but to recommend rejection and consider departure from the EU."
Dr Fox noted that politicians have often promised some return of powers, but seldom delivered:
"We have not moved the goalposts. But they have been moved nonetheless. We must now respond. For 20 years, since I entered Parliament, we have been told that we are winning the arguments on Europe and that it is coming in our direction. It is not true. We must free ourselves from the dogma of “ever closer union” that has been a handicap on every government since the 1970s."
Finally, Dr Fox called on Britain to "rise to the challenge" and reject arguments of renegotiation being too difficult:
"There will be those who say that this is the wrong time and that it is politically difficult or even impossible. These are the perpetual arguments for inertia. It is the British public who must be the final arbiters and their voice has been ignored for too long. Politicians of all parties must show that they are able and willing to put the National interest ahead of narrow electoral interests. We should not wait for EU leaders to recognise the failure of the ill-conceived euro before we set out what we want for the British people. Britain’s destiny is not a debating issue for leaders on the continent. It must be made in Britain. This is the time for us to rise to the challenge."
The full speech can be read on PoliticsHome (£).