The EU Veto (with hindsight)

Boris Johnson says that Cameron played a blinder in Brussels last week, and I agree.

But I’m also astonished.  I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with Party and Coalition policy on Europe.  I argued (for example on ConHome, and on my blog) that we were handing over powers to Brussels faster than the previous Labour administration did before us.  Financial regulation; European Diplomatic Service; the European Investigation Order, and so on.  Then came the abject shame a few weeks ago when a Conservative Prime Minister, elected on a manifesto commitment to EU referenda, actually whipped Conservative MPs to vote against a referendum.  I was rapidly forming the view that Cameron was a sell-out Europhile who would do nothing to halt the euro-creep (or rather the euro-stampede).

I now have to revise my view.  Cameron handled last Friday’s negotiations well.  He made fair and reasonable demands, which were not calling for British exceptionalism, but for amendments that would apply across the EU and which (in my view, and the view of many) would have been hugely beneficial.  So Merkel and Sarkozy are the unreasonable non-negotiators.  The Cameron initiative also united the Party, if we leave out the unreconstructed die-hards like Ken Clarke.

Moreover the “fiscal union” which Merkozy demanded is not, in fact, a fiscal union at all.  It lacks a central Treasury, a single budget or finance minister.  It lacks euro-bonds, and (most importantly) it lacks major fiscal transfers — the only device that could overcome the vast divergence of competitiveness that bedevils the €urozone.   Boiled down to essentials, it is no more than the Maastricht Criteria Mark Two.  But the markets will recall that Mark One totally failed to deliver.  They will not be convinced that Mark Two is a lot better.

It was intolerable for Cameron to contemplate pre-authorisation of UK budgets by Brussels before they were presented and debated in the House of Commons.  It was intolerable to think of Britain, until recently an independent nation, sent to stand on the Naughty Step by EU apparatchiks.

The fact is that for nearly four decades we have gone along, however grudgingly, with new EU Treaties.  We hated the direction, but we also hated being spoilers and bad sports, so we finally grimaced and swallowed the latest salami slice demanded by Brussels.  But this salami slice — the surrender of fiscal sovereignty and the rape of the City of London — was too big a mouthful.  Cameron saw where we were invited to go, and simply could not go there.  He did what even Margaret Thatcher never did, and vetoed the Treaty.  It was a fearfully uncomfortable night for him, and he deserves great credit for standing firm — though cynics will point out that he would have been even more uncomfortable if he had come home with the Merkozy deal initialled.

When Cameron told Merkozy that he simply could not get the proposed Treaty through the House of Commons, it was no empty threat.  It was no more than the truth.

Cameron has scored a huge success for Britain and the Conservative Party (and snookered the Lib-Dems).  But he can’t afford to rest on his laurels.

As the Prime Minister has promised, we must now start to repatriate powers from the EU.  In this context, the report by Lee Rotherham for Tax Payers’ Alliance, “Terms of Endearment”, is required reading.    It lists a series of areas where we need fairly radical reform.  Not only employment and social affairs (Working Time Directive, Agency Workers etc), but fisheries, agriculture, immigration, home affairs, health and safety, defence, and of course environment — we must get away from the EU’s farcical and ruinous emissions targets.

Various groups are working on the detail, including the Fresh Start Group, of which my good friend Chris Heaton-Harris MP is co-Chairman.

This task is all the more urgent, as there is fighting talk emerging from key figures in Brussels.  They are suggesting that the UK should be “punished” for its effrontery in holding up an EU Treaty, and for derailing the €uro rescue (although of course the eurozone can still do the things which it believes it ought to do, without our signing the Treaty — and the rescue cannot succeed in any case).  But they will be thumbing over the existing Treaties, especially Lisbon, which greatly extended QMV.  And they will be seeking disobliging things that they can do, in regulatory terms, to damage the UK and the City, and to “teach us a lesson”.

It is therefore vital that we make clear right away that we simply will not accept future regulation, QMV or not, which in our view will damage our economy.  We must tell them that we will ignore ECJ rulings on any breaches of such rules.  We shall decline to pay any fines or to accept any other penalties.

And we must have a bottom line.  We must be clear that if they choose to treat us unfairly, we always have the option of leaving.  Cameron says he believes that EU membership is in our interests.  He is wrong.  It is time that we had a formal cost/benefit analysis, such as the Swiss government has done.  And we should find, like the Swiss, that we should be Better Off Out.

So Cameron must recognise that his veto, though brave and splendid, is not an isolated act of defiance, but the start of a process.  The Party will support him in this process.  And it presents a huge opportunity.  Clegg has already shown his stunning ability to back the wrong side in terms of public opinion.  He is now saying (more or less) that Cameron was wrong to stand up for Britain.  A snap General Election, with a credible, unconditional promise of an early EU referendum, would deliver a majority Conservative government.

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12 Responses to The EU Veto (with hindsight)

  1. Mike says:

    This article is excellent. Thank you very much for pledging your loyalty to your country and not to your own personal career. I do hope that a lot of other brave and honest people will be there to enter the right lobby at the right time.

    At the end of the week I go to poor little Switzerland, marooned in abject poverty on the top of the Alps. I shall not be able to afford Gluwein and will have to depend on my son and daughter in law who live far away from the richesse of the EU in poor little backward Singapore.

    Of course, we all know that the Swiss have vast reserves of oil and they also make a brilliant living from illegal banking and cuckoo clocks, so that is how they manage to scrape along. (see BBC information page).

    • Andrew Shakespeare says:

      Ah yes, those poor little Swiss. How they must suffer, isolated as they are. And quite how the Norwegians (who don’t even have a chocolate, cuckoo-clock and tax refuge industry to depend upon) can afford all that central heating in winter is beyond me.

      But Iceland is the country that really astonishes me, with its economy powering upward, and out of its economic troubles, while the Eurozone — err, well — isn’t. My impression is that the Icelandics seem to have gone all quiet recently on the subject of EU membership.

      As has Turkey, for some reason. Hmm, funny that.

  2. Sue says:

    “He made fair and reasonable demands”, Do you know the details of these demands yet Roger? It would be interesting to see what the “colleagues” didn’t like. I have heard that he actually asked for more financial regulation than even the EU had intended.

    “As the Prime Minister has promised, we must now start to repatriate powers from the EU” They won’t give us anything back and you know it better than most. Your frustration with Brussels has been evident for a very long time 🙂

    The only way is out!

  3. Heather Alibakir says:

    The gravy train that is the EU has always resented us (and indeed de Gaulle and Mitterand said it all) regarding us as the Hobo clinging to the tail end of the last car. The trouble is that we are reasonable people and they are not and in addition, we are right about so many things, especially the viability of the Euro.

    The British have been stigmatiised by the founders of the EU who cannot forget Waterloo (I kid you not, having lived among them) and two World Wars. They feel the need to best us at something and indeed my feeling is that some of the legislation coming out of Brussels was aimed deliberately at making us leave the EU. They do not want us in because they have found that we are not lemmings.

    Congratulations to David Cameron, but I think that Roger is right:the party is not over yet
    we have just given them the menu

  4. Andrew Shakespeare says:

    Credit where it’s due, I’m very pleased with Cameron’s veto. For his trouble, he has justly received the sort of press most politicians can only dream of. Let’s hope he develops a taste for it.

    However, in our celebrations, let’s not forget this much: Cameron dropped almost all his demands and was asking for very little. Had Sarkozy been a little less bloody-minded, Cameron would have signed us up to this treaty, regardless of its effect on British sovereignty, and got almost nothing in return; and no, there wouldn’t have been a referendum.

    Even that much might have been doubtful had it not been for the scale of pressure applied upon him by his party and the press. Had the Eurosceptics given him an easier time, I suspect he might have signed the agreement anyway, and stuff the consequences for the City of London — ever the follower of the course of least resistance is our Dave. As it happened, he realised that such a course of action would probably have terminated his political career, and that he had very little choice but to veto; but it wasn’t through lack of trying.

    So, personally speaking, Cameron gets a “Well done”, and my likelihood of voting Conservative in the next election rises to “unlikely” from “not a chance in hell,” but we’ll see what happens next. I still don’t trust him not to sell us out, since he has a solid track record of not living up to his promise. But with a bit of luck, he’ll decide that he prefers the adulation of the Daily Mail to saying “Yes sir” every time Little Nicky tells him what to do.

    • Peter the Dutchman says:

      What a superb and very accurate assessment of Cameron. I wouldn’t trust him with my grandson’s pocket money; we have to keep pushing him in the right direction by making it clear that he is out if he doesn’t follow through in the same vein.

  5. Malcolm Edward says:

    Quite simply a clique in the EU are now ramping up the level of economic attack on the UK.
    Very pleased that Cameron stuck to his (very minimal) red lines and said no. Even though Cameron has a niave faith in the institution of the EU.
    The fact that Merkozy manufactured this issue and presented Cameron with an un-called-for ultimatum, and which has little relevance to dealing with the eurozone problems, shows how deeply unfriendly they really are towards us, along with their hangers-on.
    This is just a phase in a developing situation in which there will be re-alignments and possibly attempted economic attacks upon us.
    I can’t see that all the other 17 to 26 will find the Merkozy ez-medicine palatable – especially as it will not cure the ez-illness. So in time I can see the euro-block fragmenting and some countries falling out.
    The rest of the world exists very happily outside of the EU, so why not us. To be free from the battlefields of unwanted treaties.

  6. Chris says:

    Excellent article.

  7. John Kelly says:

    Today EU Economics Commissioner Olli Rehn, stated that the “fiscal compact” among the other 26 EU members will enable the EU to legally and effectively bypass the so called UK veto employed by David Cameron because the UK has already signed up to the 6 pack of fiscal and economic surveillance measures.

    So the city of London finacial sector so crucial to the wealth of our nation can still suffer the imposition of the punitive EU financial transaction tax, which most experts say will destroy London as the world leader in the finance world.

    There is only one way to combat this threat, support the private members bill of Philip Hollobone that comes before Parliament in March 2012 by registering an e-petition to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 as this is the only effective way to leave the EU

  8. Rob says:

    A move in the right direction, but I remain somewhat circumspect. Richard North has some sensible observations in the attached link. http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2011/12/story-so-far.html

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