One of the reasons that led me (and many others like me) to give up on the Conservative Party was their extraordinary ability to tell a robust Eurosceptic story — and then go and do the opposite.
I well remember, for example, Christopher Beazley, who served as a Tory MEP alongside me from 1999 to 2009. He was known in the parliament and the Conservative delegation as an out-and-out pro-European, absolutely committed to the federalist project. I made a point of going along to his selection meeting in Eastern Region in 2003, convinced that no one with his views would be reselected by Conservatives. But blow-me-down he made a (moderately) eurosceptic speech, which was enough to ensure his re-selection, but was so far away from his true beliefs that it was jaw-dropping. In politics we don’t accuse colleagues of lying. So I won’t. But you may draw your own conclusions.
(While we’re at it, I must share with you a comical tale about Christopher. One day in Plenary, Syed Kamall was making a very robust eurosceptic speech, which angered Mr. Beazley. Beazley walked up in front of Syed, while he was still on-mike, and started ranting at him. Christopher had clearly lunched rather too well, and was, as they say in Westminster, tired and emotional. Syed, still on-mike and on-record, interjected “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but I’m being interrupted by a drunk”. Collapse of stout party.)
I was struck by an egregious example of this same double standard in a letter in the Telegraph from Robert Walter MP on January 21st:
SIR – The enlargement of the European Union means that there is no reason why it should be constructed in the mould of the original post-war founding fathers, however commendable their motives.
In the national parliaments and among the people of Europe, there is no craving for the original centralised model.
Brussels is not Europe, and the people who work there have no monopoly on European vision. British influence in Europe has been much underestimated over the last 40 years, particularly here at home. David Cameron now has the opportunity to restate our commitment to the European project and provide real leadership, harnessing the collective strength of all member states. We can only do that as a confident, full and positive member of the Union.
Robert Walter MP (Con)
He starts out engaging the sympathy of Telegraph readers by criticising the EU project — yet his conclusion is that we must be “full and confident members of the Union”. Like the Bourbons, he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. But his analysis is curious. Far from our influence being underestimated, as he says, in fact the reverse is true. Europhiles love to talk about the need for “influence” in Europe, yet we have very little. I should know — I’ve been in the parliament for thirteen years, and seen it first-hand.
For decades we’ve talked about “winning the arguments in Europe”. We’ve talked about slowing the pace of integration, about repatriating powers, about reforming the institutions. Yet clearly and palpably we’ve failed. It just gets worse, and we get deeper in. Now they have detailed plans to undermine the City of London, and transfer much of the business to the continent. Will we never learn?
And if Mr Walter is not bad enough, we have the Prime Minister himself telling us he’s a eurosceptic intent on reform. Yet by saying to start with that he wants to stay in the EU, he has thrown away his only negotiating card. He’s promising a referendum for one reason only — to try to stabilise his eurosceptic MPs and party members. But if we couldn’t believe his “cast iron guarantee” of a referendum in 2007, how shall we trust a promise of a referendum maybe in 2018, after the next General Election, with a question based on renegotiations which are not yet started? As an old colleague of mine used to say, he’s selling the sizzle, not the steak. And we don’t trust him to deliver.