We have the speech. What now?

So much of the real importance of any policy of renegotiation self-evidently depends on the terms actively sought

by Dr. Lee Rotherham on 23 January 2013 12:02

So we have the speech. Finally, the thing is unleashed. Let’s now see if it gets up and walks, wandering around the countryside throttling surprised hikers, or puts on some slippers and settles down for Gardener’s Question Time.

I hope it’s the former and it starts to electrify a fundamental public debate on what we need out of the EU, and how much we’re supposed to pay for the privilege. So much of the real importance of any policy of renegotiation self-evidently depends on the terms actively sought. The natural tendency though will be to keep the bottom lines hidden away in a diplomatic folder rather than flashed at the doorway to Number 10.

Of course we can start by considering who’ll be appointed as the negotiators. We know the Lib Dems just aren’t interested. Labour’s indifferent and gentle nudging while playing the willing co-pilot has always undermined their delegates’ credibility. That leaves the Conservative approach.

The secret seams will be hidden deep underground. But by judicious policy fracking it should over the months be possible to gage the potential.

There is the matter of the Stockholm Programme, and which JHA material will be opted out of. There’s also the issue of whether HMG sticks with the European Defence Agency, which is a buttress of an ever-closer defence policy and has issues of accountability. Both policy decisions come with decision timeframes that fall before the election and any referendum (indeed the EDA probationary period has already passed).

Beyond these though, I would suggest that a key touchstone will be looking at how Party strategists approach the Common Fisheries Policy. There are good reasons for this;

So the British Government could as its bottom line demand the restoration of the 200 mile/median line limit to national control, and set up bilateral agreements to manage the seas. Other North Atlantic states outside of the EU somehow manage to successfully live with this approach, and their fish don’t have passports either.

The Prime Minister could in exchange allow transitional grandfather rights for foreign vessels currently allowed access under the CFP, reminding other fisheries ministers where their constituents would end up if the UK and its territorial waters were outside of the EU.

Personally I’d withdraw from the CFP unilaterally right now. It’s morally, economically, socially and ecologically bankrupt. Each day makes the situation worse. Judging by this list, I suspect it would be impossible finding someone even amongst the pro-Brussels lobby who’d speak out against unilateral action.

But if a coalition cabinet doesn’t have the sea legs today, then at least one partner in it should make it a matter of honour for tomorrow. The Conservative manifesto needs to state it will correct a massive historic injustice in the next Parliament come what may. A bottom line needs to be to ditch the CFP.

Dr Lee Rotherham is the author of The EU in a Nutshell (Harriman House, 2012)

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