When Get Britain Out met the Lib Dems
What it feels like to be the 'only eurosceptic in the village'...
On Saturday I took up an invitation from the amiable Catherine Bearder MEP to speak to a Liberal Democrat fringe meeting at their Spring Forum. I was literally the only Eurosceptic in the village; fellow panellists included Evan Harris from Hacked Off, the chair of the European Movement, and, from Labour, Mary Honeyball MEP.
Up for discussion was the EU and the British media, a relationship that has annoyed Europhiles for some time. Criticism was aimed at the Daily Mail and what they see as sloppy reporting. Stories about sausages, Bombay mix and bananas were apparently the reasons why the media engage in misreporting about the EU.
The packed audience of signed-up Europhiles (I have never seen so many EU-UK flag pin badges) hit the media because their cause is on the ropes. The arrival of Captain Europe (see below) had me thinking my drink was spiked.
In all honesty I felt this to be an example of Europhiles clutching at straws. I get equally annoyed when the media peddle the myth that the UK will lose “3 million jobs” if we left the EU. Reporting of this myth has been called “pure Goebbels” by the director of the think tank that came up with the statistic, yet we keep hearing it.
The media aren’t to blame, however; there will be arguments on both sides we don’t like. The simple fact is that the Europhile cause has been unpopular, muted or dishonest.
Taking the first point, our polling shows clearly that the assembled delegates’ views on the EU are far removed from Lib Dem voters. When asked about EU membership, opinion among Lib Dem-inclined voters is evenly split.
When I dared talk about the issue of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration – one delegated shook her head throughout – I said it is exactly that dismissal of the issue that will be the death of the Lib Dems. Again, our polling evidence showed majorities in every party oppose the removal of immigration curbs on Bulgaria and Romania next year. The official Lib Dem silence on the issue is deafening.
Unrestricted immigration from the EU, with its effect on jobs and housing, puts people off the EU. The cost isn’t helping the Europhile position either.
Could it be that the Europhile cause has largely been incoherent or even, dare I say, dishonest?
The EU is not about trade, it is about politics. Mary Honeyball expressed our view that repatriation of powers is impossible, although from a completely different perspective. It is a political union and that is where the public disagree. But those in favour have been silent on their desire for full integration.
The lack of argument for a completely integrated European Union, for the full transfer of competences to the Commission and the ability for the EU to generate its own resources and govern as if a state itself, has been lacking. This is despite the phrase “ever closer union” repeated over and over in EU legal texts and treaties. It is the default position of EU enthusiasts in the European Parliament.
Why the silence, I asked? Were they embarrassed about it? I am still waiting for a suitable answer.
In the Q&A, I found common cause with a delegate from Leicester who lamented the lack of a referendum for entry into the EEC back in 1972. I wholly agreed. I got the loudest applause by saying that if the political class doesn’t trust the public then it can’t be surprised when the public doesn’t trust the politicians. There are indeed some democrats left in the Liberal Democrats.
I concluded by repeating the government’s answer given to Lord Stoddart on the Single Market obligations taken up by third countries that have a free trade agreement with the EU. Lord Green replied:
“It is not the case that as a result of these trade negotiations the countries concerned will have to adopt all the legislation and regulations that apply to EU member states”.
They may not have agreed with it, but it is the case that outside the European Union we can have a liberal and democratic relationship with the EU and, rightly, the rest of the world as a self-governing nation.
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