Tories on Europe: a detailed analysis

I wrote a piece on Monday looking at Labour’s manifesto commitments on Europe. Now it’s the turn of the Conservatives to come under the microscope. Rather than putting words into David Cameron’s mouth, I thought I’d let him speak for himself — and add my notes and observations as we go along.

The Tory manifesto on Europe

For too long, your voice has been ignored on Europe. [So the government admits that, just like on health and education, it has ignored the voice of the public!]

We will:

  • give you a say over whether we should stay in or leave the EU, with an in-out referendum by the end of 2017 [Two years of uncertainty, with investment on hold, followed by a choice between Cameron’s version of Europe after his ‘reforms’ or exit — which he will then brand as unthinkable, forcing people to accept his ‘reforms’]
  • commit to keeping the pound and staying out of the Eurozone
    reform the workings of the EU, which is too big [which states does he want to throw out?], too bossy [but it can only legislate where member states have agreed to do so] and too bureaucratic [but the Commission only has as many employees as Leeds City Council or the BBC]
  • reclaim power from Brussels on your behalf [what exactly? none specified] and safeguard British interests in the Single Market
  • back businesses to create jobs in Britain by completing ambitious trade deals and reducing red tape [like replacing 28 sets of national rules with a single set of European ones for the single market? so more European legislation?]

The EU needs to change. And it is time for the British people — not politicians — to have their say. Only the Conservative Party will deliver real change and real choice on Europe, with an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.

Labour failed to give you a choice on the EU. They handed over major new powers to Brussels without your consent, and gave away £7 billion of the British rebate [it was reduced by £1bn per annum because of the accession of new, poorer countries]. We have taken action in Europe to promote your economic security [really? what?]. We cut the EU budget for the first time ever, saving British taxpayers £8.15 billion [you were forced to do so by a Labour amendment in the Commons, which the government opposed!]. We took Britain out of Eurozone bailouts, including for Greece [but we were never in them, except for a small proportion of the very first Greek one — and you joined in bailing out Ireland] — the first ever return of powers from Brussels [rubbish — the decentralisation of competition powers and regional policy, for example, were done years before you came to power]. Our Prime Minister vetoed a new EU treaty that would have damaged Britain’s interests [no he didn’t, he just refused to join a treaty which went ahead anyway, and whose provisions wouldn’t have applied to Britain anyway]. And we have pursued a bold, positive, pro-business agenda, exempting smallest businesses from red tape, promoting free trade, and pushing to extend [ah!] the Single Market to new sectors, like digital.

But there is much more to do. The EU is too bureaucratic and too undemocratic [?! — but its legislation requires approval from elected national governments and MEPs]. It interferes too much in our daily lives [but only where countries have agreed it should do so], and the scale of migration triggered by new members joining in recent years has had a real impact on local communities. We are clear about what we want from Europe. We say: yes to the Single Market. Yes to turbocharging free trade. Yes to working together where we are stronger together than alone. [So yes to the EU as it is now!] Yes to a family of nation states, all part of a European Union – but whose interests, crucially, are guaranteed whether inside the Euro or out. No to ‘ever closer union.’ No to a constant flow of power to Brussels. No to unnecessary interference. And no, of course, to the Euro, to participation in Eurozone bail-outs or notions like a European Army.

It will be a fundamental principle of a future Conservative Government that membership of the European Union depends on the consent of the British people – and in recent years that consent has worn wafer-thin. That’s why, after the election, we will negotiate a new settlement for Britain in Europe, and then ask the British people whether they want to stay in the EU on this reformed basis or leave. David Cameron has committed that he will only lead a government that offers an in-out referendum. We will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome. [Two years of uncertainty, with investment on hold, followed by a choice between your version of Europe after your ‘reforms’, or exit — which you will then brand as unthinkable, forcing people to accept your ‘reforms’]

So the choice at this election is clear: Labour and the Liberal Democrats won’t give you a say over the EU. [By ‘say’, you mean a national referendum — unlike on any other issue — on a one-off choice shaped by your terms?] UKIP can’t give you a say. Only the Conservative Party will deliver real change in Europe [change is not a one-off, defined in 2015, negotiated in 2016, ratified in 2017 and settled for evermore! Change in the EU is an ongoing, constant process as 28 neighbouring countries who share the world’s largest market, create, revise, review, repeal and renew the rules they make jointly for that market] – and only the Conservatives can and will deliver an in-out referendum.

We will legislate in the first session of the next Parliament for an in-out referendum to be held on Britain’s membership of the EU before the end of 2017. We will negotiate a new [Conservative] settlement for Britain in the EU. And then we will ask the British people whether they want to stay in on this basis, [minus the social chapter, perhaps] or leave. We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.

We will protect our economy from any further integration of the Eurozone. The integration of the Eurozone has raised acute questions for non-Eurozone countries like the United Kingdom. We benefit from the Single Market and do not want to stand in the way of the Eurozone resolving its difficulties. Indeed, given the trade between Britain and the Eurozone countries we want to see these economies returning to growth. But we will not let the integration of the Eurozone jeopardise the integrity of the Single Market or in any way disadvantage the UK.

We want to see powers flowing away from Brussels, not to it. We have already taken action to return around 100 powers [so there is no obstacle to this — it’s quite normal for powers to flow both ways as necessary], but we want to go further. We want national parliaments to be able to work together to block unwanted European legislation [they can already: see protocol 1 annexed to the Treaty, not to mention blocking rights of ministers who are accountable to national parliaments]. And we want an end to our commitment to an ‘ever closer union,’ as enshrined in the Treaty to which every EU country has to sign up. [This is maximum political effort and risk, for minimal effect. It can only be secured by unanimous agreement followed by national ratification by every country. Yet it’s only a declaratory preamble to the treaty, with no legal effect, and anyway the full text (negotiated by the last Conservative government!) says “ever-closer union among the peoples [not the States] of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity” [defined in the treaty itself as the Union acting only if and insofar as the objectives cannot be achieved by Member States separately].] Furthermore, we will continue to ensure that defence policy remains firmly under British national control, maintaining NATO and the transatlantic relationship as the cornerstones of our defence and security policy. [That is the status quo regarding defence, and could never be changed without our agreement anyway]

We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK. [What has this to do with the EU? The European Court of Human Rights, which interestingly you are not proposing to leave, is not an EU institution, it’s a totally separate body set up after the war, largely at Britain’s behest.] The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights. It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society. But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.

We want an EU that helps Britain move ahead, not one that holds us back. [Wow, that’s fantastic!] We have already succeeded in exempting our smallest businesses from new EU regulations, and kicked-off negotiations for a massive EU trade deal with the USA, which could be worth billions of pounds to the UK economy. We will build on this. We want to preserve the integrity of the Single Market, by insisting on protections for those countries that have kept their own currencies. We want to expand the Single Market, breaking down the remaining barriers to trade and ensuring that new sectors are opened up to British firms. We want to ensure that new rules [aha!] target unscrupulous behaviour in the financial services industry, while safeguarding Britain as a global centre of excellence in finance. So we will resist EU attempts to restrict legitimate financial services activities. We will press for lower EU spending [only lower? not better?], further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and Structural Funds, and for EU money to be focused on promoting jobs and growth. [Yes, jobs, growth and apple pie are certainly all desirable!]

(Here’s the original manifesto text — sorry it’s a big PDF, but there doesn’t seem to be a web version. The part about Europe starts on page 72.)

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