'Swivelled-eye' EU Tories must not get upper hand
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, warns fellow Tories not to sacrifice all to exit EU.
Britain's relationship with our EU partners is important. But for most voters it is well down the list. Right now, the most important challenge facing us is to get our economy moving again and reduce the massive annual deficit we inherited, still standing at £110 billion this year. It will take ten years to complete this recovery task and put our country's finances back on a firm foundation. It is crucial to make sure Labour does not win the next election. If they do – all bets are off. Their ludicrous plans to spend and borrow more would make the problems facing the Greeks look like a walk in the park. The UK might never recover.
And one thing we have learned over the years is that people will not vote for a divided party. In the past few days my party has given a pretty fair impression of being not just divided, but obsessed with a single issue and heading for the internal chaos that dogged the Major government in 1992, my first Parliament.
There have been times in the past two weeks when I have experienced that Groundhog Day feeling. It was like being transported back into the 1990s when Conservative MPs were running around in circles over the Maastricht Treaty, appearing on TV to denounce each other over our European policy. As it happens I am sure we would have lost in 1997 anyway. After 18 years of Conservative government the country and our democracy desperately needed a change. But our internal divisions and the impression we gave of forever banging on about Europe certainly added to the scale of the defeat. Some 178 Tory MPs lost their livelihoods in May 1997 and allowed a very pro-European government to take us deeper into the EU's bosom.
Over the amendment to the Queen's Speech on Wednesday I recognised once more the familiar glint in the swivelled-eyes of the purists who are prepared to sacrifice all to get Britain out of Europe. No matter that we wreck our chances of winning next time so long as we get the right policy: a policy that presumably we can contemplate lamely in opposition as we watch a Labour-led government bend the knee to Brussels.
If we don't learn the lessons of history we will suffer them all over again. We must not repeat the mistakes of the Major years.
My message to my colleagues is this: with one arm tied behind our backs we have put in place a credible recovery plan for our economy and our public finances. We have made progress on the necessary reform of public services, especially welfare. We are getting immigration down at last.
On Europe, we have done well in establishing a sound and sensible policy on the EU. Let's not ruin it. We need to calm down and rally behind the Prime Minister. We must see the bigger picture and focus on winning the next election. To carry on rebuilding our economy, reducing the deficit, reforming public services, putting in place a welfare system we can afford and of course holding an in/out referendum.
Our EU policy is a sound one. At a time when the euro-zone crisis means that the EU will inevitably change shape over the next few years, the Prime Minister will seek to renegotiate the terms of our settlement within the EU and the outcome of these negotiations will be put to the British people in an in/out referendum in 2017. Perfectly sensible. In the meantime a draft Bill to entrench this plan in legislation has been prepared and because our coalition partners will not agree to it being given government time, it must find a way forward as a private member's Bill. It is not ideal, but it is a huge step in the right direction.
David Cameron is the smartest leader I have served under in 21 years. He deserves our support.
One good thing about the vote on the amendment to the Queen's speech this week is that it has polarised British politics in a way that gives a clear choice to voters. If people want a referendum on the EU, they have to vote Conservative. Labour and Lib-Dems are now implacably opposed to it. The next government will be either Conservative-led or Labour-led. Blue or red. Only one will offer a referendum.
It is our duty, our imperative, to place ourselves in a position to put that excellent policy into practice.