Liberal Democrat MEPs react to Cameron’s EU speech

Liberal Democrat MEPs have been responding to David Cameron’s speech promising an in/out referendum on Europe once he has renegotiated the terms of the UK’s membership. This is, of course, incumbent on the Conservatives winning a majority at the next election. That sounds like a pretty powerful motivator to Liberal Democrat activists to ensure the Tory leader does not have control of the Commons.

I will update this post during the day with further comments. First off the marks were Sir Graham Watson and Sarah Ludford.

I was quite surprised to see the words “looks good, sounds good” in Sir Graham Watson’s speech, but soon realised there was a bit of a caveat. The South West MEP said:

The Prime Minister raises some valid points, but too often his criticisms are old and out of date and his attacks are aimed at Aunt Sallies which he has set up.  Moreover, his suggestion that the EU has no ‘demos’ shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the last 20 years of European history. My main concern is that this speech will sow doubts into the minds of multi-national investors on whom so many UK jobs rely. David Cameron’s vision of Europe is rather like Boeing’s Dreamliner. Looks great, sounds great, but once you try to use it you find there are hidden safety problems.

Sarah Ludford said that the PM had made some good points but was playing with fire:

Much of the first part of his speech – the part delivered as Prime Minister – was sensible in calling for reform of the EU to achieve competitiveness, complete the single market and secure openness. His sound rejection of ‘doing a Norway’ – implementing all EU rules with no say – was also correct. He showed he had listened to President Obama in saying that EU membership strengthens our relationship with the US.

But he undid most of that good work by his remarks as Tory party leader pitching to the Eurosceptic gallery. He played with fire in talking up the possibility of a ‘Brexit’ if a unilateral repatriation exercise failed, and cannot even guarantee his own ‘Yes’ vote. He created utter confusion in recalling the current UK effort to pull out of EU policing and criminal justice measures in the same breath as - rightly – stressing the importance of European cooperation on crime and terrorism. He gratuitously insulted directly-elected Members of the European Parliament by ignorantly saying that only national parliaments are democratic.

The most damaging impact is the prospect of 5 years of delay, which will discourage investment for jobs in Britain - while a ‘new settlement’ is supposedly negotiated and put to a vote. Far better to work with our like-minded EU partners in campaigning for legitimate reform for a relevant, more focused and better-value EU than alienate them with a wearying and distracting negotiation with an uncertain outcome.

Edward McMillan-Scott, writing at Politics.co.uk said:

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the event at Bloomberg’s London HQ was Cameron’s refusal to acknowledge to media questions that he would be as prepared to campaign for a ‘no’ in a referendum as for a ‘yes’. He blandly stated that Britain would be ‘better off in a changed EU’, referring not only to his Harold Wilson-style ‘renegotiation’ but also to the more federalised Eurozone structures to come. Many serious people are beginning to feel that a changed EU would be better off without Britain

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • Cameron is exporting the internal problems of the Tory party. The EU could be a kind of ‘clause 4′ moment in that a decisive vote for the EU could put pollyfilla in the fissions that run through Cameron’s party and keep the issue off the agenda for almost a decade.

    Cameron is trying to deal with the problem by trying to push the Lid Dems and Labour into sticky positions so that they can share his problem. I think Lib Dems need to stick closely to the script that an In/Out referendum should be triggered by a new treaty that transfers significant powers from national government to pooled sovereignty. An example could be the creation of an EU military structure. Although by 2015-2017 there could be a new treaty on the table, this is by no means certain or even probable so there is not as yet a requirement for Cameron’s referendum.

    At the same time Lib Dems need to spell out clearly how the EU and EU structures should develop. If such proposals were in accordance with the EU Liberal group, so much the better, as this would show that the ideas are supported across the Union and are realistic. Cameron’s wish list is vague but menacing and signally lacking widespread political support in the EU.

    Since Cameron has effectively fanned the flames, and this has elicited a more vocal reaction amongst business and commerce, Lib Dems need to capitalise on this and speak up for engagement in Europe. We can do this more effectively and more convincingly than Labour can, who will also be put on the spot by Cameron’s pre-emptive strike in a capaign for the 2015 election.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Jan '13 - 6:42pm

    I suggest that the speech and the likely reaction of Europhobes means that we must now all work quadruply hard to get the benefits of joining the Euro on the agenda. Re-negotiating to stay part a second-class part of Europe outside the key power centre is surely the worst of all choices – with neither the dubious and minor benefits of being out of Europe altogether nor the certain and major benefits of being in the Euro.

  • Liberal Eye 23rd Jan '13 - 6:52pm

    I agree – espacially about the need for LDs to spell out how the EU should develop and do so in conjunction with other national parties.

    But what about the proposed greater integration of financial control within the Eurozone? Even though we are not in the EZ that represents a pretty huge increment in EU powers. If it goes ahead in any conceivable shape or form it will effectively ‘bake in’ whatever the EZ members arrange thus creating a two tier EU where the non-EZ periphery has the form of belonging but not the substance. In other words, this is something of vital interest to the UK and other non EZ countries and is at least as important as ‘Lisbon. Where does that leave referendum promises?

    It also raises the awkward question of how far we should tolerate grossly undemocratic processes – such as the removal of elected governments. From the Telegraph:

    The ECB’s actions have certainly been remarkable. It sent secret letters to the leaders of Italy and Spain in mid-2011 with a list of sweeping demands, covering pensions, labour reform, and sensitive political issues over which it has no constitutional authority.

    When Italy failed to comply with the terms, it switched off bond purchases, let yields spiral upwards, and forced Silvio Berlusconi out of office. That may be a good or bad outcome – depending on your point of view – but it is not the action of a central bank. It is the action of a political authority that has entirely slipped the leash of democratic control.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/9819701/Central-bankers-should-be-brought-to-heel-by-elected-parliaments.html#

  • Liberal Eye 23rd Jan '13 - 6:53pm

    Umm. That last comment was addressed particularly to Martin.

  • Leekliberal 24th Jan '13 - 6:30pm

    The magic word is ‘SUBSIDIARITY’. Is anyone out there old enough to know how this word could win us votes in the 2014 Euro-election while being entirely consistant with our localist agenda?

  • Richard Boyd 24th Jan '13 - 7:24pm

    In the “Life of Brian” a local mused on the hated Romans. “What have the Roman’s ever done for us?” Substitute
    Europe of Rome and pose the same questions, and you will get the same answers:

    Apart from co-operation on international crime and shared knowledge:
    Apart from the removal of all those phoney colours and additives to processed food:
    Apart from a shared real reduction in poisening ourselves on our own airborne waste:

    etc. etc

    What have the Europeans done for us?

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