The Eurosceptic tide is turning. Lib Dems must be in the vanguard

We have become used in recent months to unrelentingly bad news about our relationship with Europe. ‘UKIP now the third party’, ‘Majority would say no to EU’ and ‘UK heads for the Brexit’ have become commonplace headlines. But while the current polls and general debate are still far from positive, several recent developments suggest the tide is starting to turn on the antis – and are enough to give cheer to pro-Europeans from all sides.

First – in case you missed it – the Obama administration has made clear in no uncertain terms to its concern about the UK’s Eurosceptic trajectory. The Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs may sound like an obscure official, but he’s actually Obama’s man on Europe. In London this week, he stated publicly for the first time the importance for America of Britain playing a leading role in the EU and his government’s concern about the recent momentum towards a referendum. The Sun put it succinctly on its front page: ‘Obama: Brits Twits to Quit’.

Second, British business is waking up to the very real dangers for the UK economy of being marginalised in Europe and losing its traditional position of influence. Sir Richard Branson and other business leaders, including the heads of the CBI, London Stock Exchange and BT, wrote to the FT to fire a warning shot to David Cameron. They highlighted the folly of seeking an unrealistic ‘renegotiation’ of powers agreed by successive parliaments over 40 years and the risks that this could lead to a British exit from the EU by default:

To call for such a move in these circumstances would be to put our membership of the EU at risk and create damaging uncertainty for British business, which are the last things the prime minister would want to do.

It is no coincidence that these two warnings come shortly before Cameron delivers his long-awaited and much delayed Europe speech, now expected within the next fortnight.

Third, there are plenty of reasons to believe that UKIP’s recent opinion poll success will be hard to maintain in the face of increasing scrutiny of their policies and personalities, a necessary rejoinder to their growing profile. And even without too much media scrutiny, the party seems content to do some of the work themselves, with not one, but two key UKIP figures airing their dirty laundry in public in the past week. First the party’s former youth chair revealed he had been sacked for voicing his support for equal marriage, against UKIP policy. Then Marta Andreasen, a UKIP MEP in the South East, slammed the party’s ‘anti-democratic’ European selection procedures, where it seems Nigel Farage will get to handpick top candidates – including Neil and Christine Hamilton, according to Andreasen.

All this goes to show that far from being over, the battle for Britain’s European future has barely begun. Liberal Democrats must be at the vanguard of the debate, using our position in government to fight for strong British influence at the heart of a changing European Union.

* Giles Goodall is a Liberal Democrat candidate for the European Parliament in South East England

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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40 Comments

  • UKIP falls apart under any scrutiny. Although support for equal marriage gets you kicked out of the party, support for forced abortion and eugenics doesn’t:

    http://www.gravesendreporter.co.uk/news/exclusive_compulsory_abortion_for_down_s_syndrome_foetuses_says_ukip_kent_candidate_1_1745952

  • Richard Dean 11th Jan '13 - 10:40am

    Yes, we should. And the US opinion is likely to be shared by the BRIC countries, and by emerging economies who would likely see the big EU as rather more attractive as a development partner and as a market, particularly where the history of colonialism may tend to militate against the UK.

  • It is great finally to see the tide begin to turn on this debate. For far too long the anti-Europeans have had the battlefield entirely to themselves; at last the pro-Europeans have started once again to engage in the debate.

  • The problem is the EU may be a useful organisation and despite massive defects be good for the UK as it stands, it is set to change massively, possibly as soon as next year. The architects of the European project want it to change into a fully fledged political union and are already proposing treaties to this effect. The vast majority of people in the UK, rightly in my view, want nothing whatever to do with this next stage. So how can we possibly be at the heart of a project with which has nothing whatever to do with what most people in the UK want ?

    Giles Goodall chooses to ignore this very serious question and prefers to focus on what (1) Obama wants us to do in order to further the US’s regional interests; (2) What some leaders of multinational businesses with their own agenda which is very often opposed to that of most people want. I find this ostrich like approach profoundly worrying. Why are we ignoring this issue and pretending it isn’t there?

    I repeat, the EU as it currently exists has some very positive aspects alongside the major negatives. But it is about to change radically. How are we going to deal with this? On this key question, I’m afraid he has no answers.

  • America doesn’t give a damn about Britain.
    What they realise is that once Britain finally exits the EU debacle, this will be a prime indicator of failure of the EU project. When that becomes evident, the money markets will nail the EU institutions one by one. When that happens, French and German banks with collapse. When that happens, BANK OF AMERICA will fall into a black hole.
    And that is why they are dreading the UK exit from the EU. They want us to stay and prop it up, to save their bank.
    Follow the money, not the false sentiment.

  • @ Richard Dean

    “would likely see the big EU as rather more attractive as a development partner and as a market, particularly where the history of colonialism may tend to militate against the UK”

    With such non-colonial member countries as Spain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium etc?

    Really I have to say I think this argument carries zero weight.

    The US wants us to remain in the EU because it prefers to deal with the British rather than have to work with the French (virtually impossible) and the Germans (militarily not very useful and economically prone to Russian influence). Why on earth people are interpreting the US position as anything other than a statement of its own interest I really do not understand.

    Countries do not have “friends”, they have interests. It really is that simple.

  • @RC “The architects of the European project want it to change into a fully fledged political union” – have you missed the last few years? It says ‘ever closer union’ in the first line of the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

    “The vast majority of people in the UK, rightly in my view, want nothing whatever to do with this next stage” – that’ll be why UKIP has no (as in zero, not a single one) MPs. Anti-European parties have always been annihiliated in the polls in Britain, look at Hague’s tories or Foot’s labour party.

    @everyone else – It’s desperately important for Britain that we stay in the EU and that we are at the centre of shaping the ‘ever closer union’ for which we voted overwhelmingly in 1975. It’s wonderful that the tide has started to turn and that people are fighting back against the stream of made up drivel that comes out of the anti-EU lobby.

  • Giles Goodall 11th Jan '13 - 1:33pm

    @RC: The current UK debate on the EU has become one of in/out. That’s the point I’m making and the first argument we need to win, even if there are signs the tide is turning.

    Of course the EU is changing and there’s another whole debate to be had about what we want it to look like. But why do you talk of the architects of the European project as if we are already excluded? The UK has influenced the EU enormously despite joining late (itself no doubt a big mistake in retrospect) – just look at the Single Market and eastern enlargement – and has every right and opportunity to continue to do so.

    My argument is precisely that the UK must get over its existential doubts – and what the US call an inward-looking referendum – and play a full role in shaping the future. Playing catch-up can never replace leading from the front.

    And naturally the US wants the UK in the EU in its own interests. They have not pretended otherwise. But it’s not about who they want to deal with. It’s because an engaged Britain as a leading European player is good for the EU. The Irish and the Germans have said just the same. The only ones who fail to recognise Britain’s influential role in the EU are the Brits themselves.

  • But you’re not answering my point: how can we be ” leading from the front” if the direction of travel, political union, is not one that is remotely acceptable for UK voters?

    I would be really interested to know your viewpoint on this question. If the EU proceeds towards full political union, with a directly elected president, central fiscal authority, foreign minister, defence policies etc. and UK voters decide they do not want this, what should the UK do?

  • @RC There are no proposed political union treaties under discussion within the EU. Current proposals for change relate to a Eurozone banking supervisor and, important as it may be, I doubt people will be running the flag up and saluting should one be created. :-)

  • Bit two faced of the Liberals though, we were the one party to guarantee a straight in out referendum at the last election which is the only reason I voted Liberal :-(

  • Germany’s Chancellor Merkel urges EU political union
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18350977

    Verhofstadt and Cohn-Bendit propose constituent assembly for 2014
    http://www.europolitics.info/institutions/verhofstadt-and-cohn-bendit-propose-constituent-assembly-for-2014-art343140-33.html

    To quote from the latter link:

    “The two authors are big names in the European Parliament: the Chair of the group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Guy Verhofstadt, and the Co-Chair of the Group of the Greens-European Free Alliance, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Their key proposal, the most interesting for regular observers of European affairs, reads as follows: “After the European elections in 2014, the European Parliament will proclaim itself a constituent assembly, in agreement with the Council of Ministers, the other legislative chamber, and draft a European constitution that will not be an overhaul of the current treaties, as was the case in 2004”.

    This draft constitution, they continue, must “lay down the principles of a federal Europe and be brief. It will have to be approved through a referendum in all countries by a double majority (majority of states and of citizens). Any states that reject the constitution will then have to decide, also by referendum, whether they wish to remain in this new federal Europe or withdraw from it”.”

    So Guy Verhofstadt, who is Chair of ALDE, is saying if we don’t like the idea of political union, we would be asked to leave. That sounds like an in/out choice to me.

  • Steve Coltman 11th Jan '13 - 2:22pm

    I think RC has nailed it. Not only are there many in this country that feel we are in too far already, there are others in the EU who want to go a whole lot further. This is simply not compatible. If we do not withdraw from the EU then the arguments will drag on and on endlessly. Or else perhaps someone will try and strong-arm Britain into ever closer union against the will of the people. I can imagine a Europe of nation -states cooperating with each other to our mutual benefit, but this seems unachievable, the euro-enthusiasts have got the bit between their teeth and will not compromise. It is not ideal, but increasinly we are being pushed to ‘in or out?’ with no fudge or compromise being possible.

  • >The current UK debate on the EU has become one of in/out
    Is this because that is the best soundbite /one liner that politians and the press like.

    To me when you go through many of the objections to ‘Europe’ and hence put as reasons for saying ‘No’, they seem to be more about the EU institutions and the way they do and don’t work, the lack of any real democratic involvement or feedback (when has there been a regular “yesterday in the EU” program?) and how stuff decided in Brussels gets implemented in the UK. So I suspect that many voters are not actually anti-Europe, they just don’t like the current institutions and the way decisions that affect them are either made in some remote place or arise as a result of some marathon negotiating session attended by our current political leader/champion.

    I suspect once the mainstream political parties get a handle on these, many who currently vote UKIP will return. Remember we saw this with the Green vote during the late 80′s and early 90′s.

  • Charles Beaumont 11th Jan '13 - 2:39pm

    @Richard Dean – I can find no evidence whatsoever that the colonial history miltiates against UK trade with the BRIC coutnries (only one of which was ever a British colony).

    This is a really good post. I posted here http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-whos-the-odd-one-out-30814.html that the in/out question might eventually be good for the Liberal Democrats: when you put the UKIP arguments under a microscope the pragmatic voter starts to realise they are pretty weak,even if you don’t have a particularly warm perspective on the EU. I think we have to accept that we are seen as a pro-EU party and then seek to mop up as much of the support as we can from the significant minority of British people who still support membership of the EU. The intriguing question will be where the Labour party comes out on all this. Their deep cynicism might push them into Euro-scepticism but it’s hard to imagine them actually pushing for a Brixit.

    Finally, on the point about the US: of course it is in their interest for us to be in the EU. But it is very simplistic to assume that’s a zero-sum game. The US has a very close relationship with France and Germany, as it does with us (the special relationship is mostly a fiction). So when Obama says we should stay inside it’s not because there’s no-one else they can talk to in the EU. It’s because we are seen as anchoring the EU in a certain more pragmatic, Atlanticist place. And if you look at the record you can see that we’ve been rather good at that over the years, in our own interests as well as in the interest of the USA.

  • @RC

    First, the development of the EU is decided upon by the governments of the member states, not MEPs. 2 MEPs in a circa 700 person body aren’t a majority within that body much less a majority in each and every member state.

    Second, I suggest you let Merkel set out her view herself – http://www.bundeskanzlerin.de/Content/EN/Reden/2012/2012-11-07-merkel-eu.html

    Note the absence of reference to a “political union” in her speech ( currently what she is proposing centers on the Eurozone banking supervisor as I stated).

    Merkel HAS said she sees that the EU MIGHT become a federal/political union EVENTUALLY. Switzerlamd did eventually also – it took them around 600 years to do it.

    Are the decisions the UK faces TODAY to be decided on the basis we MIGHT have to decide whether to join a federal union or not in a few hundred years time? More importantly perhaps, what gives us the right to commit future generation to opting out or in of this possibility? Shouldn’t they be allowed the freedom to choose too?

  • @ Paul
    Er, if you think they’re going to wait 600 years, you’ve got another think coming. You’re just playing the same old game of denial. If we don’t admit that EU political union is heading our way, somehow people won’t notice or it somehow the topic will go away. It won’t. It’s here and staring us in the face.

  • @RC

    No, I am not engaging in any denial. There are NO proposals on the agenda of the EU Council for a political union. Nor for that matter is there any indication that anyone is just about to table them or even thinking about drafting such proposals.

    Indeed, there isn’t any sign of any sort of consensus on the desirabilty of a “political union”, never mind what that actually would entail in practice (there are at last a dozen different possible constitutional set-up for the form of a “political union” even if there was a consensus on the scope of such a union).

    Should any proposals be tabled then a decision could be made on such proposals by each and every member state, including the UK obviously.

    You are engaging in the “same old game” of trying to create a forced choice when no such choice needs to be immediately made and indeed it would be down right stupid to base decisions today on possible future proposals that have not been tabled and MIGHT NEVER be.

  • Just to clarify: the UKIP youth bloke was not kicked out of the party – he was asked to stop making public statements on a range of issues at variance with UKIP policies, but he chose to carry on regardless and so was suspended from his official post in UKIP.

  • @ Paul Haydon
    “The major treaty change envisaged by euro-federalists to seems pretty implausible when the majority of European people, not just the British, are not in favour.”

    So you’re saying that an initiative being put forward by the Chair of our own Europarliament grouping, the third largest, together with the fourth largest grouping, with 144 MEPs between them, is nothing of any note, then?

    Let’s try looking at the agenda of the largest grouping ( the PPE then) shall we?

    http://www.eppgroup.eu/activities/priorities/default2009_en.asp

    There are five headings :
    Foreign Affairs – More Europe is the answer
    Economy & Environment – More Europe is the answer
    Budget & Structural Policies – More Europe is the answer
    Legal & Home Affairs – More Europe is the answer

    Just because there isn’t democratic consensus and support for something didn’t stop them in the past, did it?

    We’ve got to face up to this one honestly and frankly and find a way in which the UK can step outside this process while maintaining and developing vital co-operation in the areas that matter to us.

    I agree that Cameron is going about it in entirely the wrong way, but the objectives however are completely sound.

  • David 11th Jan ’13 – 4:55pm
    Just to clarify: the UKIP youth bloke was not kicked out of the party – he was asked to stop making public statements on a range of issues at variance with UKIP policies, but he chose to carry on regardless and so was suspended from his official post in UKIP.

    He’s twittered that Farage thought he was planning a leadership coup, with another UKIPer . They have denied him access to the UKIP Forum and he thinks he is in the process of being kicked out.

  • @RC

    From the EPP document:

    “The EPP is in favour of more Europe. This does not necessarily mean more Europe everywhere. Our Group actively supports the political concept of ‘subsidiarity’, mean- ing that decision making has to be done at the lowest level possible: regionally if pos- sible, if not nationally or, if there is an added value to be had: at the European level. It does, however, mean more Europe in all those policy areas, including the ones men- tioned above, where Europe is able to provide added value with regard to the well- being of its citizens. This also means that better cooperation and complementarity between European and national policies is indispensable.”

    That’s a conditional “more Europe” – which means the discussion at member state level (since they – not the EP – decide) centers around – “Does more Europe result in “added value” if it deals with area X or Y?” and “At what governmental level should we be doing this?”

    Each and every member state has to agree to getting the EU involved in an “added value” area – yes, the UK too – and in the areas the EU is involved (which includes all of the 5 headings you list above) they have done so.

    What are you afraid of? That there are potential “added value” to be had – at EU level – for the UK and its citizens and parliamemt might decide it’s a good idea for us? How Is it better for us to decide that we won’t discuss options that might benefit us?

  • Censorship or ‘moderation’. Call it what you will. It doesn’t make the nonsense that is Europe, true.
    ————————
    RC is correct on this. It is the direction of travel that matters. What is unfolding in Europe, is a stepwise process to political union. Political Union was inevitable and unavoidable, when the Euro currency came into existence. Pretending otherwise is deceitful. The UK public want none of it, and it is high time politicians stopped denying them their right to have a say in this matter. If the 17+ countries want to hand their sovereignty to some, yet to be designed Federal body of control, then so be it, but it is not what the British public will accept.

  • It’s no surprise that the debate on the EU in this country has become so divorced from any modicum of reality or perspective – some of the comments even in response to this article demonstrate this. The anti EU forces have had the debate entirely to themselves. The problem for the Lib Dems is that being known as the most overtly pro-Eurpoean party has hurt it on so many occasions.

    But as I believe Giles Goodall rightly says the tide is finally beginning to turn. The trigger I think has been that we are for the first time we’re seriously talking about whether or not to leave the EU and the debate has opened up. This has suddenly awoken sleeping giants – the USA are making it absolutely clear that this would seriously diminish our influence not only in Europe but with them. The CBI is coming out heavily in favour of starting up a pro-Europe movement.

    The challenge for the Lib Dems at thi s point is to be quite unapologetic in our stance and openly challenge some of the lies and misinformation out there.

    They could start with the Tory position that they will offer a referendum on “renegotiating our relationship with Europe”. This is a dishonest position and I think some of them know it. The idea that somehow the rest of the EU will be blackmailed into agreeing different rules for us in order to keep us in is ridiculous. It’s a bit like the England football team negotiating with FIFA to be exempted from the offside rule. It won’t happen.

  • The question on my mind is whether events may start to unfold at a pace that precludes much debate and a snap “is the UK in or not ?” decision is forced upon us; where ‘in’ is in a whole lot deeper than we are currently ie. Political Union and Euro.

    Perhaps it may be wise to have something prepared as to what Britain’s role might be in a unified Europe with a single currency, because the markets might react badly if it seems that the UK might be heading away from the EU – and our deficit is only manageable whilst the markets give us favourable interest rates …

  • As an antidote to this attitude that concern about the direction the EU is taking is purely a British phenomenon, let me quote from the single most popular comment (213 recommends versus one against) made in reply to the interview in Die Welt newspaper with George Osborne (“The EU must change if Britain is to remain a member”).

    http://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article112686191/Die-EU-muss-sich-aendern-damit-die-Briten-bleiben.html#disqus_thread

    Osborne hat recht. In den Gründerjahren der EWG ging es um freien Handel, Reisefreizügigkeit, friedliche Zusammenarbeit und nicht um Zwangsfrauenquoten und Glühbirnenverbote. Ein Austritt von GB aus der EU wäre zwar schade, es wäre aber auch ein endgültiger Beleg des Scheiterns der EUdSSR. Es könnte das Ende des Brüsseler Politbüros einleiten. Barroso und Redding müssten sich neue Jobs suchen. Ein Zurück zur EWG wäre möglich.

    Which translates (apologies for any errors) as:

    Osborne is right. When it was founded, the EEC was about free trade, freedom of movement and peaceful co-operation, not about compulsory quotas of women and bans on lightbulbs. An exit by the UK from the EU would be a shame, but it would also be proof that the EUSSR had failed. It could herald the end of the Brussels politburo. A return to the EEC would be possible.

    Those who question the direction of EU development at present are not limited to the UK’s shores. If these are commonly held sentiments even in Germany, historically one of the greatest EU enthusiasts, politicians on all sides should be sitting, up taking note and recognising that these are valid concerns, not just dismissing them out of hand as the knee jerk reactions of some benighted, atavistic minority.

  • Agree with the general gist of the article. Kneekjerk euroscepticism is finally being challenged and some of the more unhinged arguments are already wilting under inquiry.

    But in this argument, Liberal Democrats also need to be advocating a rigorous campaign for reforming the EU. Making it more federal and less centralised. More democratically accountable. Restricted to genuinely trans-European issues.

    If we can own this position, we will win the argument.

  • There is no reference yet in this thread to what is in effect emerging as a two-tier Europe i.e. those within the Eurozone and those outside. No-one expects the UK to adopt the euro for a long time to come – if ever. And yet the key members – Germany, France etc are clearly accepting that situation. What an opportunity for the UK – to continue for the foreseeable future to have the unquestionable benefits of EU membership while not being forced into the eurozone unless and until our people want that. Of course the eurozone countries must sign up for a much greater degree of fiscal and other integration if the euro is going to survive – as survive it will. The inconsistency of our being outside that may well bring us to a different conclusion but not for many years hence.

    If Cameron acts to destroy this favoured position by trying (ludicrously) to persuade our partners into removing what he sees as barriers to trade which other European countries must continue to accept – a form of blackmail – he will be deserve to be treated very badly indeed by the historians. As for the LIberal Democrats we have nothing to lose now by putting ourselves actively forward as the only party consistently and constructively pro-EU.

  • We should not rest our argument on what the US thinks is in our interest. The USA has only its interests at heart, its regime is imperialism! You only need to examine NATO (The US led military block) to see this.
    Having said this withdrawal from the EU will be a disaster for this country. The EU is far from perfect, it is too centralised and it lacks a single fiscal and political policy it needs to maintain a single currency (which contradicts decentralisation).
    But it is still a trading block and will continue to exist even if little Britain decides to take the exit door. It will still need to trade with Europe (and the rest of the world) and need free trade agreements. We would have to pay in just the same as Norway with no influence on policy.
    We therefore need to stay in the EU gaining support for reform to decentralise this bureaucracy that was set up for the bankers, oligarchs and bureaucrats, so that it will be more open to the people’s of Europe.
    First, build the coalition for reform.
    Secondly, Europe really needs a common spoken and written language otherwise a true single market will not work properly for free movement of people.
    Thirdly, a single currency will only have any chance of working under a decentralised structure if its not fiat, it must be linked to a commodity such as GOLD.
    Whether or not, the EU could become decentralised more like a commonwealth may be an option. This seems to work well with the BRICS nations. This could be explored.

  • “Not only are there many in this country that feel we are in too far already, there are others in the EU who want to go a whole lot further. This is simply not compatible.”

    On the contrary, it is perfectly compatible. Many people are not a majority.

    Again the debate comes down to a choice between an active and a passive view of politics: we can either accept or refuse what we’re offered, or we can contribute to the process of deciding what that choice entails.

    I won’t accept the crumbs from someone else’s table.

  • “Many people are not a majority.”
    Well Oranjepan, there is one way to test if you are right.

  • Jedi,
    no, that’s not what I wrote.

    The choice between becoming a federal United States of Europe and returning to an imperial United Kingdom is to accept the crumbs from other people’s table, it is a false choice, it is to fail to decide what you want to improve. The debate exists to lead us away from divisive polarities.

    Personally I think it’s outrageous that Norway and Switzerland aren’t full members of the EU, their governments make a mockery of the idea of common freedoms fought for and defended for the benefit of all humanity. Had they been fully committed this would have increased the chances of exposing the lack of commitment by Greece and others, and many other errors would have been averted too.

    Lack of commitment is a failure of communication, so a lack of public commitment is a failure of public debate. Individuals alone and nations alone are impotent against global forces, be they in the climate, in the economy or society, because (like the weather) trade and ideas cross borders.

    While public participation lags we will continue to face the hokey-cokey dance of an in/out debate and we let our governments and representatives off the hook of finding and delivering real solutions.

    All or nothing is neither one or the other.

  • Paul in Twickenham 13th Jan '13 - 6:48pm

    The headline in this article is “Eurosceptic tide is turning”. But the text gives no indication of how this is happening. On the contrary, it simply notes the current strong poll showing of UKIP and suggests without evidence that this will evaporate. Frankly, I hope this is true but wishing for it doesn’t make it happen.

    If the intention is to suggest that the Lib Dems will do better than expected in May’s Euro elections then here is my pledge: I pledge (def: “a solemn promise or undertaking”) that I will donate £10 to the Liberal Democrats for every Lib Dem MEP more than 3 that gets elected in May. I’m not expecting to find that I have a budget imbalance as result of this pledge.

  • Giles Goodall 16th Jan '13 - 10:36am

    @Paul in Twickenham:

    The tide is turning because pro-Europeans are finally speaking out and we are starting to approach an informed debate for the first time. This is reflected in the latest polling, where the numbers have moved significantly and the two sides in any in/out referendum question have now drawn more or less level. There are still very large numbers of don’t knows, suggesting there is still a large information gap to fill. See in particular this blog post by Peter Kellner: http://yougov.co.uk/news/2013/01/14/britain-europe-fear-factor/

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