Lib Dems Telegraph splash: EU bashing “weak, opportunistic and fundamentally un-British” say Ashdown, Ludford, Brinton, Farron and 90 Lib Dems

Even Margaret Thatcher wouldn’t have taken the isolationist path that David Cameron’s Conservative party is romping its way down, according to 90 Liberal Democrats in a letter to the Telegraph today. The letter states:

David Cameron’s recent speech on European immigration is the latest in a series of desperate moves from a Conservative Party in full-scale panic.

We’ve had: “Go home or face arrest” vans. We’ve had: if you are from the EU and want to move to Britain, go and register at a police station. We’ve had: if you’re out of work, even for a few months, go back to where you came from.

In her Bruges speech in 1988, Margaret Thatcher said: “Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.”

What happened to that Conservative destiny? The dual menace of the Tory headbangers and the rise of Ukip.

There is nothing patriotic about bashing immigration from Europe. It is opportunistic, weak and fundamentally un-British. Migrants from the EU claim less in benefits than people born in this country. They are a massive net positive to the British economy. The Tories are scared to admit this. They have lost all sense of political courage – and that is why people have lost confidence in them.

We, the undersigned Liberal Democrats, konw that the real patriotic case is for Britain to remain in Europe; our jobs and our economic future depend on it.

Not only has the letter, signed, among others, by Party President Tim Farron, his successor Sal Brinton, Paddy Ashdown, Presidential candidate Daisy Cooper, Parliamentary candidates across the country, 4 members of the Liberal Democrat Voice team (me, Paul Walter, Alan Muhammed and Mary Reid) and key figures from both the Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Reform, been published, but it’s also been the subject of a story in the paper itself and was mentioned in the paper’s Morning Briefing. It’s fair to say that the Tories are not wildly chuffed about the Name of Thatcher being invoked.

The architect of this positive, liberal, internationalist splash in the Toriest of papers is Richmond PPC Robin Meltzer who told the Telegraph:

The Lib Dem case is that Britain has benefited from being in Europe.

Our manufacturers and businesses have access to hundreds of millions of customers. Our citizens can travel freely in Europe. The disgusting and inflammatory language used by Ukip about immigrants is something which should be condemned by the Conservatives, not aped.

It’s a powerful, clear message that unites Liberal Democrats. There are people of all ages, grassroots and establishment figures, from all parts of the country. One of the signatories, Hannah Bettsworth, is currently in Spain studying for a year. What delights me particularly is that key figures in the Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Reform have both happily signed up.

We should not be timid about challenging what seems to have become the political norm. It is not ok to scapegoat people from other countries when all the evidence is that their presence in this country brings us great riches. I’m not talking just about wealth, although that’s where the debate seems to centre, but it’s great to learn about other cultures, other ways of doing things, other traditions and to share our own as we make new friends. That really is enriching.

 

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

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26 Comments

  • @Caron

    “What delights me particularly is that key figures in the Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Reform have both happily signed up.”

    Indeed! Was nice to see LR and SLF next to each other and inagreement 🙂

  • It is indeed a powerful, clear and concise message. It is good to see some basic realities spelt out.

    UKIPers and wannabe UKIPers may shout loudly, stop their ears and proclaim that they have ‘won the argument’ because they are not listening, as Farage did last May, but that stance does not work when checked against reality.

  • Quoting one small preferred section of a speech which in conceptual terms ranged very much wider is your definitive ‘cherry picking’.

    ‘The Lib Dem case is that Britain has benefited from being in Europe.
    Our manufacturers and businesses have access to hundreds of millions of customers. Our citizens can travel freely in Europe.’

    If you intend to concentrate on EU aspects which aver to trade and business, then each and every aspect of that relationship is available via EEA\EFTA membership, as highlighted by Owen Paterson last week. Norway has full influential negotiation and consultation rights in the Single Market. The oft-quoted myth with regard to Norway as possessed of ‘no influence’ should more properly be defined in political terms as ‘a lie’. Then we would normally move on to their alleged higher access contribution – failing to note that (dependent on which year in question) 68%-75% of that contribution is a voluntary subscription to the EU Framework research programmes.

    I also recall being able to move around Europe freely using only a passport for many years. I also recall arriving in Norway in recent years direct from Denmark and being asked to show my passport at Customs in Kristiansand. Hardly an affront to liberty. But then again, since we’re quoting the comprehensively-accepted-by-LIbDems Bruges Speech:-

    …’It is the same with frontiers between our countries.
    Of course, we want to make it easier for goods to pass through frontiers.
    Of course, we must make it easier for people to travel throughout the Community.
    But it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of terrorists and of illegal immigrants.

    That was underlined graphically only three weeks ago when one brave German customs officer, doing his duty on the frontier between Holland and Germany, struck a major blow against the terrorists of the IRA.’…

    http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107332 (that was the speech your ninety LibDems implied they comprehensively dot-and-comma agreed with).

    If figures choose one specific and transiently convenient section of a text which otherwise goes almost wholly unacknowledged, then any notional academic value is considerably diminished.

  • Malcolm Todd 3rd Dec '14 - 12:11pm

    Beckley
    “If you intend to concentrate on EU aspects which aver to trade and business, then each and every aspect of that relationship is available via EEA\EFTA membership, as highlighted by Owen Paterson last week.”

    Genuine questions: which disbenefits of being in the EU do you think would be avoided by leaving but remaining in EEA/EFTA? Are they worth the loss of influence over making the rules of trade that apply to the EEA as well as the EU members that make them? (Or do you think there would be no loss of influence?)

  • Malcolm Todd – you ask a genuine question and I’ll give you a genuine answer, but in the first instance, I’m going to answer via caricature, so no disrespect intended, but you’ll see my point for the purposes of commenting on this particular outlet.

    I don’t support Nigel Farage – in many ways I find him a self-parody, but earlier this year, he was present at two televised debates with Nick Clegg. Nick wanted to take the fight to the ‘Anti-Europeans’ and use the opportunity to ‘dispel the myths’.

    What I learned from his second appearance was – apparently – ‘the truth’ about the reasons for membership are:-

    Nigel Farage thinks he’s Sitting Bull.
    Nigel Farage thinks Elvis is still alive.
    Nigel Farage thinks the moon landings were faked.
    Nigel Farage thinks we should return to the nineteenth century.

    Those two sessions of TV time were nothing but already discredited mantras and misquotations from elsewhere – if you didn’t know, the ‘three million jobs’ meme is also similarly obsolescent now – yet it’s use in terms of EU membership justification is commonplace. I would suggest Clegg was under an obligation to do rather better than that?

    My main point being that the public justification for EU membership leans heavily on ‘Trade – Jobs’. Paterson’s speech comprises research which indicate strongly that every aspect of ‘Trade – Jobs’ that Westminster politicians of whatever persuasion is available via the EEA – EFTA route – and a close listen to his intervention will demonstrate that the process will be lengthy and demanding of proper application. The research behind his intervention has been available for some years and indeed has been adopted by the Bruges Group similarly around twelve months back – maybe look to their website and seek out ‘The Norway Option’. Thus far since the emergence of this research, no peer-reviewed academic response has been made to it in any respect. In the method of the scientific discipline, I’d welcome the emergence of it, but in the absence, the matters behind Paterson’s speech stand until any nacent opposition to it elects to respond properly, and in detail. I would suggest that ten days are sufficient time to see evidence of it.

    So, I’m stripping my response to you of any obligation to comment with regard to EU membership where it stands on ‘Trade’ or ‘Jobs’. The EU is not a trading organisation, and in technical format, it’s a Customs Union, and it’s the Single Market which is the trading group resident within, yet it’s footprint continues outside the EU.

    That leaves the political integratory aspect of it. More than anything I’d quote a sixties’ politician of some controversial reputation, yet in my opinion was 100% correct in the matter. He spoke of a democratic deficit within the movement which was to become the EU. ‘Europe’ (I paraphrase) cannot be a democracy because there is no Demos’.

    So, to return to Thatcher’s sentiments which rightly ought to be included here,:-

    ‘I am the first to say that on many great issues the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice.
    I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone.
    Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world.
    But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy. ‘

    In proper context, the Bruges Speech was the first shot of the process which led to the Maastricht Treaty – it was her intention to make that Treaty the final culmination, the capstone of EU integration beyond which it would go no further – in which case to quote it by these ninety LibDems becomes even more inappropriate.

    That democratic deficit oft-spoken of must be acknowledged openly by the participants within Westminster. Thus far the debate is parodied, caricatured, misdirected and staffed with straw men. As per Clegg’s fairly bereft performances in April of this year. The parties have to level properly with the electorate to give any notional legitimacy to the integratory process. Even up to May 22 of this year, the UK electorate were denied that. That’s what I personally object to.

  • The EU decided on trading rules twenty years ago but not today. The UN and its agencies now manage all major trading activities globally. That means that the UK is not present at the decision making meetings but independent countries like Norway and Iceland can attend and speak up for their own interests.

    The EU has a single seat at the table. The UK has a tiny input and the EU may even support measures which are not in our interests.

    Answering Malcolm Todd’s question, leaving the EU but remaining in the single market would mean leaving the political integration behind. Those who oppose doing that are clearly intent on the UK becoming part of the Federal Union and adopting its currency.

  • Well done Robin Meltzer.

    Robin is just so much better than his high Tory billionaire opponent.
    This letter is just further evidence that it is time to “Sack Zac”.

  • Ah yes, the Norway Option. Stay in the EEA/EFTA but leave the EU. So, all the touchstone issues like free movement of labour or the applicability of European law over here remain, but our ability to directly influence the rules goes.

    Of course, we are assured that our influence would somehow remain. We would influence the Council, but have no seat on it. We would influence the Parliament, but send no representatives there. We would, somehow, influence the Commission but have no British presence helping to define the management and direction of the single market that remains key to our own economy.

    It’s not very credible, is it?

    As far as the economic question goes, we are better off being there around the table making the decisions with our partners in Europe than we would be waiting for them to make a decision and then working out how we’ll adapt ourselves to whatever it might be.

    Other than that, well, it just degrades into academic points of no great interest. Any case against a European ‘demos’ rests heavily on whatever subjective definition you choose to use for the term, and they have a bad habit of invalidating the UK in passing anyway.

  • T-J

    Presuming you were replying to my points then by all means, prove Paterson wrong. You will note I’m first in the queue requesting a proper peer-reviewed, comprehensive and detailed rejection of the research behind his speech.

    Not wanting something to be true, or not believing it could be true, isn’t the same as proving it to be false. I look forward to Lord Ashdown, or Tim Farron, or indeed Nick Clegg penning that response. In its absence, it is reasonable for the observer to conclude there is no such response in kind. ‘It’s time to take the debate to the Eurosceptics’ I hear with some frequency. Well, there’s hardly a better opportunity than this?

    As far as ‘degrading into academic points, well, how’s about this academic point.

    In May of this year, the LibDems fighting a resolutely pro-EU election campaign were awarded 1.9% of the total electoral capacity of the qualified voting UK. That particular party is in no academic position to posture with regard to the EU. Its stance was definitively rejected. You may have no interest in points you regard as solely academic, it’s demonstrable the electorate have no interest in the LibDems with regard to the EU.

  • Its been done. The thinktank British Influence did a quick response on the 24th of last month which summed it up. And regardless, the so-called Norway Option pops up every few years and each time has been rejected simply because it packages all the more difficult aspects of Europe while ditching our ability to take part in the decision making.

    As for Paterson, well, he’s right that free trade is available outside the EU. But when he claims that Norway’s ‘influence’ on the single market equates to the influence that you get with a place on the Council, seats in the Parliament and a position on the Commission drawing up policy in the first place, then he is simply wrong. Norway has the right to be consulted, and then it has the right to implement 75% of the legislative output of the European Union. How much change does that influence cause? Not much.

    And yes, you’re degrading into stuffy academic whataboutery, with a nice dose of logical fallacy on the side.

  • If the magisterial authority which is the ‘Think-tank British Influence’ is right then doubtless the LibDems (or Labour, for that matter) would have picked it up and run with it. I hear an awful lot of silence and a continued refusal to acknowledge this debate. The Bruges Group (apparently an authority as advised only a few hours ago by ninety LibDems accept the research and have adopted it for their own purposes. So what you might call a zero-sum game. Then again ‘Pro-EU think tank thinks EU a good idea’ is hardly the most compelling intervention. If that’s the best you can do, then I doubt Paterson will need lose any sleep.

    As far as adopting EU legislation, most single market legislation is identical in nature with that of the EU, and is also simply the results of measures decided well above the EU and for which the EU is solely an intermediary. Hardly the supplicant nation doggedly following articles of demi-religious rites.

    All the same, enjoy the LibDems colossal approval rating with regard to the EU. Maybe one day, when Nick Clegg can proceed beyond ‘Nigel Farage thinks the moon landings were faked’ then you can be certain the learning curve has commenced. But we’re clearly some way off that yet.

  • I am sure that the UK will have a lot more negotiating power outside of the EU than Norway with its 5 million people. Inside of the EU we have less than 10% negotiating power and must obey the rules.

    Trade is just one aspect. I don’t want the EU to continue to govern our country, do you? It seems that LibDem policy is to become part of a Federal Union.

  • Well, Beckley, literally all you’ve brought here is ‘Anti-Europe figures oppose European Union’. Well, no, I must be fair, its ‘Anti-Europe figures make factually incorrect assertion about European Union’, but either way, its not exactly convincing.

    As I say, this issue comes up quite regularly. Perhaps I should refer you to the more eurosceptic Open Europe, which in 2012 considered options ranging from staying in on the status quo through to relying on those levels far above the EU you mentioned, including the Norway Option. They recommended that the UK remain inside and make its case for reforms. Sorry it doesn’t directly address Paterson, but he’s not putting anything new on the table and generally organisations don’t restart their whole process every time an utterance from him arrives.

    And Peter, I want this country to have good governance. On some issues, that means we need to make policy with our European partners. On certain issues, like the environment, or like regulation of the financial sector, or on dealing with organised crime, policy at the UK level alone is irrelevant. I don’t want our people to be irrelevant.

  • Adam Robertson 3rd Dec '14 - 5:57pm

    I am glad to see, the Liberal Democrats, come together on the issue of Europe – or more appropriately, the European Union. The Conservative Party, is a party, which seems to develop social amnesia on the fact that it took the country into the European Union, or known as the European Economic Community. Arguably, Margaret Thatcher, gave more power to the European Community in 1985, through the Single European Act.

    John Campbell in his biography of Margaret Thatcher, claims that the Single European Act (SEA), gave more sovereignty to the European Community, then did the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, under John Major’s leadership. Thatcher was aware that the European Parliament would get more powers for agreeing to the Single European Act, despite saying she had a dislike for a directly elected European Parliament. Thatcher signed the SEA, knowing the implications of what kind of Europe, would be created.

  • Barroso announced last year that the new commission would have the formation of a federal union as a priority. They have already started work on this and are recruiting delegates for a federal assembly. The first meeting will be in Latvia next year.

  • Well, T-J, Literally you’re using ‘facts’ from lightweight organisations, acceptance of which are akin to accepting your family nutritional information from Ronald MacDonald. If you’re reduced to quoting Roland Rudd or Open Europe, then you’ve not much to offer. What remains is Paterson’s piece which needs acknowledgement by a senior, serious and competent Political figure. In its absence, Paterson stands. You clearly don’t want to believe him, but are unwilling to go that extra mile for the evidence. That’s a commonplace weakness, but by no means unique. It’s possibly part of the phenomenon the electorate no longer look to the LibDems for credibility.

  • Simon McGrath 4th Dec '14 - 9:02am

    A few weeks ago there discussion from the LDV team about possibly a) limiting the numbers of comments people can make b) limiting their lenght.
    T_J and Beckley have admirably illustrated why this is a good idea.

  • John Stevens 4th Dec '14 - 9:23am

    I am glad to see this. Would it had come much earlier and been part of a comprehensive strategy against euroscepticism, both inside and outside the Conservative Party. Then, you might not have been so much the victims of the coalition and might even have emerged as the detonators of the split within Conservatism which is now, at last, generally regarded as inevitable. You would have served your country, and yourselves far better. Now, I fear, it is all getting too late.

  • John Stevens
    A split in the Tory Party is wishful thinking. Even if it were to happen it would last five minutes, simply long enough for the men with the big cheque books to put their party back together again.
    The Tory Party is the party of the rich and powerful. The rich and powerful will not step aside if the Tory Party splits. They will either put it back together again or find themselves a new Tory Party. UKIP is a stage in the development of the Tory Party, the leaders of UKIP are Tory renegades, as are the people who fund them.
    When push comes to shove they are all Tories whatever flag of convenience they pick today to deceive gullible voters.

  • Beckley, the Norway Option is not new. I remember the other main Eurosceptic research group Civitas did a thing on it and rejected it for pretty much the reasons I’ve already pointed out – we keep the politically difficult aspects of union while binning political influence over them, without even saving money. They also raised particular concerns about unilaterally throwing Article 50 at the problem, one because there’s no mandate to do so and two because it throws away any and all chances of rebuilding cooperation with the likeminded other members in Europe.

    The UK should stay in and help define European policy in a way that works for all of us. Alternatively if the country disagrees with me, it should leave entirely. This halfway house of yours is dishonest and illegitimate – Britain is strong enough to go it alone, but we don’t want to lose the single market, Europe legislates too much, but let’s keep its legislation etc. Reminds me of the SNP’s campaign, independence but with a currency union and shared institutions and a common postal service and the same head of state and so on.

    As far as Paterson’s latest intervention goes, I am not aware of any government figure doing a direct response. But neither do I think that this figure, whose ministerial career highlight was in failing to kill enough badgers to meet his own nonsense target and whose other political obsession blatantly disregards the conclusions of the scientific community, warrants any special consideration. The idea that his opinion should be taken as fact until repudiated by a higher ranking government figure is simply absurd.

  • Bill Le Breton 4th Dec '14 - 9:59am

    “We, the undersigned Liberal Democrats, konw that the real patriotic case is for Britain to remain in Europe; our jobs and our economic future depend on it.”

    I can think of some very power arguments for Britain remaining in the European Union, but I am not convinced that ‘our jobs and our economic future depend on it’. This surely is the weakest argument in favour as there are alternatives that would work in an indistinguishable way in their effect on jobs and the economy.

    I wonder how many of these 90liberal Democrats were in favour of joining the Euro in the mid-Nineties and who would have sided with Tony Blair against Brown in the years of the Labour Governments?

    I sat round some tables with a few of them during those days and I seem to recall that only Nick Harvey and I ever expressed an opposite view.

    Surely the most powerful argument for being a member was contained in one of its early names : the European Community..

    Yet on re-reading the extract I quoted above I see that it mentions being ‘in Europe’ and is silent about the Union. Was that merely sloppy drafting ?

  • @Simon McGrath

    tl:dr?

  • Simon – compared to some rambling discussions, this one actually contains some nuggets.

    Beckley notes “the public justification for EU membership leans heavily on ‘Trade – Jobs’” then the EEA\EFTA membership route seems to satisfy the criteria being touted. But as both Beckley and T-J note, there are some serious limitations to EEA/EFTA membership route which don’t really get mentioned.

    I think T-J hasn’t understood that Beckley isn’t actually promoting EEA\EFTA membership aka ‘The Norway Option’, merely stating that the case against this rational outcome hasn’t been robustly made and really needs to be made, if we wish to avoid being bumped in to this outcome. Additionally, T-J seems to think that a simple “this is beneath me” style of dismissal will make the rationale behind the ‘The Norway Option’ somehow go away.

    The main issue with the letter is that the 90 signatories don’t seem to have understood there is a vast difference between the “European Community” and the “European Union”, Margaret Thatcher was arguing for the Community…

  • “Any case against a European ‘demos’ rests heavily on whatever subjective definition you choose to use for the term,”

    The demos of the UK (as currently constituted including Scotland and Northern Ireland) can easily be objectively defined as the citizens of the UK, the nation state. This demos is represented by Parliament.

    There is no demos for the European Union whatsoever. Subjective or otherwise.

    Answer me this. Which body is ULTIMATELY sovereign over UK citizens, the people themselves, as represented in parliament or the EU institutions? Is it or is it not true that the British people can vote to leave the EU, and that their parliament can bring that into effect and we leave the treaties we have signed?

    Are you going to tell the Scots that because they signed the Act of Union in 1707 they can never be an independent nation? Try it north of the border. Maybe you can get that Yes vote at last.

    Who should rule us, we ourselves through our parliament or the bureaucrats of Brussels? That is not an arcane academic discussion it is the most burning political question of our time.

    But you knew that all along.

  • Yes! Finally a fightback against xenophobic orthodoxy. We need to promote the message that Britain is at its strongest when t is open to the world, and that Britain can only gain from free migration with a well-educated Europe. We are the voices of reason in a world that s becoming increasingly prejudiced, and we can only succeed in elections (not to mention the referendum to come) if we bring back that kind of reason to the centre of public discourse.

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