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We can trust a future Tory government on Europe

As the Conservative conference got underway, newspapers led with comments on a right-wing insurgency against their leader David Cameron. For 4 successive days the story continued: there was, we kept being told, an almighty barney about whether the Conservatives would hold a referendum if the Lisbon Treaty were already in force. I was nonplussed and, to be honest, slightly miffed. If there really was a Eurosceptic rebellion, why hadn’t anyone told me? More to the point, what exactly was I supposed to be rebelling against? The Irish referendum didn’t seem to me to change anything: Lisbon was still unratified, and might remain so until the British elections. In the meantime, I wanted a British plebiscite, and so did Cameron.

Just in case I had missed something, I phoned some of the flintier Tory souver-ainistes: Philip Davies, Douglas Carswell, Roger Helmer, Bill Cash (‘the most notorious Eurosceptics’, as I heard a BBC correspondent call us this week; you somehow can’t imagine a Beeb presenter talking of ‘the most notorious climate change activists’ or ‘the most notorious anti-death penalty campaigners’ or ‘the most notorious Euro-integrationists’, can you?). It turned out that we had all independently reached the same conclusion. David Cameron, we felt, was genuinely working for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and not simply going through the motions. There was, moreover, a reasonable chance that he would succeed. The assumption that Václav Klaus, the vinegary Thatcherite president of the Czech Republic, would roll over to humour the Eurocrats, was more than a little patronising. And if Klaus’s signature was not on the document by the time PM Cameron came back from Buckingham Palace, there would be an immediate British vote: the requisite legislation had already been drafted.

If the Conservative leader was not in time to stop the treaty going live, we felt, it would be slightly odd to hold a retrospective referendum. Better by far to negotiate the unilateral repatriation of powers to Westminster. And not simply the powers conceded at Lisbon: also a lengthy list of prerogatives surrendered at Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. This, we agreed, would in some ways be better than a Lisbon referendum: instead of simply returning to the status quo ante — in other words, where we are now — it would allow us to improve on our present situation, recuperating many of the competences abandoned by the Blair and Major governments. Paradoxically, such a dispensation might be easier to negotiate, since we would simply be asking the other member states to return powers to Britain, not presuming to tell them how to relate one to another. There is plenty of precedent: opt-outs from defence policy, the social chapter, the euro and Schengen didn’t require the EU to reorder its institutional arrangements.

Any new deal, we concluded, would need to be put to the people. David Cameron’s pledge, after all, had been unequivocal. ‘Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee,’ he told the Sun exactly two years ago. ‘If I become prime minister, a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these [Lisbon] negotiations.’ At the very least, this must mean a referendum on whether Britain participates in them. All in all, we were optimistic. Cameron, after all, had earned the benefit of the doubt. When he took his MEPs out of the palaeo-federalist European People's Party (EPP), he demonstrated that he would rather keep faith with British voters than suck up to the European establishment.

Nothing, though, was going to deflect certain political correspondents from the narrative they had scripted. Day after day, headlines appeared about Tory Euro-rows, without any sustaining quotations. Flat denials made no difference. When Sky News asked me what I felt about Cameron’s policy, I replied that I was perfectly content, that of course I felt there would need to be a referendum in due course, and that I was optimistic about getting one. The presenter then turned to camera and told his viewers that they had just heard for themselves how ‘angry’ I was about David Cameron’s ‘refusal’ to guarantee a referendum. As the week wore on, I began to realise something. When leftie journalists say: ‘David Cameron is under pressure from his Eurosceptics’, they’re not really talking about the referendum. They’re not even talking about Europe. What they actually mean is: ‘Look: these scary right-wing psychos are taking over the Tory party.’

The word ‘Eurosceptic’ rarely appears unadorned in leftist discourse. It almost always comes attached to epithets: ‘extreme’, ‘obsessive’, ‘swivel-eyed’ — curious adjectives to apply to the 80 per cent of British voters who want a Euro referendum. (Actually, I have learned the trick of moving my eyeballs independently of each other, and occasionally perform it to amuse small children, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never done it while discussing the Lisbon Treaty.) In the pages of The Spectator, the word Eurosceptic simply means someone who opposes the political unification of the EU. In other parts of the press, though, the word has very different connotations. As Sholto Byrnes, the Lib Dem-supporting assistant editor of the New Statesman perspicaciously put it last week:

‘[Labour’s] propagandists are salivating at the opportunity to paint the Tories as divided once again on Europe, with “hardline” — code for near-lunatic extremist — right-wingers cast as the pantomime villains. “Behind you, Dave!” they call, less to warn him than to make the public aware of the grotesques with whom he chooses to associate. And there it is, that old calumny that to be Eurosceptic is to be right-wing, not just in a free-market sort of way, but in a hang ’em, flog ’em and — whisper it behind closed doors — a “wogs begin at Calais” sort of way. Cameron can’t be trusted, is the message, not when he is in hock to these mad Eurosceptics, a label which is now used to imply opposition to virtually every piece of progressive legislation from Catholic emancipation onwards.’ We can only wonder at the Gramscian genius of those who have carried out this semantic inversion. To want to preserve your parliamentary democracy is extreme; to want to give more power to unelected officials is moderate. To consult the people is swivel-eyed; to connive at their disfranchisement is level-headed. To accept the verdict of a referendum is obsessive; to keep coming back with the same question, over and over again, is pragmatic.

This last especially annoys me. I have rarely met anyone as obsessive as the Eurocrats who support the European constitution. For eight years, they have clutched at their sacred text like millennarian cultists, undeterred by its repeated rejections at the ballot box. Yet it is their opponents who are routinely called ‘obsessive’. I think I have worked out what is bothering the Euro-zealots. If David Cameron does indeed call a referendum, it will be very hard to carry on with the pretence that the opponents of European amalgamation are either football hooligans or Blimps. Cameron, in short, threatens to make the Euro-sceptic cause look as moderate and modern as it really is. Once that happens, as my integrationist friends are well aware, the game is up.

Dit opiniestuk van Daniel Hannan verscheen oorspronkelijk in het Britse magazine "The Spectator" en werd ook elders overgenomen.

Meer teksten van hem op www.spectator.co.uk.

3 Reacties:

At 17:14 Vincent De Roeck said...

Founding of the "Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR)" asbl/vzw
30th October - ECR Group's Press Release

On October 1st, a first meeting was convened to approve the Statutes of a new organisation, the "Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, (AECR)".

AECR has been set up as an asbl/vzw under Belgian law, and has in the meantime been registered as such by the relevant legal authorities.

The statutes of the meeting were approved by the Founders Mr. Derk Jan Eppink, MEP (President), by Mr. Kristof Van der Cruysse (Vice-President and Treasurer) and by Mr. Vincent De Roeck (Secretary-General).

On October 13th at a special AECR meeting, the Founders transferred their directorships to the following MEP's: Mr. Jan Zahradil (President), Mr. Adam Bielan (Vice-President), and Mr. Dan Hannan (Secretary-General).

It was an exciting occasion that marked the beginning of an era in which we hope AECRE will fulfil the important role of voicing a vision on European events based on the Eurorealist "Prague Declaration".

AECR will serve as a platform for discussion, dissemination of views and coordination of its member's views on various European topics.

 
At 17:15 Vincent De Roeck said...

"The birth of a new foundation: "New Direction- Foundation for European Reform" asbl/vzw"
30th October - ECR Group's Press Release

On October 1st, a first meeting was convened to approve the Statutes of a new organisation: "New Direction- Foundation for European Reform".

"New Direction" is linked to the "Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists" asbl/vzw has been set up as an asbl/vzw under Belgian law, and has in the meantime been registered as such by the relevant legal authorities.

The statutes of the meeting were approved by the Founders Mr. Derk Jan Eppink, MEP (President), by Mr. Kristof Van der Cruysse (Vice-President and Treasurer) and by Mr. Vincent De Roeck (Secretary-General).

On October 13th at a special New Direction meeting, the Founders transferred their directorships to the following MEP's: Mr. Geoffrey Van Orden (President), Mr. Tomasz Poreba (Vice-President), and Mr. Derk Jan Eppink (Treasurer).

It was an exciting occasion that marked the beginning of an era in which we hope this new Foundation will fulfil an important role of research and dissemination of views based on the Eurorealist "Prague Declaration".

 
At 17:19 Vincent De Roeck said...

Volgens het Brusselse weekblad "New Europe" maakt de oprichting van de twee bovenstaande organisaties deel uit van een "right-wing coup" en een "Eurosceptic hijack scenario" binnen de Britse Conservatieve Partij.

http://www.neurope.eu/articles/A-Right-Wing-Coup/97220.php

Ik heb geen weet van welk soort coup of kaping dan ook, niet door ultra-rechtse figuren, niet door Eurosceptici. En ik zou dat als oprichter en gewezen secretaris-generaal van beide toch wel moeten zeten zeker? Het artikel staat ook vol fouten en onnauwkeurigheden, maar hoe meer wind ze maken, vals of niet, hoe meer mensen een deel ervan zullen beginnen geloven.

 

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