Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Cameron adopts the Lib Dem position

Prime Minister David Cameron this morning gave his long-awaited speech on Europe and the UK's position in the EU.

In essence, he said that he would seek to renegotiate the EU's constitution and offer the British people a referendum based on the outcome. He said that if he gets his way then he will be campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU but the public would be offered the option of leaving. He laid out a number of ideas about how the EU would change. But he also said that, whilst members of the Euro-zone might want to keep the pledge of an 'ever closer union', there should be an outer ring of the remaining members (the UK included) who would have a different relationship with the EU.

Which is (almost) exactly the same as the position the Liberal Democrats have held for many years.

The Lib Dems might hold a bit of a different view as to the details of how we want to see the EU structured, but the fundamental principles are the same. We are happy to let the Euro-zone countries get on with forming the rules for their own club as they wish. But on the matters that affect the UK, we believe that some change is needed. And we have said for many years that the people of the UK should be offered and In-Out referendum based on any fundamental change to our relationship with the EU.

Just look at the Common Agriculture and Common Fisheries Policies. Tony Blair claimed to have renegotiated these so that everyone would play by the rules. He gave up a chunk of the UK's rebate in return. But the farmers and fishermen I speak to say that little has changed in reality. We need to make sure that the rules are right for the long term sustainability of the industries, but we have to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules.

We have many things to be thankful for in Cornwall with regard to the EU.
  • It was the EU that recognised that Cornwall was one of the poorest regions, not only in the UK, but in Europe too - even after the expansion to the east. And so we have seen structural fund investment through Objective One, Convergence Funding and we will see post-2013 support too.
  • It was the EU that classified the pasty as a food worthy of protected status, helping to safeguard Cornish jobs.
  • And it was the EU that created the Europe-wide arrest warrant to help bring criminals to justice when they flee the UK. (Something that UKIP and many Tories want to scrap).
The news coverage of Cameron's speech has been full of hypothetical questions about what if the PM gets none of his desired changes through the re-structure negotiations. But it is pointless speculating about what might happen somewhere down the line. I don't think anyone believes that the EU will resist all change. Neither do I think that Cameron will get everything that he asks for.

At the end of the day, the British people will have to make a decision based on the outcome of the negotiations. I don't think anyone but the most hardline from each point of view can make up their mind until that time. But I think that Cameron's strategy - the Liberal Democrat strategy - is the right approach at this time.

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