David Cameron continues to put party interest before the national interest when it comes to his Europe policy.
A little over a year ago William Hague advised Cameron that if it came down to a choice between defending the national interest and keeping the Conservative party together, he should choose the latter. The prime minister continues to heed that dangerous advice.
He should listen instead to the British business leaders who this week warned about the risks to our economy and prosperity of putting our EU membership in doubt. He should also heed the advice of the Obama administration that the special relationship relies in great part on our place in Europe.
It is no wonder that the British business community is getting increasingly nervous that the government is sleepwalking towards EU exit.
In his much-trailed and much-delayed Europe speech, likely to be given in the Netherlands on 22 January, Cameron is set to promise a referendum on a renegotiated relationship with the EU some time in the next parliament. However, it seems foolish beyond belief to promise a referendum on a hypothetical outcome of negotiations which could take years and could possibly take us beyond the term of the next parliament.
Ministers are apparently acutely aware of the so-called ‘Honda problem’, that creating uncertainty about our EU membership will discourage foreign direct investment from international companies because the UK would no longer be a launch pad to the rest of the single market. But Cameron is disregarding the risk to vital investment in our economy for the sake of Conservative party unity.
Sleepwalking towards exit brings risks not only to our economy but also to our standing in the world. Successive American presidents have regarded the UK as a bridge between the US and the EU. So the comments from Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, that ‘the UK voice in the EU is essential and critical for the US’ should come as no surprise.
Gordon’s intervention also highlights the Eurosceptics’ lack of an alternative vision of life for the UK outside the EU. Clearly, an ever-closer relationship with the US would not be an option. Being reduced to the ‘fax democracy’ that Norway endures – paying in more per capita than the UK to the EU and having no say over European legislation – is not desirable.
In a global economy dominated by economic giants, the US, China, India and Brazil, the UK’s national interest is strengthened, not weakened, by being a full member of the biggest single market in the world.
The risks to the British economy and our role in the world should be uppermost in the prime minister’s mind when he sits down to put the finishing touches to his Europe speech next week. He should heed the warnings of British business and the Obama administration instead of pandering to his backbenchers. It is time that he started leading rather than following his party.
Emma Reynolds is shadow minister for Europe and MP for Wolverhampton North-East. She tweets @EmmaReynoldsMP
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