Party before country

David Cameron and Herman Van Rompuy  European Union

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.

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Emma Reynolds is shadow minister for Europe and MP for Wolverhampton North-East. She tweets @EmmaReynoldsMP

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Photo: European Commission

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  • Martinay

    Getting through to the eurosceptics is, Emma, really hard. I’m not sure that your common sense works on them. They are blinded by an exclusive focus on ‘independence’.

    An acquaintance of mine opposes EU membership because he is, he says, a “free-born Englishman”.

    However, maybe we can get them to see that they are not really so independent-minded as they might think if we ask them whether the UK should leave ALL international organisations and face the world alone. Really alone.

    The Commonwealth + the UN + NATO + IMF + World Bank + G7 + the Olympics+ FIFA + International Criminal Court etc etc. Membership of all these organisations imposes on the UK decisions not made in the UK. And there are costs to the UK taxpayer.

    If the eurosceptics really want pure independence they should also ask all non-UK companies here to shut up shop.

    We need to argue for EU membership not just on its own terms but because it is part of being an advanced nation. If we insisted on pure independence we would have to live on a diet of oats and root vegetables. We would dance round Stonehenge with body painting in wode.

  • Anon

    Surely if he was putting party before country he would offer the public and in-out referendum?

  • Damon

    Of course I’ve never seen an EU supporting politician explain how we benefit from paying £19 billion per year in EU fees to have the privilege of a £4.6 billion trade deficit with the EU nations. No politician states how mass immigration to this country by Eastern Europeans has cost billions in subsidised housing, benefit payments and has caused the average wage in my home town and others to be pinned at £6:19 per hour. Economic migrants take £5 billion out of the UK economy each year and send it to their countries of origin. America can take down it’s border controls with Mexico and see how it likes the single market approach to economics rather than lecturing us. lf the largest economies of this world are not part of the EU single market yet they function better in Europe than those of us who are somethingis wrong.

  • Martinay

    The logic of your position is that
    1. the UK should leave the Commonwealth + the UN + NATO + IMF + World Bank + G7 + the Olympics+ FIFA + International Criminal Court etc etc
    2. all foreign companies in the UK should be forced to disinvest
    3. Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland should be thrown out of the UK