Euro-enthusiasts trot out the same line whenever David Cameron does something of which they disapprove. The PM, they say, is “caving in to UKIP extremists” or “trying to appease the Tory Right”.
I understand why they do it. The last thing they want is to argue their case on its merits. They don’t like to mention that our EU budget contributions have quadrupled over five years – and that’s before you count the extra £1.7 billion “prosperity surcharge”. They prefer not to defend the idea that we must turn away skilled workers from English-speaking countries to admit unskilled workers from Europe. Easier by far to build up a caricature of Eurosceptics – as unreasonable, angry, obsessive, nostalgic, racist, blah blah – and then pretend that the PM’s sole motivation is to appease these pantomime villains, thus casting him as both weak and unprincipled.
But who is it, exactly, that the PM is appeasing? Who is it that wants a lower EU budget, controlled immigration, a referendum on membership? The British electorate, that’s who. On all these questions, David Cameron is in line with more than 80 per cent of the country. He is, if we must use the Europhiles’ pejorative phrase, “caving in” to the general population. Or, to put it more neutrally, he is behaving precisely as a democratic politician is supposed to behave, listening to public opinion.
I’ll go further. Euro-scepticism – which I’ll define in its loosest sense as wanting to see powers returned from the EU to national and local authorities – is now the majority position, not only in Britain, but across the Continent. The only place where it has almost no purchase is in the Brussels institutions.
I have just come back from a council meeting of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, of which I’m Secretary-General. Our parliamentary Group, the ECR, came third at May’s European election, and has grown since through defections. Over the weekend, the Alliance admitted two more conservative parties (from Georgia and Slovakia) and received applications from another two (from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro) as well as establishing a bloc on the Council of Europe. Unremarked and unreported, we are building a coalition of respectable Centre-Right parties that believe in national sovereignty and parliamentary supremacy.
The reason we’re growing is that our policies don’t strike voters as being in the least extreme. Wanting to restrict EU jurisdiction to the small number areas which cannot be left to nation-states – tariff reduction, cross-border pollution and the like – seems, to most people outside Brussels, an eminently reasonable position. Ditto arguing that the EU budget should not keep rising when national budgets are falling. Ditto asserting that states should control who crosses their borders. Ditto recognising that national parliaments have more purchase on our loyalties than EU bureaucracies.
The real extremists, on any normal definition of the word, are those Euro-integrationists who see the EU as, if not exactly a country in its own right, certainly something more than an association of countries. The real obsessives are those who stick to their federal vision however often it is rejected in referendums, resubmitting Plan A over and over again.
As for those of us who want to respect the wishes of our voters, the normal word for that is not “populism” or “nationalism” or “xenophobia”. It’s “democracy”.
Opprinnelig i The Telegraph den 3. november 2014.