Chris Bryant: Cameron will come unstuck on EU fudge

With the Lisbon treaty set to be ratified, Conservative promises of a referendum and renegotiation will soon prove unachievable

Share
Related Topics

There is a deep and deliberate double deception at the heart of the Conservative position on Europe. David Cameron has been refusing for months to come clean on Europe – but he's about to be found out.

Such is the visceral anti-Europeanism in his party, ever since he became leader of the Tories he's had to keep on suggesting that he would hold a special referendum on the Lisbon treaty, even if it has been ratified and brought into force. But now the moment is virtually upon us, with the Czech Republic set to ratify it, Mr Cameron will have to come clean. I would bet my bottom dollar he won't guarantee a referendum on Lisbon.

Instead he will almost certainly unveil a heavily disguised fudge of a promise, with a guarantee that any future treaty that would cede powers away from the UK would be subject to a referendum. It'll be a remarkably hollow promise.

After all, there are no plans anywhere in Europe to start drafting new European treaties. But Mr Cameron hopes he'll appease the Tory and UKIP right. He hopes people will blink and not spot the sleight of hand. I very much doubt he'll succeed, and his fudge will melt under heated sceptic scrutiny.

But the other deception Mr Cameron wants to get away with is his constant use of deliberately vague hints that sound tough but guarantee nothing. So he suggests they would renegotiate the treaty, but he must know this is impossible. Any treaty negotiation requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 governments – and every other government in Europe is absolutely clear they do not want another round of treaty talks. Indeed the one thing that unites every government and every political party in Europe (apart from the Tories) is that they do not want any more treaty negotiations and will do all in their power to block them.

Quite rightly they want to get on with the real issues that matter to European citizens – jobs, industry, competition with China and India, and tackling international crime. A Tory government determined to secure yet another new treaty would have to spend vast amounts of political capital needlessly trying to force the 26 other countries into doing a special new deal. What would they offer France, Spain, Germany, Poland and Italy?

There is an additional irony. Under the Lisbon treaty it is even more difficult to renegotiate the European treaties. The European Parliament now has a blocking power and can insist on a full-blown treaty convention, which would take years to complete. Since Mr Cameron has walked away from the mainstream in the European Parliament by abandoning the EPP grouping, he has next to no friends who would vote his way. So a renegotiation is a virtual impossibility and threatening it would simply set up a fruitless war with Europe that would be doomed to failure.

Mr Cameron also coyly intimates he would "repatriate powers to the UK", with a nod towards the social chapter. Again he flatters to deceive. Quite simply, the social chapter doesn't exist any more; elements like the right to paid leave and maternity pay are embedded parts of the single market now, scattered across several treaty clauses.

Any attempt to opt out of these provisions would rightly be seen by Paris and Berlin as an attempt to dismantle the common market and undermine the union. Leave aside the fact that I believe these measures are an important part of being a fair and competitive economy, the uncomfortable truth for Mr Cameron is that if he tried unilaterally to opt out, the European Court of Justice would immediately decide that the UK was in contravention of its treaty obligations. Mr Cameron would have set us on the path towards Britain leaving the EU, or being thrown out.

Already Tory isolation is damaging British influence. The Tories have abandoned the European People's Party group – the largest group in the European Parliament – and set up their own hand-picked group. The trouble is threefold. First, British businesses now have no direct access to the largest group in the Parliament. Second, the Conservatives are in a group of right-wing extremists with very dubious pasts, a matter which has already brought British conservatism into disrepute. And third, because a grouping has to have MEPs from seven countries and four of the countries represented in Mr Cameron's new group are solo figures from their country, the group would collapse if any one of them chose to leave. So Mr Cameron is completely in hock to the whimsy of four MEPs.

It is easy to point to the failings of the EU, but pursuing the British interest does not mean macho posturing. Our membership of the union is vital to our economic future. The single market has given British people the freedom to trade and work in the largest market in the world. That has meant three million extra jobs and annual exports of £370bn. Half the UK's inward investment comes from the EU, rising from £16bn to £106.5bn. British businesses don't want their futures put in peril by a reckless Tory policy of European wrangling. The head of the British Chambers of Commerce has said that Mr Cameron's policy "could do significant damage to British business interests". This is a warning that should not go unheeded.

We also have to ensure that the EU plays a far more effective role on the world stage. There are many global issues where a united EU voice added to ours will deliver real benefits to the UK. Last week the debate was about climate change, but I would add the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia and relations with the growing giants of India, China and Brazil.

But all of that requires a European Union that has actively decided not to spend its every waking hour arguing about the internal architecture of the treaties, but deliberately focusing on enhancing the prosperity and security of its citizens. In the end, that's the greatest Tory deception – to suggest that another bout of treaty negotiations would serve Britain or Europe well. The choice for Britain, and for Europe, is simple. Help the EU, with Britain at its heart, be a real leader on the world stage; or become spectators in a G2 world shaped by the US and China.

Chris Bryant is Europe minister

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition