Leading article: At last, Mr Brown looks to the future

Related Topics

It appeared for a while that Gordon Brown had lost his nerve on Europe. In the negotiations on the Lisbon treaty he seemed to be concerned only with red lines and opt-outs. Then there was the debacle of his turning up to sign the document three hours late, when all Europe's other leaders had departed. The Prime Minister seemed gripped by frightened equivocation designed to pander to Eurosceptic newspapers and draw the sting of the Conservatives' campaign to secure a referendum on the treaty.

Yesterday he put all that behind him with a clear statement of his vision of Britain's place in a Europe which can build international financial stability, remove regulatory restrictions on the world economy, promote free trade, help the world's poorest nations and take a lead on climate change. It was a vision rooted in enlightened self-interest. Almost 60 per cent of British trade is with Europe. More than three million British jobs in 700,000 British firms depend on it. And the future offers more – access to a market of 500 million people.

It was a bold vision of the kind the British public might have expected of a man who once enjoyed a reputation for strategic far-sightedness. But then he was blown off course by a series of comparatively trivial political storms which began with the election that never was and continue today with the saga of Peter Hain's deputy leadership campaign expenses.

There was, of course, politics in the timing of yesterday's speech. The Lisbon treaty will be presented to the Commons next Monday. Over the next three months, MPs will indulge in exhausting line-by-line examination of the text. The Prime Minister faces guerrilla opposition from the Tories and from maverick Labour backbenchers, who will try to unpick the detail and continue to call for a pointless referendum on the treaty. He will have to weather that, as indeed he should.

The Conservative position on Europe is as divided and contradictory as ever. The shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has talked of a retrospective referendum even if the treaty has already been ratified by Parliament. David Cameron hints that might be going too far but blusters about "not letting matters rest" on the transfer of powers from Whitehall to Brussels. The Tories continue to send out the disingenuous subliminal message that Britain should somehow pull out of Europe while knowing that the notion is utterly unrealistic since it would jeopardise trade, business and jobs.

It was Churchill who warned of spending too much time trying to build a present in the image of the past and missing out on the great challenges of the future. Europe offers Britain its best chance of withstanding the financial turbulence which is buffeting the global economy. It offers us our most effective voice in a world being shaped by, on the one hand, the military and economic might of the United States, and on the other, the burgeoning clout of the emerging world. Things are changing fast out there. China and India, which once competed only on low-cost manufacturing, are each year now turning out nearly two million more graduates than all Europe put together.

Europe is the most efficient vehicle for us to take a world lead on cutting carbon emissions, promoting renewable energy and developing new environmental technologies. It is the best hope for fighting protectionism and promoting the Doha trade talks, which can help the world's poorest billion people.

As globalisation proceeds apace, Europe will be more important to the future of Britain than ever. Mr Brown knows that. Now he has to deliver on his fine words, and persuade Messrs Sarkozy, Merkel, Prodi and the rest to do the same.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)