Leading Article: Some truths that Lamont ignored

Share
Related Topics
NORMAN LAMONT made an important speech at the Tory party conference in Bournemouth last night. Never before have the arguments against being 'at the heart of Europe' been so coherently marshalled by a former senior minister with first-hand experience of negotiating within the European Union. Rarely have possible alternatives to membership been so provocatively examined.

Yet the structure erected by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer stands on sandy soil. One of its cornerstones was his erroneous claim: 'There is no argument in Europe. There is Britain's point of view, and then there is the rest of Europe.' As Douglas Hurd pointed out in his earlier robust call for partnership and co-operation, the future of the EU is a matter of intense debate in most other member states, notably Germany, France and Denmark. Furthermore, Mr Lamont ignored the likely accession of four new members in January, in each of which there has been a passionate division over Europe.

Mr Lamont also cheated by depicting the ideas on Europe recently put forward by Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democratic party as government policy. He knows that any government paper would be far more closely tailored to the realities of public opinion not just in Germany but in other member states. It was, moreover, a falsification of British history to state so flatly that 'Britain is not at the heart of Europe. It is on Europe's western edge'. That may be geographically accurate, but it scarcely chimes with this country's deep involvement in Europe, and vice versa, from the Roman conquest onwards.

In advocating abandonment of the present course, Mr Lamont makes the defeatist assumption that the Major government cannot hope to win the argument when negotiating with Britain's EU partners. Yet he did a service by taking the Eurosceptic case to its logical conclusion and putting forward various alternatives to full membership, even flirting with the idea of withdrawal.

The alternatives he outlined more clearly were: standing firm on existing arrangements, membership of a purely free-trade area, possibly embracing the North American Free Trade Agreement, and negotiating an outer-tier status.

Any of these options would, in reality, take Britain on a collision course with its own self-interest. It is true to say, with Mr Hurd, that much of Britain's weight in the world derives from the potential of its frequently mishandled partnership with other European states. It is false to claim, as Mr Lamont does, that EU membership has been neutral or negative in Britain's economic performance: we need only observe the transformation in the country's trade flows in the past decade. Perhaps Mr Lamont's party is about to be seduced by a vision that has thus far not dared to speak its name. Mr Major now has no choice but to stand alongside Mr Hurd on Friday and fight for a genuinely constructive engagement with Europe.

React Now

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

KS2 Teacher required from October

£90 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Hull: Key Stage 2 Supply Teacher requ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Computer Futures

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures (an SThree br...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education require a ...

SEN Teacher - Hull

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are recruiting for spe...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Underground, Overground, over the Irish Sea and clever pigs

John Rentoul
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor