We Conservatives won the first two European elections on a pro- European platform against a Labour Party that wanted to pull out. Finally, we converted that party, but we lost the third (1989) election after Mrs Thatcher's Bruges speech, pro-Europeans telling us that they would never vote for 'that woman' and anti-Europeans saying, 'Maggie's absolutely right, we are not voting for Europe.' So we lost supporters from both wings, which was not very clever. To make that mistake once is perhaps excusable, but to make it twice looks like carelessness.
As the party of Europe, we have a strong case. The removal of all the internal barriers to trade was our idea, supported by the European Parliament in 1984, picked up by the European Commission in 1985; and through the late Eighties, as the barriers came down, so did the rate of unemployment.
I was for six years the chairman of the cross-party group on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy - a major British interest. Two successive parliamentary reports, in 1983 and 1986, by British Conservatives proposed a mutual reduction of the immensely costly export subsidies by the EC and the US, locked into a Gatt agreement. The cross-party group showed that the enormous savings would more than pay for any compensation. After tremendous efforts by the British government, the French finally agreed, the Gatt was signed and this lasting reform has been achieved.
In 1988, the Parliament pointed out that, with free movement of goods, services and currency, the exchange rates and reserves of countries in trade deficit would be vulnerable to speculative attack, and with a weak European Monetary System, they could find that they could lose half their reserves before breakfast at the touch of the electronic buttons.
Putting that right has been more difficult: but John Major won Commons approval for his negotiating position before the debate at Maastricht; approval from the Commons and in the subsequent election for his careful deal; and approval by more than 200 votes in the newly elected Parliament.
Black Wednesday and the currency turmoil showed the wisdom of his opt-out on a commitment to a single currency and his warnings on the fault-lines in the EMS. The rising anxiety across Europe about our uncompetitive costs and rigid labour practices shows the wisdom of his other opt-out.
Finally, the agreement of membership terms with Sweden, Finland and Austria shows the success of our insistence on enlargement, as do the applications from Hungary and the Czech Republic; and if terms are not agreed on Norway, it will not be our fault.
How can a great party with that record go to the polls gagged by a small clique of closet nationalists, who last year risked the defeat of the government they were pledged to support? Shame on us if we do.
MEP for Cambridge and
North Bedfordshire (Con)
8 MarchReuse content