Dear Douglas Hurd

A whipless Tory MP warns the Foreign Secretary not to underestimate the mood of Euro-scepticism that is now prevalent in Britain

Nicholas Budgen
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:58

Forgive me writing to you in such a public way. I hope that your initial small but well-judged smile as you read this will not be followed by one of your occasional, though rather unprofessional, bursts of private anger. I know that you will adjus t to this unexpected vulgarity as you have adjusted in the past to so much of which you disapprove.

Please accept that I write as an admirer. I voted for you in the most recent leadership election. I am sufficiently conventional to be impressed by your intellectual distinction and self-discipline. Of course we are not friends. There is too much mawkishsentimentality about friendship in public life. People are elected to represent views and interests and not to provide emotional support to other public men. However, our paths have often crossed these last 20 years. You may think that from time to timeI have represented a provincial view that has to be at least considered, even by the international elite with whom you feel so comfortable.

There has been a massive change of opinion over Europe. You will remember that during the Maastricht debate I was invited by your constituency association to speak to your supper club to explain my opposition to the treaty. I remember the evening well. Maybe half the audience were uncertain about Maastricht. Since then, events have changed public opinion to a remarkable extent. Public opinion is increasingly aware of the practical disadvantages of our treaties with Europe.

It is the accumulated effect of many problems. Fraud in Europe. The distortions and costs of the Comon Agricultural Policy. Ridiculous decisions about pregnant women in the forces. EU rules about abattoirs. The calf and sheep trade to Europe. Fish. In each instance a minister has to come forward and say: "Sorry, I'm doing my best but I'm powerless, this is an EU matter."

I suppose I ought to thank you and, to a greater extent, Ken Clarke, for the special insight that you have given me. By kicking us out of the party you made the eight, and then the nine, symbols of resistance to the federal excesses of the EU. You and the Prime Minister tried to crush us and get us deselected (I make no complaint: politics is and must be a rough game).

It so far has not worked. Why? Not because of any special personal qualities of the nine. Our associations know from their own connections and conversations that we enjoy very widespread support from the public.

You know from your years as a Foreign Office official of the necessity of consent. Ted Heath bounced the British people in 1972. Margaret Thatcher and John Biffen suborned the House of Commons over the Single European Act of 1986. People began to realisewhat was happening over Maastricht. Now more and more want a looser relationship with Europe.

Of course, we do not want isolation and detachment from Europe but unless you accommodate the mood of increasing nationalism, you run the risk of public resentment forcing you into a referendum. Such a referendum might put the whole European relationshipat risk.

I underestimated the mood of Euro-scepticism before you kicked us out of the party. I hope that you do not make the same mistake.

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