Proof that not *all* Tories are bonkers on Europe (and nor was Mrs Thatcher)

by Stephen Tall on January 17, 2013

margaret thatcher europeAmidst all the Tory Euro-hysteria (‘Eurotic’, I’ve heard it described as: and I seriously hope I didn’t mis-hear) it’s easy to forget there are a few Tories, a diminishing if stoic band, who have kept tight hold of their senses.

And though it was David Cameron’s desperate last-ditch pitch for the job of Tory leader — his 2005 promise to his party’s Europhobes to withdraw the Tories from the mainstream centre-right EPP alliance, a policy even David Davis wouldn’t touch — which has, slowly but inevitably, dragged the party ever more fringewards, a few of his backbenchers remain hopeful they can persuade him, even now, to do the sensible thing.

Here’s some of what they’ve written to him:

We acknowledge the EU’s shortcomings and understand the desire and, under the Lisbon Treaty the possibility, to repatriate powers. However, we do our nation, as well as Europe, a disservice by not confidently exerting the same level of engagement and leadership as we demonstrate in organisations such as NATO, the G8, the UN Security Council or the Commonwealth.

When Britain does engage we get positive results. Many of the core features of today’s EU are thanks to British leadership. The Single Market is the creation of Margaret Thatcher and enlargement was the key legacy of John Major. Both helped create world’s biggest trading area which has enabled the UK to become the number one destination in Europe for foreign direct investment. From economic reform, deregulation, competition, trade and the environment, the EU is now following a policy agenda largely fashioned by the UK. Far from being perpetually isolated, we should stress that such an outcome has been achieved by the UK with the help of strong allies and continued goodwill. …

The UK has potential allies on many key issues, even on the merits of repatriating some powers. We fear that a renegotiation which seems to favour the UK alone would force other capitals to ask why they cannot simply dispense with those parts of the Single Market that don’t suit them … If you decide to give the British people a referendum, we will be supporting you, not only in making the case for continued membership of the EU, but in enhancing our leadership both in Brussels and the capitals of Europe, in the national interest, namely completing the Single Market, attracting foreign direct investment into the UK and exercising our strategic value in the eyes of our allies, particularly the United States. Like you, we want to be in Europe – for Britain.

You can read their optimistic and hopeful (in every sense) letter in full here.

I doff my cap to the 15 who signed it…

    Laura Sandys
    Margot James
    Stephen Dorrell
    Ben Gummer
    Ben Wallace
    Richard Ottaway
    Bob Walter
    Robert Buckland
    Neil Carmichael
    Caroline Spelman
    Nicholas Soames
    Peter Luff
    Jane Ellison
    Sir Malcolm Rifkind
    Kris Hopkins

…but perhaps the most telling aspect of the letter is this revelation in today’s FT:

Such is the anti-European sentiment in the party that only 15 of the signatories allowed their names to be published. Another 10 insisted on anonymity in the face of virulent anti-European sentiment in their local associations.

How far has the Tory party come since 1988 and Margaret Thatcher’s declaration in her famous Bruges speech (which makes quite astonishing reading today):

The European Community belongs to all its members. It must reflect the traditions and aspirations of all its members. And let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community. … I am the first to say that on many great issues the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice. I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world.

What was then seen as her anti-Europeanism was the trigger (along with the poll tax) for Mrs Thatcher’s decapitation by her party. Today it would be her excessive pro-Europeanism that would see her in trouble with the Tories.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.