“Tiptoeing round in a little circle”

John Rentoul

margaret beckett 1003550a 300x187 Tiptoeing round in a little circleMargaret Beckett was underrated as a Labour minister and foreign secretary. So it was a pleasure to be on Iain Dale’s show on LBC with her this morning to talk about Europe. She was quite dry when Dale suggested that the Prime Minister might be inching towards the EU exit:

I don’t think David Cameron is inching anywhere. He’s tiptoeing round in a little circle on the spot.

The reason we were on was that The Observer had chosen as its front-page lead a report, also available in a rival publication (scroll down), that Tony Blair is to say that Britain ought to stay in the EU in a speech on Wednesday.

I thought this was a more powerful message when Beckett said it, because she campaigned against Britain’s membership in the 1975 referendum. Blair’s views on Europe are well known and unchanged, although I am sure that when he gives his speech there will be something of interest in it.

However, to the extent that Beckett and Blair make the argument from “influence” rather than “economics” I doubt whether it will be enough to persuade the British people, who might in other circumstances be described as sceptical about the benefits of EU membership.

As I said in The Independent on Sunday today, the decisive arguments, when the referendum comes, which may not be for many years yet, will be economic. If we can be sure that we would have access to the single market, then there would be little to keep the UK in the EU political structure, especially as half of it will belong to the eurozone group, from which we will definitely be excluded anyway.

The argument that we have to be “at the top table” to negotiate trade agreements with China is not one that I think would impress many people in a referendum campaign.

Photograph: Reuters

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  • creggancowboy

    Beckett, like yourself and most of ZaNuLabour, is a watered down Tory.

  • Toocleverbyhalf

    “… after 2015 … there might be something for British politicians to argue about. Until then, it is mostly a waste of breath.”

    Similarly, writing about Britain and its possible exit from the EU now, especially if quoting opinion polls when only one side is campaigning (see also the early AV referendum yes-side’s misplaced optimism), is mostly a waste of keyboard.

    But I guess it’s an easy and relatively painless way to fill a political column in these frustrating wilderness years between general elections…

  • greggf

    “The argument that we have to be “at the top table” to negotiate trade agreements with China is not one that I think would impress many people in a referendum campaign.”

    Quite right JR.
    It might have had an influence in 1975 but not any more.
    PS: I notice that Margaret Beckett now appears to be pro-EU, and for the very reason above that you rightly question as important!

  • Junius

    There ain’t a-goin’ to be no referendum, bud. Ed Miliband has made his position clear on the EU. He has sensibly committed Labour to staying in, knowing the British people are sanguine about membership. Asked unprompted which issue is the most important to the country, only one voter in one hundred mentions Europe/EU/euro/Common Market*.

    All Ed now has to do is sit tight while the Tories tear themselves apart over Europe, as they did in the mid-1990s. A couple of turkeys have already voted early for Christmas – Mark Pritchard in yesterday’s Telegraph, Michael Fabricant in today’s Indy.

    I wonder what curtains for Ten Downing Street does Justine have in mind? She can choose them in the New Year sales and store them away for a couple of years. I recommend a hard-wearing material. They will be up for some time.

    *Ipsos Mori Issues Index, September.

  • Tatty_D

    Europhiles are going to need more than these walking deads to make their case.

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