Cameron’s Public Plot to Stay in the EU
Andrew Neil: David Lidington, the Tories led the yes to Europe campaign in the 1975 European Referendum. A Tory Prime Minister signed our accession to Europe, the Single European Act and Maastricht. Did David Cameron’s speech represent a break with the past?
David Lidington MP: No. What David Cameron’s speech was about was the recognition of the fact that change – and dramatic change – is already taking place in Europe and Europe’s going to change further. The speech was not just about the situation of the UK vis a vis the rest of Europe, it’s about how the whole of Europe needs to respond to the challenges of global competitiveness, democratic accountability and getting the relationship right between the eurozone and the others.
AN: So Mr Cameron’s speech continues in the pro-European tradition of his Tory predecessors?
DL: Oh, the Prime Minister made it very clear that he sees Britain’s national interest lying as a continued member and a leading positive member of the European Union, but a European Union that has reformed itself in response to global developments and the need for change internally because of the single currency.
AN: So all these Tory Eurosceptics who were cheering him, he’s not one of them? That’s what you’re saying.
DL: He’s not somebody who has some secret plot to get Britain out of the EU. I mean there will be some of my colleagues who open –
AN: The Tory Eurosceptics.
DL: There are some of my colleagues who want to get Britain out of the European Union altogether, you’ll find some of those people in a number of political parties. What the Prime Minister is about is trying to get reforms for Europe that enable Europe to respond to the challenges it faces together and get us to a situation where the British people are comfortable as members of an EU that is more competitive and more flexible than it is now.
AN: Now less than two years ago junior Tories in the government, including your own parliamentary secretary had to resign because they voted for a referendum. What changed?
DL: What that debate and that vote was about, in October 2011, was over whether there should be a referendum when the future of Europe was very far from clear. What the prime minister is talking about is having a referendum in the UK to settle matters to get the consent of the British people at the end of a process of European negotiation and reform. It’s two completely different questions.
AN: Well is it really? I mean in 2011 your – let’s just look at what you said. You said, ‘When I go round the constituency at political and non-political events, this is the last thing on their minds a referendum.’ You said, ‘they’re more concerned about jobs.’ I ask you again, what’s changed?
DL: It’s still the case that whether you look anecdotally in my constituency or whether you look at the opinion polls that Europe ranks below issues like jobs and the economy in people’s minds, but what has change –
AN: I understand that, but these people were fired because they wanted a referendum and you’re now giving them a referendum.
DL: Two things have now changed. Critically I think we do have greater clarity about the direction in which Europe was heading. At the end of 2011 when that parliamentary debate took place there was considerable doubt, including around the continent of Europe as what would happen with the eurozone. Were they going to stand behind their currency and press for great integration or not? What’s clear now is that there is that political will among our colleagues in the eurozone, they’re going to need further integration, that has consequences for the relationship of the Euro Ins and the Euro Outs. That requires a negotiation to get that relationship right and settled and I think it’s fair then to say to the British people at the end of that process, look, you have the final say then put it to the people to decide.
AN: Sure. Do you owe your former private secretary an apology?
DL: Adam [Holloway, MP for Gravesham] and I have always got on both before he resigned over that –
AN: But so you owe him an apology now?
DL: I don’t think it’s a matter of apology.
AN: He lost his job for being in the same position as you are now.
DL: The debates that took place in 2011 was over a different matter, it was over having a referendum. At that time when there was absolutely no certainty. We’re talking now about having a referendum in the next parliament at a stage after a negotiation has taken place.
AN: The last thing there is about Europe at the moment is certainty, and the reason I dwell on this is that I think – can you understand why people just don’t trust you on referenda? I mean a few years ago you were sacking your own colleagues because they wanted one, now you say you want one. Before that you gave a cast iron guarantee Mr Cameron said to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, it turned out to be written in sand, not iron. People don’t trust you.
DL: No what David Cameron had said on Lisbon was that if it had not come into legal force by the General Election we would hold a referendum to decide whether the British people -
AN: Actually his famous Sun articles where he said this he did not put that caveat in.
DL: He had said very consistently -
AN: He had not put the caveat in.
DL: He and William Hague as Shadow Foreign Secretary had said very consistently that the referendum was linked to whether Lisbon has come into force or not, and when it did, when every country had ratified it and it came into force he and William Hague made very public statements to say that that matter was now closed and we would take things forwards on different -
AN: No, we’ve been through the cuttings and nowhere did Mr Cameron make it clear that he was only talking about a situation where Lisbon hadn’t become law.
DL: I’m sorry, that I have very clear recollections of what he and William Hague said at that time and when Lisbon came into force. Your point about trust more generally is a fair one and I think that what the Prime Minister’s speech achieved this week, amongst other things, was actually to separate the debate about the merits of British membership of Europe on the one hand from this genuine sense of public grievance which I accept exists that people have not had their say. People now know they will have their say.
AN: We’ll come onto the shape of what may happen. The Prime Minister says that the 2015 Tory manifesto will ask for a mandate to renegotiate powers from Brussels back to Westminster. Will you set out exactly what the powers that you aim to renegotiate will be?
DL: Certainly there will be in the manifesto a description – now it’s too early for me to say what level of detail about the approach that the prime minister –
AN: You set out the powers.
DL: What a Conservative government would take at that stage and certainly there would be clarity about the principles that would inform our approach to that negotiation.
AN: Will you specify – will you specify the irreducible minimum?
DL: What is not sensible is for any party or any government to set out in public you know the full detail of negotiations.
AN: That’s not what I’ve asked you. Were you specifying the irreducible minimum of powers that need to be repatriated before you can say we stay in Europe?
DL: There will be a decision by the leadership of the Conservative Party between now and 2015 about what they write into our manifesto then. As part of that process we’ll be looking at what the Coalition is doing in reviewing all the areas of policy which the EU now has an influence over, looking in particular at what British business says where they think there are important things of value about our membership that they want to hang onto, but also where they want changes, whether those changes need changes to law or to treaties.
AN: Well let me see if I can help you. This is what the last Conservative manifesto said. ‘A Conservative government will negotiate on three specific guarantees. On the Charter of Fundamental Rights, on criminal justice and on social and employment legislation.’ You wanted these to come back to Westminster. Let’s say you add in protection for the City of London from new regulations from Brussels. Is that the bare minimum?
DL: You’ll have to wait and see for our manifesto exactly what is going to be in there.
AN: You won’t tell us before then?
DL: It’s not a question of not telling you, Andrew.
AN: Well you aren’t telling.
DL: Well I’m telling you the manifesto for 2015 General Election hasn’t been written at the beginning of 2013. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable statement.
AN: But I do this debate is – I mean your party has started this debate, so I do think you owe it to the people to at least give us a general indication of what areas – well let me ask you a couple. Are curbs on the free movement of peoples within the EU on your shopping list?
DL: Free movement is a very important principle to which every country has subscribed and where there’s one and a half million British people who are actually living, working in other European countries.
AN: I know the case, I’m simply asking you a question. Will that be on your shopping list?
DL: What we are looking at at the moment is whether there are measures that we should be taking with regard to our own system on access to social security and other matters that would curb abuses.
AN: If you can do that anyway, you don’t need to renegotiate Europe. So whatever powers you repatriate, let’s be clear, Britain will remain open to immigrants from every country in the EU. Correct?
DL: We’ll be looking at all areas of EU competence through the coalition’s review of the balance of competencies, and we will decide – the Conservative Party – what goes in our manifesto towards the end of that process. But what is already happening is that reforms are taking place. The emphasis that the Prime Minister placed on competitiveness, on flexibility, we’re seeing in the discussions on banking on fisheries and other matters.
AN: Let me show you another thing the Prime Minister said. He wants the EU to think again about its aspirations to ever-closer union. Now, this is what the Treaty of Rome in ’57 said. It’s the founding document. ‘Determined to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe.’ Now, it beggars belief, doesn’t it, that the rest of Europe is going to overturn that founding principle?
DL: What the Prime Minister said was that that principle of a closer union between peoples is too often being interpreted as closer union between states and pointing towards a sort of federal model, like Germany’s organised at the moment. And he wants it clear that. you know, his ambition that we – not everybody, we in Britain don’t see ourselves as heading towards that.
AN: But he’s not going to change that is he? That’s not going to be changed.
DL: I think, Andrew, it’s premature to be sort of pouring gloom and doom upon the prospects for negotiation. With the feedback that I get in my conversations from other governments around Europe, is that there is an appetite for measures that will improve competitiveness, as David Cameron said, and a recognition that there’s a problem of democratic accountability.
AN: Sure, well let me ask you another to try and get this debate going. Will you aim to repatriate powers of Britain to do its own trade agreements with other countries?
DL: I think that again, the detail you’ll have to wait until the manifesto. I think, and the government’s position is that there is real value to be had from the common voice on trade that we get from membership of the European Union. I think that the leverage we get by the EU acting with a single voice is greater than if we -
AN: So trade deals will continue to be done by Europe. I understand. Right, now many Tory backbenchers don’t trust you to bring back enough powers from Brussels. They think you’ve gone native on the Europe issue. Can you assure them that some of your more Eurosceptic Cabinet colleagues will play a prominent role in the negotiations?
DL: It’ll be for the Prime Minister to decide, if the Conservative Party wins the next election, who he has in his Cabinet. That’s going to be a matter for him, and all those Cabinet members will be obviously involved in European policy. At the moment you have people from right across the Conservative Party, the spectrum of the Conservative Party in government, and from Liberal Democrats, sitting together in Cabinet and Cabinet committees working out a common approach on Europe. It does actually work pretty well.
AN: Is the government’s real risk, where the real gamble for Mr Cameron is, that he may succeed in bringing back enough powers to satisfy him and to satisfy you, but nowhere near enough to satisfy your party, and that you therefore risk an historic split. Because I’ll show you the mountain you have to climb. I mean, if there was an in/out referendum, this is among Tory voters, only 23 per cent would vote to stay in, 70 per cent to vote out. You may satisfy yourself, you may not satisfy your party.
DL: Much as I respect the ConservativeHome website, those polls tend to be of people who choose to contact them, not on a scientific basis.
AN; But do you know the general mood of your party, Mr Lindington?
DL: But I do actually think that the majority mood within the Conservative Party at both grass roots and in parliament is that they want to be members of a European club but one that is reformed, which is more competitive and has more -
AN: But my question was that it may bring back enough to satisfy you, but not them. Then you risk losing your party.
DL: The crucial test is whether it satisfies the British people. That’s going to be ultimately the test at the end of the day.
AN: Well, let me ask you this then, if it’s the British people. If the rest of Europe fails to play ball and agrees to the repatriation of next to nothing, will it follow that you and the Prime Minister would campaign for an ‘out’ vote?
DL: We’re not starting at the very beginning of the process of negotiations with a question about failure.
AN: You always try, you and the Prime Minister try to kick this question into touch. If you don’t get what you need, will you say ‘out’?
DL: At the end of the day it’s if the British people think that was has come back is completely inadequate.
AN: You have to take a very –
DL: They will vote, they will vote accordingly.
AN: You have to take a view.
DL: We will take a judgement as those negotiations go on and at the end of that process. But look, I come back to the point, Andrew, that your question seems to assume that this is Britain on its own going and arguing against 26 other countries, and that is very far from the case. We have a lot of support on the issues of competiveness, on recognising you need flexibility to deal with Euros In and Out and our democracy.
AN: We’ll see how much support you have when we see what you want back. Are you happy for MPs and Cabinet colleagues to say in their 2015 election manifestos that unless there is a major repatriation of powers they will campaign to withdraw? Are you happy with that?
DL: That is a matter, at the end of the day, for individual candidate’s consciences, but I think they’ll want to take very careful account of what the Prime Minister will say as party leader in terms of the party’s overall approach.
AN: We’ve only got a few seconds, Minister, let’s be honest here. It’s hard to see you ever campaigning for Britain to withdraw.
DL: Well, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I believe that Britain’s national interest lies in being a member of the EU. I also accept the EU needs some pretty fundamental reform or prosperity right across Europe will suffer.
AN: Even if you don’t get the repatriation that’s required, you won’t campaign to come out? Let’s be honest.
DL: I would want to see what comes out at the end of the negotiations and I would trust David Cameron to deliver it for us.
AN: David Lidington, thank you for being with us.Tagged in: europe, euroscepticism
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