Stanley's blog

The op-ed in today’s Financial Times by David Milliband, the UK Foreign Secretary, convincingly argues that the Tories are stuck in the past over Europe.

The outcome of the domestic political battle in the UK today will have major implications for Europe and indeed internationally.

When and if David Cameron becomes prime Minister, the Lisbon Treaty ratification is likely to have been completed. What then will the UK government do?

“If the Treaty is ratified and in force in all Member States, we have repeatedly said we would not let matters rest there,” says Cameron. According to yesterday’s Telegraph “David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s fundamental relationship with the European Union, to try to win back control over social and employment policy.” It says: “Privately, senior Tories say a Conservative government could even hold a popular vote on a renegotiated British relationship with Europe.” The Independent on Sunday reported that “In an attempt to concentrate minds yesterday, Mr Hague warned that a Tory government could call a referendum in Britain to take back powers from Brussels.”

A poll of Conservative Party members found that only 16% said that ratification of the Lisbon Treaty should be accepted. The poll also found that 39% said that the UK “should leave the EU in favour of a simple free trade relationship”. 29% said that the UK should remain a member but “seek fundamental renegotiation of [the] relationship”, 20% said the UK should “stay a member and fight to repatriate power back to Britain” and 9% said the UK should “stay a member but oppose any further loss of sovereignty.” Only 3% said that Britain “should play a full part in building an ‘ever closer union'”.

There is therefore much wishful thinking. An amicable renegotiation of the UK’s treaty obligations and securing opt-outs (eg on employment, social policy and home affairs), is out of the question, as Cameron and William Hague, the ‘shadow’ Foreign Secretary, must surely know. What then? There are three choices:

• To hold a referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU.
• To play a blocking role – eg on the budget – and try to force concessions.
• To ‘grin and bear it’.

The first choice is the only rational and honest one. The referendum would have to precede the negotiation of the terms of the withdrawal.

The second choice would destroy the UK’s reputation and would be irresponsible.

The third is the only feasible choice.

The paradox is that none of the major challenges facing the UK can be resolved solely at domestic level – economic recession, climate change, energy security, immigration, terrorism, international crime…

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