James Harvey is a financial journalist working in London. He is a graduate in biochemistry from UCL.
Ever closer union: Tory “Eurosceptics” show their true colours
It has become something of a cliché that every country gets the government it deserves. Nowhere is this more in evidence than Britain, a country whose voters actually seem to enjoy being lied to by senior politicians.
The most obvious example of this self-delusion is the way the debate over Europe is treated. Despite all evidence to the contrary, millions of voters still manage to believe that the Conservative party is broadly “Eurosceptic”, and indeed, many vote for them on this basis. So, while my instinct is simply to roll my eyes at Chris Grayling’s recent Telegraph article in which he pretends to dislike the EU (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12098372/Chris-Grayling-calls-EU-disastrous-for-Britain-in-clearest-signal-yet-he-plans-to-back-Leave.html), I feel it is only proper to give it the kicking it deserves.
In time-honoured “Eurosceptic” fashion, Grayling begins with the claim that Britain was “supposed to be joining something that would make it easier for us to sell and buy things in Europe” when it joined the European Community in 1973. Then, “somewhere along the road, everything changed”, and the common market became the European Union, with the single currency, the European Court of Justice and the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Grayling neglects to mention that this “somewhere” was in fact Maastricht in the Netherlands, where John Major’s Conservative government signed the Treaty on European Union in February 1992. In fact, Grayling’s three pet peeves, as described above, formed the basis of the “three pillars of the European Union” in the Maastricht Treaty. It is laughable – but entirely plausible – that he might genuinely be unaware of this. Far stranger things have happened.
This is followed by a party-political whinge about Tony Blair signing the Lisbon Treaty without putting it to a national referendum, as he had promised. I am not at all a fan of Blair’s, but in the interest of full disclosure, it should be said that the Conservatives also gave a “cast iron guarantee” that they would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. And, like real cast iron, this proved to be a brittle, easily-broken promise when they came to power in 2010.
Anyway: Grayling then says that the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights “gave much freer rein to the concept of ‘ever closer union’”, which Eurosceptic Tories claim to oppose. This is an entirely meaningless statement. Firstly, the commitment to “ever closer union” dates back to the Treaty of Rome in 1958, which is the European Economic Community’s founding document. The concept of “ever closer union” is also present in the Solemn Declaration on European Union, which was approved in June 1983 by – you guessed it! – Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.
Secondly – and this is important – the words “ever closer union” in the context of a supranational economic and political union are hardly ambiguous. The principle is very clear, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what it entails in reality. Feigning horror that the EU is doing what it was set up to do is a bit like complaining that aircraft carriers give “much freer rein” to the concept of the Royal Navy.
Grayling then says that “most people in Westminster know that I hold strong Eurosceptic views”. If this is really the case (I doubt it very much), he should immediately leave the Conservative party. It is baffling to me that a “strong Eurosceptic” would wish to be a member of the party which:
(a) Took Britain into the European Community in 1973.
(b) Agreed to the founding of the European Union (twice!)
(c) Broke its pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty
(d) Is led by a man who said, in 2012, that the EU should stretch “from the Atlantic to the Urals”.
Of course, the true purpose of his article then becomes abundantly clear, with the following words:
“I am someone who believes that simply staying in the EU with our current terms of membership unchanged would be disastrous for Britain”.
This was taken as proof that Grayling is planning to lead the “out” campaign in the forthcoming EU referendum, and indeed, the BBC reported that Grayling had called the EU itself “disastrous for Britain”. However, the bolded segment contains a major hedge, making it clear that he has done nothing of the sort.
The statement comes immediately after a passage praising David Cameron’s “renegotiation” of Britain’s EU membership, deliberately leaving open the possibility of a campaign for an “in” vote once Cameron declares that his “renegotiation” has been a success (as he almost certainly will). The fact that the terms Cameron is seeking are vague and trivial is not mentioned. Which is strange, coming from a “strong Eurosceptic” like Grayling, since this is one of the key arguments made by the “out” campaign.
Presumably, Grayling will allow himself to be won over by Cameron’s “renegotiated terms”, showing that even a “strong Eurosceptic” can be happy with our new relationship with Europe. This will be used to try to tempt on-the-fence voters back towards the “in” side when the referendum happens.
Personally, I am happy to accept that there are strong arguments both for staying in and leaving the EU. However, I beg you, do not be fooled by such transparent rubbish as that which appears in Grayling’s Telegraph article. And, definitely do not allow yourself to be fooled by the conventional media response, which is painting this fake fight as a major clash of ideas. Like almost everything David Cameron’s government does, it is a content-free public relations stunt.