by Callum Anderson
Just when you thought that the subject of the EU would, at least, momentarily take a place on the back-burner, it came screaming back onto Twitter, our newspapers and television screens.
First, there’s been the case of the EU budget and the UK’s prospective £1.7 billion surcharge, an additional contribution to the EU budget – whilst the likes of France and Germany are set to gain rebates of £801 million and £614 million respectively. The prospect of the UK coughing up more money to the EU, when it is already one of the biggest contributors already, as well as effectively handing over money to equally rich Member States is undoubtedly a difficult one.
The prime minister has taken the opportunity to appear as morally outraged as possible, taking a progressively harder line, stating in the House of Commons that Britain would pay ’no way near’ what the European Commission wants them to.
But the emerging facts are yet again highlighting David Cameron’s school boy approach to EU diplomacy. It is beginning to become clear that the prime minster, the chancellor and HM Treasury knew of the likely additional payment that would be required of them. Furthermore, not only did it appear that the Dutch government, who are also required to contribute an extra £506 million to the EU budget, would pay their own surcharge, but that they had also made contingency plans in preparation for their likely additional contributions.
Second, the topic of immigration was brought into the limelight, with the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon stating that he UK could be “swamped” by EU migrants – ignoring the fact that Kent, where Mr Fallon’s constituency lies, was according to the 2011 census 89.1 per cent White British. Not exactly swamped.
Yet it has become clear that there is little appetite among other European Member States for the significant treaty change required to restrict the freedom of movement, with that ever important player Angela Merkel stating that she was wholly against restricting this freedom.
But, at the time of writing, it is fair to say that the Labour leadership have been considerably quiet (in fact, nigh on irrelevant) on the European question. Although this is partly understandable – Johann Lamont’s resignation as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party has taken up a considerable amount of attention – Europe is still an issue that needs to be more resolutely addressed, if Ed Miliband is to present himself as Britain’s next prime minister.
However, there are small signs of life within the Labour ranks.
First, Ed Miliband should be praised for bringing Pat McFadden back onto the front benches as shadow Europe minister. He will bring some much needed gravitas and steel to the European brief, as well as being able to make a more convincing business case for staying in the EU due to his background in the BIS team. Indeed, he has already offered astute rebukes to the government’s attitude to negotiating with other EU Member States regarding the freedom of movement principle. Similarly, members of the shadow cabinet, such as Chuka Umunna, have begun to take brave steps in robustly confronting UKIP’s views on immigration.
Yet there is still so much more that can be done.
By taking these steps, Labour, can begin to genuinely to project itself as a government-in-waiting. One that seeks to engage with our European neighbours, and not damage relations to a point of no return, by picking petty fights on the one hand, and isolates itself on the other. It can also be simply said that the Liberal Democrats have already proven themselves unable of injecting any common sense into the government and can’t be relied upon to put a credible pro-EU case that the electorate will actually listen to.
Indeed, only Labour can make a credible and positive case for EU membership to the British people. And there’s plenty of evidence that suggests that the British people want to listen to this positive case. Just last week, a poll from Ipsos Mori showed that 56 per cent of Britons would vote for the UK to stay in the EU, if there were a referendum now, with just 36 per cent voting the other way.
All this at a time when UKIP’s supposed allure is their anti-EU rhetoric; when a Conservative prime minister is doing he can to tie himself up in knots with his European partners, Labour must be the voice of reason in this time of madness.
Will the pro-European Labourites please stand up?
Callum Anderson works at a national charity