Guest post by Paul Prowse
Sideline Europe and you sideline Britain -- that was the message from Foreign Secretary David Miliband at last night’s Fabian debate. While political and constitutional reform was now the centre of attention for all parties, the Conservatives were pushing a “Europhobe” political programme “under the smokescreen of a reform agenda”, said Miliband.
Speaking at a joint Fabian Society and Young Fabians event, he argued that Cameron’s commitment to withdraw from the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament to ally himself with ultra-nationalist EU allies risked condemning Britain to international political impotence. He added: To retreat from the centre of the European Union is not just illogical, but dangerous.” It was “Europhobia masked as radicalism” that could leave Britain “on the margins of debate”.
Any serious reform agenda must engage directly with Europe if Britain wants to remain a key global player, he said. The Tories’ determination to review British participation in the Lisbon Treaty would be both pointless and politically damaging. From climate change to terrorism to trade – “if you are not globally engaged, you’re vulnerable.”
Labour had successfully confronted its own “schizophrenia” towards both Europe and political reform and during the late 80’s and early 90’s, Miliband argued. However, despite having delivered major constitutional reform in the shape of devolution, Freedom of Information, modification of party funding, and the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law, Miliband confessed that “we haven’t finished the job” and that “Europe is central to the reform debate.” But he reiterated that in today’s world, “you cannot credibly stand as political reformers… as Europhobes.”
Despite this fact, the Conservatives have persisted in pursuing - in the words of Ken Clarke - ‘headbanging’ policies. Miliband added: “Europe is a test for all the parties,” but it needs “support and reform, not attack and retreat.”
Although Cameron has been keen to stress his pro-American credentials, Miliband believed he might find it hard for America to take much notice of Britain if it falls out of favour with Europe. Since JFK, the US has stood for a strong and united Europe, he argued. However, if Britain isolates itself from the European Union, “we can kiss goodbye to the special relationship”