This is a guest post by Kenneth Way, Media Intern at the Fabian Society.
David Cameron’s veto of the proposed EU treaty change is a gross error of judgement and undermines Britain’s future within the union.
Back in May 2010, the Coalition agreement promised Britain would play a “strong” and “positive” role in working with our European partners. However, as Britain woke to discover Cameron used his veto, it became painfully apparent that the government has reneged on this promise and in the process worryingly sidelined Britain in Europe.
This is not the first time the government have forgotten their promise on Europe. In October, in the midst of the crisis, the Conservatives thought it helpful to hold a “symbolic” debate and subsequent vote in the Commons on EU membership. Despite defeating this vote, albeit with the largest rebellion ever on Europe from backbenchers, eurosceptics remain worryingly at large, vocal and influential within the party.
Lest Conservatives forget, in the past Europe has ripped stronger blue governments apart. This government does not have the privilege of a stable majority. Modern European history reveals that a severe lack of foresight at the insemination of the European project saw Britain say ‘No’ to Europe on multiple occasions. When the merits of Europe were finally understood, Britain started knocking on Europe’s door only to be rebutted by a dogged and insulted Charles De Gaulle adamant to block British membership. It took until 1973 to join the EEC, some sixteen years after the Treaty of Rome and some sixteen years locked outside a growing union.
We must learn from our past. While we currently remain justifiably absent from the single currency, envision a completely feasible world with a recovered booming Euro and a Pound in freefall. An economy under threat, Britain could look to the single currency as a saviour. This current short-sighted approach towards helping Europe could trigger a response akin to De Gaulle’s refusal to accept Britain into the union. Wise, farsighted decision-making will help ensure that the eurozone survies not only beyond this week, but long into the future, so that one day, if we want or need to, we can join our counterparts in a stable, secure and prosperous single currency.
Rather than fruitless attempts at holding Europe to ransom as the “awkward partner” determined to get a better deal, the government should therefore be forcing its way into discussions central to Europe’s future working side-by-side with our Franco-German counterparts. A Britain standing alongside France and German would remain powerful in these days of the emerging BRIC nations. In fact, if our beloved allies across the Atlantic continue to search for new partners in this globalising world order, the importance of Europe multiplies for Britain.
To counter this approach, British exceptionalism must end in the hearts and minds of the public. We must fight to change the wholly negative European discourse and question the idea that sovereignty is always king. Unquestionably, being pro-European is a traditional vote-loser in Britain. The notion of “Europe bad, Britain good” means the EU is seen as greedy, intrusive and unwelcome, the public are bombarded with press who inform us “Brussels controls Britain” and most of the union’s good work is buried beneath a combination of irrational jingoism and scaremongering hysteria. This attitude must change before it is too late. Failure to respond to this challenge could leave Britain in the European wilderness for generations to come.
You can follow Kenneth on Twitter @kennethway