Gale`s View – 13th January 2016
I met, in the company of a handful of colleagues, with the Prime Minister at Downing Street last week. He indicated that during his statement, later in the afternoon and reporting on the meeting of the European Council, he was going to reveal the worst- kept secret in Westminster.
We have known for months that, once the Government had finalised its negotiations and taken a position of the United Kingdom either within or outside of the European Union, everyone from Cabinet Ministers down would be released from the doctrine of collective responsibly and expected to campaign and to vote, for or against, according to personal conviction and persuasion in the light of whatever deals have or have not been struck.
I am not remotely surprised to have received, within minutes of the Prime. Minister's statement, what will no doubt be the first of a number of offensive e- mails informing me that “If you do not vote for Britain to come out of Europe you will be a TRAITOR!" (Block capitals have taken the place of green ink for the purposes of e-mail abuse).
While I do not propose to respond further to this kind of Neanderthal rubbish from either side of the debate it does seem to me that now might be the time to set out my stall for those that I have been elected to represent.
At present it is probably fair to say that roughly twenty- five per cent of the electorate locally and nationally want “out" at any price. Hell will freeze over before they move from that entrenched position. A further twenty- five percent are dug so deeply into the European bunker that nothing on God's Earth will shift them from their determination to bring about a United States of Europe run, presidentially, from Brussels. The National Press, with an eye on the main chance, circulation figures and the predilections of its readerships has, broadsheet and tabloids, lined up behind these diametrically opposed factions.
For the remaining fifty per cent or, as we say in a democracy, " the majority", sorting the wood from the trees and obtaining any kind of rational and unbiased information is not going to be easy.
Most of us, and particularly those of us who voted in Harold Wilson's referendum, signed up to a Common Market offering the tremendous opportunities of free trade. We did not subscribe to the doctrine of “ever closer union" or of a United States, we did not desire or expect our Defence and Foreign policies to be determined by a Council of Ministers or, worse, unelected Eurocrats, and we most certainly did not intend to hand to the European Courts supremacy over our legal processes. We did not sign up to the Schengen Agreement that is unravelling under the weight of legal and illegal migration and we fought the battle, spearheaded by William Hague, to eschew the euro as a currency and to retain the sovereign pound sterling that has served us so well over so many centuries. We were right.
That we have seen the erosion of our powers, throughout the decades since 1974, is undeniable. Successive governments and parliaments - some of which I have been a member of - have through Treaty change and through Directives, handed responsibility for matters that ought to be the sole prerogative of independent States to the European machine and, unlike some countries that do not play cricket, we have obeyed the rules and even, to our shame, allowed Whitehall to gold-plate some of the nonsenses emanating from Brussels.
It is to seek to retrieve this situation and to move back towards the philosophy of the Common Market that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and our top Ministerial teams are seeking to negotiate.
I now urge caution before jumping to any conclusions whatsoever and I hope that my younger colleagues will await the outcome of any agreements on reforms that may be reached before, possibly under great pressure, nailing colours to a particular mast.
There is an expectation that “the negotiations will fail" and that is a view, propagated by the media, that has led to a current shift in the opinion polls towards the much- vaunted “Brexit". Beware. Negotiations are exactly that: you do not start talks expecting to get all of your own way all of the time and there are those who will, at the smallest sign of concession, say “I told you so". We should not, though, assume that "out" will necessarily mean peace or security or prosperity or even the restoration of national power and autonomy. We live in a global village and no country is any longer, literally or metaphorically, an Island. Or even a United Kingdom.
(It is a racing certainty that following an exit vote Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish Nationalist Government would seize the moment to call a second referendum on the union with England, would very probably win and would apply to take an independent Scotland straight back into the European Union. The idea that a thus weakened England and Wales would carry as much clout alone is a pipe-dream.)
It would be wrong to assume, also, that just because some Member States are opposed reform (of EU Benefit rules for example) that is necessarily a stand that will be taken by other major States who have their own economies and frontiers to protect. Quietly, there is a growing realisation in Sweden, in Denmark, in Hungary, in Germany and even in France, for example, that Europe cannot go on taking and paying for all- comers from all places all of the time. The doctrine of “Ever closer Union" is, outside the corridors of European power, under as much stress as the Schengen Agreement itself.
It may be that at the end of the day we do not achieve enough to be able to recommend that the UK should remain as a driving force within a much- reformed European Union and if that is so then the people will, under this Government and as promised, have their say and be allowed to leave and to take, for good and ill, the consequences of that decision. For my own part, in the interests of those who elected me, of my Country and, yes, of the futures of my own children and my grandchildren, I intend to wish those who are negotiating well and to await the outcome before exercising my personal judgement at the appropriate time. I am not, though, mandated. I was elected to use my brain and I will do so without duress or undue influence from either manic Europhiles or from Little England xenophobes. This is the most important decision that the United Kingdom will take within our political lifetimes. Let it be made upon the basis of sound and civilised and informed debate rather than tabloid or any other hysteria"