East meets Westminster: Another leader, another tale of woe

Woudl leaving Europe harm the special relationship?

Woudl leaving Europe harm the special relationship? - Credit: PA

Last week this column began “Poor old Ed Miliband” – and now it is David Cameron’s turn.

For a time it seemed the Cameroons would win and finally the Conservative party would be one the majority of members and voters could feel was moving forward.

But modernity, it appears, still does not sit well with some backbenchers.

And in the past 10 days Mr Cameron has been buffeted around by two of the old school’s perennials, gay marriage and, of course, Europe.

Spooked by the UK Independence Party at the polls, around of third of the party pushed for Mr Cameron to press ahead with an in/out referendum on Europe – UKIP dictating Tory policy, ludicrous isn’t it?

Mr Cameron is stuck. He believes, as do most sensible economists and political thinkers, that Britain inside Europe is healthier than not. How can being a member of one of the most powerful clubs on the planet be to the detriment of this country when it comes to trade of example?

But he also recognises that when it comes to Europe many British people – and not just Tories – are ruled by their heart rather than their head. The illusion of Empire still looms large in many people’s minds both young and old. So a renegioation is what Mr Camweron has promised before any referendum.

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This is a sensible option, surely? As the United States of America’s President Barack Obama commented last week when Mr Cameron paid him a visit trying to change the rules of the clubs before you quit appears to be the best route.

But no – many Tory backbencher MPs want the referendum now. And more than that they want Britain out of Europe now. But why? If Mr Cameron was determined to ditch the pound or bin the Union flag their hatred of anything from overseas might be a little more obvious.

Britain on its own again, free from Europe’s red tape and silly laws, free to reclaim and rule the waves … that is the romantic notion behind much of the fear about what happens across the Channel.

The current deal with Europe is by no means bad. Britain has been shielded from the very worse of the Eurozone crisis by not being in the common currency. And the hit that the country did take when the euro teetered on the brink we would have taken whether we were in or out of Europe.

Some ask, ‘why do we need Europe when we have the US on our side?’ Those people are short sighted at best. Number 10’s unique relationship with the White House is very much ‘just business’.

President after president has enjoyed a closeness to Britain because of our seat around the EU table, having a foot in both camps allows this tiny yet septred isle to punch far above its weight. When Mr Cameron fought hard to improve the EU budget – and won – he annoyed many European leaders. But he also won a grudging respect from them. If anything that perfomramce offered him and his party even more power than this country deserves in Europe going forward.

The oldest and most persuasive claim about Brussels is that power-hungry eurocrats are forever grabbing at Parliament’s powers. Whether there is any real truth in that is deeply disputed. But what is almost always ignored are the protections offered by European courts.

Trade should be the chill that sends shivers down the spine of every Briton when they come to decide which way to vote. All prejudice, rumour (real or imagined) and even political bias must make way for they biggest question of all whenever that vote happens: “We Britain lose trade?”

The answer, of course, is yes. Britain would have to find new partnerships and new deals and economic drivers like the Port of Felixstowe – Britain’s biggest container port – would find it more difficult to go about the business they have made such a success of.

Millions of jobs in the UK rely on Europe. To say those jobs would simple disappear over night is simplistic. Britain would not be immediately cut off from Europe. But when the time came to reassess any given business why have large-scale produce out of the EU and yet so close to mainland Europe? The thinking of CEOs to move their factories, offices and therefore wealth out of the country is easy to equate.

The EU is currently in talks with the US about creating the world’s largest free trade zone – and British business with its pivotal position between these two super powers stand to gain on an unprecedented scale – but only if she remains in the club. This country needs ever weapons available in the race to compete with the emerging markets.

Mr Cameron knows all this. He has promised to fight for an even better deal from Europe and even offer up the holy grail of a vote during the next parliament. And yet still his MPs turn on him. Still those old Tories think Britain has a god-given right to succeed and is somehow superior to the rest of the world, not just Europe.

Last year East meets Westminster asked North Ipswich and Central Suffolk MP Dan Poulter – who backs the PM’s stance - what the main issues on the doorstep were. “The cost of living, hospitals and schools.” When he was asked last night he said: “The cost of living, hospitals and schools – Europe is rarely mentioned and if it is people are supportive of a renegotiation and then a referendum.”

So why the obsession that is so damaging for their own party and potentially the country? Who knows?

But the biggest battle Mr Cameron now faces is not with his own party – they will never be happy because he is not Margaret Thatcher. The biggest fight on his hands is making sure the British public are fully educated to the risks everyone faces if this country turns its back on Europe.