Eurosceptic British MPs want distance from EU
by Andrea Leadsom
The eurozone crisis presents an opportunity to redefine the UK's relationship with the EU, including returning powers to Westminster
Last week, a large group of Conservative MPs from across the broad spectrum of opinion met with the shared purpose of wanting to create a better deal for Britain with the European Union. This group will argue for a fresh start to European policy and focus on delivering a new relationship between Britain and the union. It will work with think-tanks and experts to develop detailed research to demonstrate the economic, political and legal steps required to re-define the UK's relationship with the EU, including the potential for returning powers to Westminster. The group will seek to be of constructive help to the British government at a time when the eurozone crisis makes the situation in Europe unusually fluid and complex – but also potentially open to serious reform.
The project we have established will do the heavy lifting in researching on a policy by policy basis how Britain's interests could be better served. Working closely with think-tanks, we will develop a blueprint for a reordered EU-UK relationship, as well as taking advice from constitutional lawyers on how to implement reforms. Through the parliamentary European Research Group, we will be consulting with MPs and pulling together the best ideas. We will also produce a draft white paper. The ERG will support MPs through regular briefings and press releases as well as keeping in regular contact with Ministers and MEPs. And we will establish an All Party Parliamentary Group to engage the views across all sides and to seek their support.
The current UK parliament clearly believes that this is an important area of policy that we need to get right, which unites parties rather than divides them, as well as an issue that can gain cross-party and broad national support. Although we appreciate the sense of urgency in coming up with a contingency plan should the eurozone crisis deteriorate further, we also note that the crisis has showed time and again that markets move much faster than politicians. Any constitutional settlement in the wake of this crisis will move at a snail's pace. The first aim should be to urge the UK government not to hastily sign up to anything during this crisis without a proper parliamentary and public debate. The second is to push for a re-defined EU-UK relationship in the medium-term, which could involve conceding treaty changes designed to restructure the Eurozone - in return for getting specific powers back, securing opt-outs and strengthening national democracy.
Such measures should fulfil some key criteria including: practicality; a focus on jobs, growth and the economy; and bringing decision-making closer to British citizens, along the lines of the coalition's existing agenda. But the first step is to do the detailed work needed to develop coherent policy proposals, backed by a critical mass in parliament - which would deliver the objective of re-ordering Britain's relationship with Europe. Preferably, in a way that could appeal to the growing opinion in other member states that integration has gone too far, become too dogmatic and ought to be curbed. What we want to achieve is a considered and intelligent view that supports our government when the opportunity arises, as we are sure it will, to renegotiate in the best interests of Britain. I think this is a once in a generation opportunity to achieve a better relationship with Europe and a better deal for Britain.
Andrea Leadsom is the Conservative Party MP for South Northamptonshire, in the UK