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All sceptics now?

Nick Robinson | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 2 February 2006

Well, well. Are we all Euro-sceptics now? Read an intriguing speech on Europe by the prime minister and you do wonder. In it, he insists that not all Euro-sceptics are anti-European. There is, he says, a strain of Euro-scepticism which he calls "practical scepticism" which is "a genuine, intellectual and political concern about Europe as practised".

"This is not xenophobia, nor devotion to undiluted national sovereignty," he goes on, "but a worry about Europe's economy being uncompetitive; its institutions too remote; its decision-making too influenced by the lowest common denominator."

A description, you might think of Gordon Brown's European views and, perhaps, latterly his own too.

What though of his desire to get Britain into the single currency and signed up to the Euro constitution? On the euro currency he says "the economics had to be got right and the politics follow".

My recollection of his original position was that it was the other way about - the politics, he used to argue, had been settled. All we had to wait for is the economics to be right. He once argued that the public should vote for the constitution but now says "no-one in Europe knew what it was meant to solve".

Some are already calling this a valedictory speech from Tony Blair designed to counter the claim that he failed in his mission to put Britain at the heart of Europe. It may be about something else - closing the gap between Blair-ite euro-enthusiasm and Brown-ite scepticism.

Why? Because this will ensure that, in New Labour's favourite phrase, there is a "clear dividing line" between them and David Cameron. One way of proving that Cameron is not the man of the future is to split him off from the next generation of EU leaders. It's not by chance then that Tony Blair praises both the new German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the man most likely (for now at least) to be the next French President - Nicolas Sarkosy.

Both are Conservatives. Both have criticised David Cameron's plan to take his party out of the group they sit in the European Parliament. Both, Tony Blair is saying, agree with me.


  • 1.
  • At 05:45 PM on 02 Feb 2006,
  • Sam Barritt wrote:

Probably a fair analysis of Blair/Brown's Europe strategy, which is sad as it highlights the acceptance by all our political leaders, current and potential, of the gradual British withdrawal from engagement and agreement with Europe, and from the possibility of joining the Euro in the forseeable future. With both major parties agreeing on this, the chance for a national debate on the subject is receeding.

Blair has been quite cunning. By saying that "not all Eurosceptics are anti-European" he implies that most are. This is not the case.

Opposition to the European Union is not opposition to European countries, or European politicians or European peoples. It is opposition to a growing artificial political construct that restricts and harms both democracy and the economy.

Mark Wallace
Campaign Manager
The Freedom Association

  • 3.
  • At 06:49 PM on 02 Feb 2006,
  • Richard Laming wrote:

I think this is a very good description of where we are right now. The pro-Europeans have certainly not got as far they had hoped or imagined - no nearer joining the euro, the constitution has ground to a halt - but the anti-Europeans have failed, too. Kilroy-Silk et al tried to make leaving the EU a big issue in British politics and were resoundingly rejected. What that creates is the opportunity for Britain to take part in debates about the future of the EU without continually looking over our shoulder, afraid of leaving the EU altogether. That's the way that France and Germany think about Europe: with the right political leadership we can do the same and become as influential in the future of Europe as anywhere else.

  • 4.
  • At 06:59 PM on 02 Feb 2006,
  • David wrote:

It’s irrelevant whether or not Sarkosy and Merkel are “Conservative” or not, what is important is that they both see an ever more federal Europe as the future. Cameron does not, that is why he has very clearly stated his position. It’s no wonder that Blair has started praising these two – anything to deflect attention from the fact that he’s done nothing with his time at the head of the EU.

  • 5.
  • At 08:16 PM on 02 Feb 2006,
  • David wrote:

it is quite true to say, however, no party, or parties in Europe or the UK have a half decent policy to reform the out of date institutions. However, it does seem a mistake for cameron whom is chosing for his MEPs to sit with the extreme Eurosceptics.

  • 6.
  • At 08:54 PM on 02 Feb 2006,
  • Brian Tomkinson wrote:

I have not read Blair's speech but Nick's quotes from it concerning Euro-scepticism sound more like David Cameron than Gordon Brown to me. I am not aware that Brown is Euro-sceptic, unless you relate the stalling on entry into the Euro as the qualification for that title. Cameron is right to withdraw from the group in which they sit in the European Parliament as they support further integration in ways which are not supported by the Conservatives. This
is a more honest approach than the duplicity of both Brown and Blair.

Blair's "practical scepticism", "a genuine, intellectual and political concern about Europe as practised".

"This is not xenophobia, nor devotion to undiluted national sovereignty," he goes on, "but a worry about Europe's economy being uncompetitive; its institutions too remote; its decision-making too influenced by the lowest common denominator."

What it is, is a failure on Blair's part to follow the evidence to its conclusion, that the EU's problems are built in, that the UK sees it differently to most of its members, and that the direction is out.

Perhaps he's just tired out. He read the speech as if he was seeing it for the first time.

  • 8.
  • At 09:01 PM on 02 Feb 2006,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

No complex motives for Blair's comments are required. They are simply yet another example of how even Labour politicians can recognise the blindingly obvious twenty years after the people they spent that time abusing for pointing it out. Other classics include "Maybe the trade unions really were a bit too powerful now you mention it" and "Gosh, who'd have guessed the Soviet Union wasn't that nice a place after all"

  • 9.
  • At 10:00 PM on 02 Feb 2006,
  • Chris Sheldrake wrote:

Are we to believe that Blair has finally realised just how damaging the all-consuming Brussels bureaucracy has been to the economy of Europe ?

6 Months "in charge" has obviously worked wonders.

  • 10.
  • At 01:08 PM on 03 Feb 2006,
  • Simon Leyland wrote:

I'm surprised Cameron hasn't been more astute on this issue. He could create a pro-european but anti-eu stance. He should argue that in the right circumstances political and economic union is the right policy to undertake for Europe. However he should also state that the EU is absolutely not the right way of delivering a democratic and economically prosperous Europe. He should commit to vetoing any new agreements to come from the EU until major reforms have been discussed and committed to. By taking this approach he would align himself with the uk electorate; largely pro-european but largely anti-EU. Also by committing to a close political and economic union under the right circumstance he would inflame the extreme wing of his party and hence create his much looked for clause four moment. His current stance has been tried by all parties and political leaders since the 1950s and has been largely unsuccessful and unpopular.

  • 11.
  • At 01:26 PM on 03 Feb 2006,
  • Gerry O'Neill wrote:

I would contend that the economic successes of the UK have been due to the fact that Britain is not a member of the Euro. Perhaps when one considers the economic difficulties of Euro members, particularly in meeting deficit targets, it should be recalled that lack of control over a nation's monetary policy cannot be offset by use of fiscal policy, even if there were no limits on deficits.

  • 12.
  • At 10:25 AM on 08 Feb 2006,
  • gary elsby wrote:

The simplest persuasive European question to put to a EU sceptic British public is theis:

Who has given the British people more rights in every sphere, the Trade Union Movement over the 150 years or the EU over the last 50?

The answer is the EU by a mile.


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