Osborne: Don't force UK choice between euro or EU exit

 

Chancellor George Osborne: "Getting the economics right is absolutely necessary to persuade people of the merits of the EU"

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The UK could be forced to quit the European Union if the organisation does not reform, George Osborne has warned.

The chancellor said it was essential to "protect the collective interests of non-eurozone member states" while the rest of the EU forged stronger links.

Without such reform, the UK might "face a choice between joining the euro or leaving" the EU, he said.

The 28-member group also had to do more to ensure economic competitiveness with rivals like India and China, he added.

Labour said David Cameron's "weakness" regarding his party was preventing reform, while the UK Independence Party said the prime minister had repeatedly "caved in" to Brussels.

Mr Osborne's speech followed the Conservative leadership rejecting a call from 95 of the party's MPs to allow Parliament to block EU laws which damage the national interest

'Simple choice'

Analysis

There is no shortage of combustible material around at Westminster - and particularly for the Conservatives - when it comes to Europe.

So George Osborne seemed to go out of his way in this speech to avoid wandering around with a box of matches.

He stuck to the big picture theme on Europe for the Conservatives: European countries need to pull their fingers out because of the threat of global competition, and their club, the European Union needs a shake-up to boot.

And in big picture terms, he has his party with him. It's the nitty gritty, the how and the when, where strongly held views differ.

Labour reckons David Cameron and George Osborne are spending more time negotiating with their backbenchers than negotiating with Brussels.

But Labour still has its own big decision to make - would it offer a referendum on EU membership if it won the election?

Earlier this week Foreign Secretary William Hague said the EU's rules had to be followed by all its members and the MPs' veto plan was unworkable.

But addressing the think tank Open Europe and the Fresh Start group of MPs, set up by Conservatives keen to see reform, Mr Osborne said he understood the need for change, especially given further economic and political integration by EU countries within the eurozone, aimed at preventing a repeat of the recent crisis.

He warned: "If you cannot protect the collective interests of non-eurozone member states, then they will have to choose between joining the eurozone, which the UK will not do, or leave the European Union."

He also said: "I believe it is in no-one's interests for Britain to come to face a choice between joining the euro or leaving the European Union.

"We don't want to join the euro, but also our withdrawal from a Europe which succeeded in reforming would be bad for Britain. And a country of the size and global reach of Britain leaving would be very bad for the European Union."

'Status quo risk'

The Conservative Party has promised an in-out referendum on EU membership - following a renegotiation of powers with Brussels - before the end of 2017, if it wins a majority at the next general election.

Mr Osborne said: "The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn't come from those who want reform and renegotiation.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso EU chiefs have warned against "scaremongering" over immigration

"It comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate. It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline."

Mr Osborne argued there was a "simple choice for Europe: reform or decline".

He said: "There are those who throw their hands up and say 'We can't reform Europe'. To them, I would say that we have already proved that wrong.

"Take the EU budget. Last year, the prime minister negotiated the first ever real-terms cut... Far from being a lone voice, we were working with like-minded countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark."

Mr Osborne talked about how the 2008 financial collapse had exacerbated the EU's problems, but argued: "We knew there was a competitiveness problem in Europe before the crisis.

"But the crisis has dramatically accelerated the shifts in the tectonic economic plates that see power moving eastwards and southwards on our planet."

He said too much money was going on benefits across the continent: "Europe accounts for just over 7% of the world's population, 25% of its economy, and 50% of global social welfare spending."

'Utter bunkum'

Start Quote

The Conservative leadership seems to be spending more time negotiating with their backbenchers than negotiating with Europe to deliver real reform.”

End Quote Douglas Alexander Shadow foreign secretary

In a question-and-answer session following his speech, Mr Osborne said the Conservatives were "having a grown-up conversation" on Europe, adding: "I would rather be in a party that's addressing these issues for the future than a party that's burying its head in the sand."

But, for Labour, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: "The Conservative leadership seems to be spending more time negotiating with their backbenchers than negotiating with Europe to deliver real reform.

"All of us know change in Europe is needed, but the tragedy is that David Cameron's internal party weakness is preventing him from approaching the need for reform in a sensible way."

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage called the idea that the UK could lead reform within Europe "utter bunkum".

He added of Mr Cameron: "The EU is not going to suddenly turn around and be dictated to by a man...who has given away any leverage in the negotiations he may have had by declaring his support for EU membership."

'Compelling'

The CBI business group said Mr Osborne had set out a "compelling" case for EU competitiveness.

But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned of "scaremongering" about the right of EU citizens to live and work elsewhere in the union following recent suggestions by David Cameron that restrictions should be considered in future.

He told the European Parliament that the principle was "good for all of us that enjoy freedom in Europe and have an open idea of Europe and not a narrow, chauvinistic idea of the protection of the different countries".

Earlier on Wednesday, it emerged that the Home Office has delayed a report into the issue amid reported disagreements in the coalition.

 

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  • rate this
    +41

    Comment number 1048.

    Why this us and them re Europe? For me, countries like Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Ireland have been some of the most stable nations in the past 50 Years. They have no interest in being part of an 'inefficient' Europe. We should be actively working with these to assure reform from within. Cameron cannot do this as he is hamstrung by a party who have eyes only for the exit door.

  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 723.

    I don't care if the EU reforms. I want the UK to re-assert its sovereignty, and behave according to its own desires and beliefs about what sort of country it wants to be.No need to blame the EU's agenda or intransigence for this- just blame the last two decades of weak UK government accepting things they should have refused. DC-stop trying to manoeuvre into a state of grace and get your job done.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 526.

    As long as his words are rhetoric, I agree (about reform and non-Euro member rights). But the UK should not be threatening or even considering exit, it should be working with other political parties in other EU member states to ensure such reform of the EU, because it does need to be reformed, but not by leaving it. For me, the EU has to get it right so that the UK can join the Eurozone.

  • rate this
    -72

    Comment number 243.

    Whenever some news comes comparing Europe with India and China, we people tend to shout "We no need to race to Bottom". Open your eyes and see the fact. India and China are no more at bottom, they are in race with us they already crossed us, People who still say India and China are at bottom are really in Victorian Colonial era, May be still thinking as UK as super power under Winston Churchill

  • rate this
    +267

    Comment number 201.

    George Osborne needs to visit India and China and observe the standard of living there (along with the inhumane levels of inequality). Of course they do well- they have no minimum wage and most have never even heard of such a thing as an employment contract. Higher GDP through slavery? This country needs to wake up and realise that high GDP and high standard of living are not the same thing.

 

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  55.  
    08:36: School league tables BBC Radio 4

    Graham Stuart, the Conservative MP who chairs the Education Select Committee, tells the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the comparison between this year and last year's secondary school league tables are indeed difficult to make - but the changes the government has made to the system are "essential" and will ensure a fairer picture of what is happening in schools. The results for schools in England will be published at 09:30 GMT.

     
  56.  
    Chuka Umunna, Labour business spokesman

    tweets: "Entrepreneurs aren't lone wolves: Labour will back them for the good of all" | my piece in today's @CityAM

     
  57.  
    08:15: Murray moments
    tennis

    Politicians on the campaign trail may struggle to make themselves heard by sports fans this morning as Britain's Andy Murray takes on Tomas Berdych in the men's semi-final of the Australian Open in Melbourne. Follow the match online with live video, radio and text commentary or watch it on BBC Two from 08:20 GMT.

     
  58.  
    @RobbieGibb Robbie Gibb, Daily Politics editor

    tweets: On today's Daily Politics...... #bbcdp

    Screen grab
     
  59.  
    08:01: Clegg hails Growth Fund BBC Breakfast

    Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, says today's announcement that £2bn worth of public investment will move from central to regional control was all about backing local people and driving local economic growth.

     
  60.  
    07:57: School league tables
    girl at

    As we've reported, hundreds of secondary schools in England, including many top private schools, could see their league table ratings plummet following a shake-up of the system. They're being published at 09:30 GMT. The government says it has stripped out qualifications of little value, but some head teachers say the tables will be "a complete mess" because of the changes.

    Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College leaders, says it even "calls into question the validity of the performance tables".

     
  61.  
    Chris Mason Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: A "clammy hands" theme to Nick Clegg's interviews. He's told @bbcbreakfast&@gmb about sticky paws of "bureaucrats." http://bit.ly/18xccRz

     
  62.  
    Norman Smith, BBC News Assistant Political Editor

    tweets: Nick Clegg - Never mind the apocolypitc warnings we will confound our critics at the election

     
  63.  
    07:39: Poll tracker
    poll tracker graphic

    The polls will be coming thick and fast in the coming months - keep up to date with the BBC's new interactive poll tracker, which lets you see the results of polls conducted by a range of organisations.

    The tracker also includes a timeline of key events, so you can see how public opinion might have shifted at important junctures in the past five years.

     
  64.  
    07:34: 'Responsible and fair' BBC Breakfast

    Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg says the central question of the election campaign is how to finish the job of securing an economic recovery - and doing so fairly. In Bristol, the deputy prime minister tells BBC Breakfast News that Labour wants to "lurch off" to the left and the Conservatives to the right. The Conservatives, he says, want to make cuts for ideological reasons; Labour wants to stick its head in the sand and not deal with the deficit. The Liberal Democrats would cut less than the Conservative and borrow less than Labour.

     
  65.  
    07:26: Scottish Home Rule
    Ed miliband

    A "Home Rule Bill for Scotland" would be introduced within the first 100 days of a Labour government, leader Ed Miliband says. He will make the commitment during a visit to Glasgow later. The Scottish National Party says any suggestion the bill would amount to real Home Rule is "laughable".

     
  66.  
    07:23: Oversight criticised

    The Department for International Development has been criticised by MPs for "unacceptably poor" oversight of a UK-funded development agency. The Public Accounts Committee says the Private Infrastructure Development Group is beset by "poor financial management". It says there are doubts about the integrity of its investments and a closer eye is needed on its spending - including spending of more than £75,000 on 15 flights between January 2011 and July 2014.

     
  67.  
    07:21: League tables row
    schools

    New league tables for English secondary schools are being published today and not everybody will be pleased with what they show. Scores of top private secondaries expect to be at the bottom of the tables, following confusion over International GCSEs. School leaders say many schools have been "caught unawares" by a shift in which qualifications are recognised. Speaking to Radio 4, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association for Head Teachers, says publishing data on schools is the right thing to do - but they need to be used with "extreme caution", particularly this year.

     
  68.  
    Price of power The Daily Telegraph

    Scrap Trident, ditch Barnett, reverse the cuts - the price of power for Miliband and Cameron in a hung parliament http://tgr.ph/1K8DUzv

     
  69.  
    07:16: Clegg in Bristol BBC Breakfast
    Nick Clegg

    Nick Clegg is in Bristol announcing a new round of local investment. "We need to end the Whitehall knows best culture that has held this country back for far too long," he tells the BBC.

    Under the coalition's Growth Deals scheme, around £2bn a year from Whitehall budgets is being gathered into a Local Growth Fund. The money is then being channelled through 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships, run by councils and businesses.

     
  70.  
    07:15: Don't dismiss the Greens Financial Times

    In its leader column, the Financial Times (pay wall) argues for greater scrutiny of Green Party policies. The German Greens, it says, can claim credit for that country's abandonment of nuclear power generation. And, in the UK, the party's growing popularity puts pressure on Labour to move in a green-ward direction.

     
  71.  
    07:04: Women in prison BBC Radio 5 live
    Prison officer locking gates

    The government is expected to announce measures today aimed at trying to stop so many women being sent to prison. Justice Minister Simon Hughes wants to halve the number of women ending up behind bars. He tells BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast female offenders are a "special case" and should be treated differently to men because many had been victims themselves. There are currently around 3,800 women in prison in England and Wales.

     
  72.  
    07:02: Breaking News BBC Breakfast

    Deputy PM Nick Clegg arrives in Bristol to announce latest round of Growth Fund investment, he will be live on BBC Breakfast 07:10. You can watch via the Live Video tab at the top of this page.

     
  73.  
    06:52: Where are the Real Tories? The Guardian

    In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins bemoans what he sees as the absence of "Real Tories" from the election campaign. They, he says, would oppose the advance of the modern state. But, according to the columnist, no Westminster politician "dares oppose the monolithic interest group that is modern government".

     
  74.  
    06:50: NHS survey
    Doctor

    Public satisfaction with the way the NHS runs in England, Wales and Scotland has risen to its second highest level ever, according to survey data for 2014, published by the King's Fund health think tank. The latest results show satisfaction with the NHS rising from 60% to 65% in 2014, while dissatisfaction fell to an all-time low of 15%.

    A couple of caveats though: This is a survey of 1,937 members of the public, not patients specifically, so the findings are more likely to reflect perceptions of the NHS than experience of it; and the polling was carried out before the recent well-publicised winter pressures on the NHS began to bite.

    A BBC/Populus poll this week suggested the NHS was the most important issue ahead of the general election, in May.

     
  75.  
    06:47: Fury The Daily Mail

    A more in-depth look at some of today's papers now.

    Tomorrow's Mail front page

    The Daily Mail says Labour's "big beasts are at war over Ed Miliband's controversial election campaign tactics", after grandee John Prescott "reacted with fury" to interventions by former Labour Health Secretary Alan Milburn and former minister Lord Hutton who aired frustration over the party's "retreat into its supposed 'comfort zone' of the NHS".

     
  76.  
    BBC Radio 4 Today
    BBC

    tweets: Read today's full running order here: bbc.in/1LjBFg6 #r4today

     
  77.  
    06:29: Making the headlines
    Telegraph/Guardian front pages

    Here is a round-up of the main stories covered in the UK's national newspapers this morning - including a look at the front pages and expert reviews on the BBC News Channel.

     
  78.  
    06:24: Back out campaigning

    After all the excitement of Prime Minister's Questions at Westminster yesterday, the party leaders are expected to be back out and about today, as the long election campaign continues.

     
  79.  
    06:20: Good morning Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online

    Hello and welcome to a fresh day's coverage of political developments ahead of the 7 May General Election - yes there's just 98 days to go now. You'll be able to listen or watch all the BBC's political output today on this page and we'll be bringing you all the best clips, quotes, analysis, reaction and breaking political news throughout the day. If you want to see what to expect, here's yesterday's campaign countdown.

     

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