Lib Dem conference: Michael Moore slams Tory MPs EU bid

Euro coin and pound note Some Conservative MPs say the UK should be trying to repatriate some powers from the EU

Attempts by Conservative MPs to try to use the eurozone crisis to get powers back from the EU are "deeply damaging", a Lib Dem cabinet minister has said.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore told a Lib Dem conference fringe event it was important to minimise "noises off".

Senior Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard is urging David Cameron to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership.

The Lib Dems have traditionally been the most pro-European of the major UK political parties.

'Internal cliques'

Party members packed out a meeting at the Birmingham conference on Sunday evening to hear a panel including Mr Moore and party grandee Baroness Williams give their thoughts on the eurozone crisis.

Mr Moore said it was important the UK remained "central" to the debate: "We can't enjoy the geographic luxury of being at the side of Europe to be symbolic of our position politically."

Start Quote

All of this needs to be done in the context of ensuring that in Britain, we minimise the noises off so nobody sees this as an opportunity to widen the scope of the debate”

End Quote Michael Moore Scottish Secretary

He said further fiscal integration between eurozone members was becoming "inevitable" and there was a danger the UK could be excluded if "internal cliques" emerged.

"It would be very bad for Europe and for the UK if we were marginalised in that process."

He said Chancellor George Osborne was engaged in the debate and it was important that the UK's financial expertise was used, as part of efforts to get growth going.

"All of this needs to be done in the context of ensuring that in Britain, we minimise the noises off so nobody sees this as an opportunity to widen the scope of the debate, and look at this as a way of getting in there to get a debate going over powers that might come back to the UK.

"It's deeply damaging and I think it has been very encouraging to hear what the prime minister and others have been saying in the past week or so."

Referendum lock

Baroness Williams said ministers had made "some quite encouraging and thoughtful remarks" - including the prime minister, foreign secretary and chancellor - but added: "Remarks are important but they don't have quite the same weight as acts of parliament."

She was concerned about the "referendum lock" brought in by the coalition in the European Union Act 2011, which she said could cause problems for France and Germany as they seek to resolve the crisis.

The referendum lock guarantees that no major transfer of powers from London to Brussels can happen without a public vote.

Start Quote

For many Britons, the EU has already become a kind of occupying force”

End Quote Mark Pritchard Conservative MP

Baroness Williams said fiscal integration - such as tax co-operation between eurozone countries - was now likely and it would require "a substantial new treaty" or amendment to the Lisbon Treaty.

But under the referendum lock, that could potentially trigger a referendum in the UK even though it is not a eurozone member, she argued.

"Now just think for a moment of the implications of that. One of the big three stepping in to make it almost impossible for the other two to bring about the major reform that is needed."

"We've got ourselves frankly, in just as much of a bind as have our fellow European leader nations."

Foreign office sources stressed that fiscal integration by eurozone countries would not be seen as a transfer of power from the UK to the EU and so would not trigger a referendum.

Treaty negotiations

Earlier at the conference, Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander described Eurosceptics as the "enemies of growth".

More than 100 Conservative MPs, many of them newly-elected last year, formed a new eurosceptic parliamentary group last week - which aims to reshape the UK's relations with the EU.

The group aims to recruit support from other parties at Westminster with the aim of putting pressure on the prime minister.

They anticipate EU treaty negotiations later this year and say they want to be prepared for negotiations on how the UK can start to take powers back.

And the chairman of the influential Conservative backbench 1922 committee, Mr Pritchard, went further on Monday, urging the prime minister told hold a referendum on the wider issue of the UK's EU membership.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "For many Britons, the EU has already become a kind of occupying force, setting unfamiliar rules, demanding levies, curbing freedoms, subverting our culture, and imposing alien taxes."

David Cameron has said he could push for a renegotiation of existing EU rules on employment and financial regulation at an appropriate time in the future.

But the government says that closer fiscal integration in the eurozone is in Britain's interests and the Conservatives' coalition agreement with the Lib Dems says Britain will remain "a positive participant in the European Union".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    #102: The Social Chapter was designed to prevent a 'race to the bottom' amongst EU countries. It provides for a base level of employment rights within the EU.
    Looks like Godwin's Law is operating on this topic now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Its absolutely right to be aware of the "Tea Party" within the Conservatives. We've already had the abortion counselling fiasco as well as others. This party is very devious and has not realised that the electorate were expecting open and fair govt. Even today it emerges that Gove and Co are using off the record email addreses to plot behind closed doors. This Govt is worse than the last lot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    A bit difficult to see why the yellow perils are concerned.
    Regardless of the new group of alleged eurosceptics, the tories seem utterly spineless on europe.
    Just what will it take to get a response out of this wet lot? They're like rabbits in the headlights.
    Or are they just sell-outs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    #99 surely the issue of workers rights should be one of subsidiarity. There is no reason for all EU states to provide exactly the same worker rights, each country should be allowed to find the correct mix of rights against business flexibility. Of course all workers should be provided with correct information about their rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    The EU is more badly run that Britain has been. The SISO attitude of the MEPs is just the tip of the iceberg.
    Why would anyone want to be a part of a 'club' where you pay more in than you get out?
    Is this really Hitler's masterplan in progress?


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