New thinking on Europe


Anyone concerned about Britain's future in Europe should read the Hansard of Andrea Leadsom's Westminster Hall debate on reform of the UK's relationship with the EU - or watch in full below.

From BBC Democracy Live: MPs debated the UK's relationship with the EU

Not only does it provide a rapid canter through an emerging policy alternative that may soon be the mainstream thinking among Tory backbenchers, but it also maps out the dangerous ideological crosscurrents in which policies, and indeed governments, can easily flounder.

Andrea Leadsom is the leading light of the Fresh Start Group of 100 plus Tory backbenchers, who have been beavering away for quite a while now, working out what this country should seek from a renegotiation of British EU membership. What would agricultural policy, regional policy, social policy and the rest look like, if the Conservative euro-reformers had their way?

Along the way there were some interesting ideas for reforming the way Parliament dealt with EU issues - a specialised EU question time, and far stronger scrutiny of European directives, and the proposal for a rolling opt out, under which any newly elected government in any EU member state would have the right to pull its country out of EU policies with which it disagreed - withdrawing from the Schengen open borders agreement might be one example.

And she also took a swipe at Britain's representatives in Europe, both officials and elected MEPs, for "going native" - and even speaking with a "weird half French, half German accent".

The group has some official support - the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, wrote a foreword to its policy review - and Ms Leadsom believes it has come up with proposals which, if accepted, could reconcile British voters to remaining in the EU. And it provides an alternative to the heady appeal of the vocal Conservative lobby which wants Britain out - preferably by next Tuesday. That could explain one of the undercurrents of the discussion; the number of Conservatives who veered between semi-agreeing and wondering whether they were really being fobbed off, just when they feel they're winning the argument.

Labour and the Lib Dems were pretty much bystanders in what was essentially an internal Conservative discussion. The Labour shadow minister Emma Reynolds amused herself by highlighting Tory divisions (while rebuffing attempts to find out whether Labour now supported a referendum on EU membership) but the real interest was the interplay between Tories who want Britain out; Tories who want renegotiation; and between old guard Tory euro-sceptics who regard the new kids on the block as a bit naive and new-wave Tory backbenchers who're impatient with those they regard as fixated on abstruse constitutional issues.

Some implied that Fresh Start were labouring to produce yesterday's vision of tomorrow - a reform option which might have looked attractive five years ago, but which had now been overtaken by President of the EU Commission Jose Manuel Barroso's call for more federalism, at last week's sitting of the European Parliament.

Others, including the Maastricht veteran, Bill Cash, simply didn't believe that the EU would be prepared to give Britain what it wanted - to which the retort was that the current crisis gave Britain a lot of leverage, and that the EU needed Britain more than Britain needed the EU, so there was plenty of scope for negotiation. There was some interesting tactical advice from the Conservative former cabinet minister, Peter Lilley, who suggested Britain should approach rolling back EU powers in the same way as the Commission approached extending them - with salami tactics.

But he thought the key battle would be to overturn the acquis, the long-standing doctrine that once the EU acquired competence over a policy area, it was never relinquished. If Britain could establish a precedent for clawing back powers, that would enable more powers to be repatriated in future.

Meanwhile, Peter Bone, who wants Britain out of the EU, thought that the Conservatives should promise a referendum on any renegotiated membership package - and give voters the option of withdrawal at the same time. That, he said, would win back voters from UKIP and restore Tory fortunes.

And David Nuttall, who chairs the parliamentary Better Off Out Group, predicted that the voters would never be given that option. He thought a referendum would be a choice between the status quo and modest reform of Britain's membership - an "in-in" rather than "in-out" choice. His answer was that voters who wanted Britain out should write the word "out" on their ballot papers, so the number of spoiled papers would indicate the support for withdrawal.

As one of her colleagues remarked, Ms Leadsom might have been a minister by now, but for her support for a motion calling for an EU referendum. Instead, she is opening a new front in the European conflict, with a policy prescription which falls short of leaving the EU - but which could still put the government in a difficult position, if they have to deliver, or at least promise to deliver, it.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • Comment number 140.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    re#137 Eddy,
    If you're relying on the eu to protect workers best not live in Greece, Portugal or Spain, I would suggest.
    Have as many employment rights as you like, without a job they're irrelevant.
    Funny how many in recent years have come here for opportunity rather than stay in your eu workers paradise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.


    "...Later compulsion and fear does the trick..."


    As in the UK workplace you mean, thanks to the ineffective implementation of EU worker protections?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    re#134 David B
    correct- and I'm sure the europhile footsoldiers will start marking down any way.
    Totalitarianism needs blind followers to do it's bidding at the start.
    Later compulsion and fear does the trick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.


    "...There is no new thinking in europe, just the same old, same old..."


    Seems to be true for the bit you occupy at any rate...

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    113.Andy The Thinker

    "...This HYS has been hijacked by somebody with multiple accounts who 'might' be working for 'Dark Forces'..."


    Are you alluding to Liam Fox?

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    The ignorance on HYS never cease to amaze, it was the Tories (Heath) who took us into the common market and the Tories again (Thatcher) who signed Maastricht. Originally Labour were against the whole thing... alas I am old enough to remember the whole sorry episode....
    Unfortunately now is that we have moved away from a mutually beneficial trading block to a failed federalist nightmare..

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    There is no new thinking in europe, just the same old, same old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Seems You have studied Your Hayek

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Three huge reasons we should be over the moon the Tories didn't get a majority at the last election:
    1. Bill Cash
    2. Peter Bone
    3. David Nuttall

    The LibDems may have sold out on lots of stuff, but they, along with Ken Clarke is what just about holds these Euro loonies in check.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    The "planners" are busy

    A man with a plan
    God laffs at people who make plans

    On the road to serfdom planners are the most essential ingredient

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    'Austrian Radio website reports "EU"-foreign ministers wanting to upgrade the "European Commission"' ....
    'Represented were foreign ministers from
    Austria, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxemburg, Denmark, Belgium and Holland.
    Governments critical of integration like the UK and Czech Republik were not represented.'

    Could You think of any reasons why ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    125. Little_Old_Me 

    Its not the point. that post was removed and verbatim all it contained was a reply of UKIP haranguing Van Rumpoy.
    That it was removed is a disgrace. I hold no allegiance to UKIP but its a very dangerous sign when the BBC moderate
    a Elected MEP ! Its a disgrace when they are happy to put to are example Militant Islamic views..

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I think a reform is a good idea some things need changed some need kept we need to examine the reasons ror EU policies and accept, negotiate or reject the polocies as judged by a UK body.
    For example CAP is poor for the farming industry yet is in place to prevent execive surplus that is wasted and eco damage. The north sea fishing policy is pureley an enviromental policy for sustainability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    117.ClaphamBusman - whilst FTTP does have that effect, if we the public were true to our words, such as the last election following on from the MPs expense scandal, & actually voted for something different in the numbers that we were outraged we'd have had someone else in charge.

    But all too often we just tow our favourite party's lines & that's that, mores the pity.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    120.Socialist Apocalypse The Thieves Amongst Us

    BBC not fit to be a PSB?

    Or perhaps those with strong allegiatances to one or other political party (mainstream or otherwise) are simply not fit to judge the BBC's impartiality because they themselves are inherantly biased...???

  • Comment number 124.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I saw the debate, the three Tory parties ( for, not sure, against ) were stabbing each other in the back. Things never change. Total confusion reigns in the party on an issue that is so important to the future of the UK
    I also saw Andrea taking part in a Newsnight discussion with Prof Krugman recently. So embarrassing. He made her look like a complete novice when discussing economic fundamentals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    re#120 SATTAS,
    It might be more accurate to suggest that the culture of the BBC appears to be broadly pro eu/liberal left. The line taken being more Guardian and Independent than the Telegraph. And so it has been for years.
    Balance depends on your starting point.
    It's difficult to see the BBC as a credible PSB in it's present bloated form.
    If it didn't exist would anybody create it today?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    It may NOT be totally appropriate here ...but did anyone else see Mr Paul Flynn suggest that the leadership of the army was akin tp 'Lions being led by donkeys'?
    It does not appear to have been re-broadcast?
    Am I to assume that the 'powers that be', in our 'banana republic' do NOT want any FULL taxpaying citizen voters hearing the truth in that Cloud Cuckoo Land that is Westmidden?

    I humbly ask?


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