This Eurosceptic Isle - The rise and rise of British Euroscepticism

David Cameron

When I first arrived at Westminster in the 1990s, as a young political reporter for The Times, there was one man who you could not afford to ignore.

Night after night we would stand in the press gallery of the House of Commons at 10pm and watch as this MP and his small band of brothers tested John Major's dwindling majority to destruction as they opposed the Maastricht and other treaties.

In later years he carved a more lonely furrow, banging on about Europe when the rest of Parliament had moved on. As a member and then chairman of various committees, he has spent years scrutinising the detail of legislation pouring in from Brussels while other MPs lost interest.

To his opponents, he is a Eurosceptic bore who would blame the European Union for the weather if he could. To his friends, he is an heroic obsessive, the Eurosceptic conscience of the Conservatives who holds each and every Tory leader to account.

And yet so Eurosceptic has the Conservative party become that Bill Cash is now considered to be in the party's mainstream. And that is not my judgement but David Cameron's.

Mainstream view

In a programme about the rise of Euroscepticism on BBC Radio 4 on Monday at 20:00 GMT, Mr Cash tells me of a recent encounter with the prime minister where they were discussing his promise of a referendum on Britain's membership of the Europe Union.

He says: "David Cameron actually said to me in a meeting I had with him a few weeks ago, 'Bill, you're mainstream'."

For me, that comment illustrates better than any other the change that has come upon the Conservative Party over the last decade in which Euroscepticism has grown from a minority sport to a wider political force.

Bill Cash Conservative MP Bill Cash is known for his Eurosceptic views

Where once there was a battle between Tory Eurosceptics and pro Europeans, most Conservative MPs would now say they were Eurosceptic in some shape or form. Where once Tory associations pushed their MPs to be more hostile to Europe, many have now had the chance to choose more Eurosceptic candidates. And where once Conservative Eurosceptics defected to UKIP, there is now traffic the other way as the high profile defection of one of UKIP's MEPs, Marta Andreasen, proved last week.

But it is not just the Conservative Party that has changed. The rest of the body politic has become more accustomed to Euroscepticism.

Think of it - a serving British prime minister has promised an in out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, opening the door to Britain taking powers back from Brussels or leaving the European Union altogether. And yet the sky did not fall in, the pound remained steady and the continental upper lip stayed admirably stiff. The same promise 10 years ago would have provoked uproar in the House of Commons, spooked the financial markets and dismayed the rest of Europe.

'Straight forward Europhobia'

The question is why? Tonight in This Eurosceptic Isle, I try to draw together a few answers.

In no particular order, these are just some of the themes that emerge: the selection of more Eurosceptic Tory MPs; the growth of UKIP as the anti-politics vote leaves a pro-European party (the Lib Dems) and joins one that opposes the EU; the silence of pro-Europeans who have let their side of the argument fall by default; the arrival of immigrants in the UK from the Eastern European reaches of the EU; the growing awareness of EU in everyday life; the impact of the eurozone crisis that has tarnished the EU brand and put wind in the Eurosceptic sails; and the changing international geopolitics that says we don't just have to look to Europe for markets, ideas and culture.

All that analysis with interviews from the likes of London Mayor Boris Johnson, George Eustice MP, the anti-euro campaigner Lord Leach, Charles Grant of the pro-European Centre for European Reform thinktank, the former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, and the former Labour cabinet minister, Lord Mandelson.

Just to give you a taster, here is Lord Mandelson on the role of the media: "It is very striking that the combined effect of News International, Daily Mail newspapers, the Telegraph, but in the middle of that the figure of Rupert Murdoch more importantly than any other has driven the media to a more hostile position than it was when we went into the then European Community in the 1970s.

"There are now newspapers that are just propaganda rags, there is no balance, no even-handedness. It is just straight forward Europhobia. It is bound to have an effect."

This Eurosceptic Isle will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20:00 (GMT) on Monday, 25 February 2013. You can listen to it on iPlayer after broadcast

James Landale Article written by James Landale James Landale Deputy political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Speak for yourself - I'm not Eurosceptic.

    Being part of the EU has delivered huge benefits to the UK and our businesses. Open borders and free movement of labour - all these things have benefitted us.

    Of course there is a need to address the democratic deficit within the EU institutions and I personally don't want closer integration, but we must remain part of the EU.

    Better in than out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @ 31.Little_Old_Me Where did you get your data from. Here is a quote from the official ONS website.

    "In 2011 13 per cent (7.5 million) of usual residents of England and Wales were born outside the UK; "

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Yester eve on BBC -a programme dealing with Horsemeat. Several mentions of horsemeat coming from the Continent NOT ONE mention of British horsemeat in the food chain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Okay, so the European Union job worths and blotted budgets need to be slimmed down and dragged into the 21 Century.
    Very few would disagree with that.
    But the little englanders also need to be dragged into the 20th century. The Empire is extinct and buried and has been for the last 50 YEARS, get a grip !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Euroskeptic views have become mainstream because of one important reason, and one only.

    Rupert Murdoch is a skeptic.

    He has enormous influence over us through his News Corp and, more importantly, has an enormous adjenda setting role with the political parties.

    If he was a Europhile we would have joined the Euro a decade ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Perhaps Euroscepticsm is rising because the public are fed up with undemocratic meddling and interference in British law and customs. Perhaps we can't stand it that unaccountable Brussels MEPs tell us how high to jump and we don't get a say in the matter. Mandleson might like to blame the papers and Murdoch for being against the EU but he uses the EU loving mouthpeice called the BBC to say it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Oddly enough, I don't recognise the UK as being "This Eurosceptic Isle" - more, it is Eurorealist!

    I have long resented how the media pigeon-hole the UK's dealings with the EU in an over-simplistic way. I, like most people, do not want EU federalism - but that doesn't mean I want to leave the EU (as Eurosceptism implies). I would like the UK to be in a "realistic" EU of free-trade prosperity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Sometimes wonder if we are continually told we are in the frying pan but never told the only way out is jumping into the fire?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Gravy Train will continue.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    So many misunderstanding in the comments. Here in France they are also very skeptic. The EU is fundamentally undemocratic and have been aided in their quest to bankrupt Europe by ALL MSM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    When you have anti-EU MEP's like Farrage (surely a oxymoron there?) shouting the odds more loudly over everyone else then it's not surprising the media is fixated with negative euro-sceptic views, which in turn becomes, dare I say it, the ill-informed norm...

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.


    Then you need to:

    A/. Show your source

    B/. Point out the flaws in the ONS' statistic/methodolgy used therein

    C/. Show us how your favoured collection method is better than ONS

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Socialism or the art of stealing as much money as possible, and getting the victim of the theft to feel he/she is wrong to object. and that it is in the end good for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The EU is,democratically,fundamentally flawed because,unlike here where elected Ministers decide what requires a law,it is the appointed/unelected EU Commission that decides what it deems to require legislation-from Pillar 1 payments to farmers to the proper definition of chocolate-with the end being not a free market but a minutely state regulated economy and society. Sounds like socialism to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Eurosceptism is caused by self interested politicians, Mr Cash being a prime example. They go on about it, blaming the EU for things they themselves as MPs have signed off on, to avoid taking responsibility.
    We elect MEPs to vote on all EU decisions, and these have to be ratified by the relevant minister before we enact them. We have agreed to all the EU decisions. MPs just lie to us over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    “The rise and rise of British Euro scepticism”

    While there are things wrong with the EU that need to be fixed, I think that the level of “Euro scepticism” in the UK is more the result of 30+ years of negative stories being run in the media, particularly the “red tops”. Bad news sells papers, so you only see negative stories which cause scepticism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    The British Establishment never had a problem with Europe while it stayed away from the City of London

    The destruction of jobs and industries was accepted
    The mass immigration of foreigners was accepted
    Silly rules and regulations were accepted

    The game has now fundamentally changed because the EU wants control of the City of London

    So after 40 years us serfs are finally getting a vote

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The current Government is not a Tory one you muppet?!
    But that is the Labour/Left way of operation. Why let the little thing like FACTS get in the way of your political regurgitation!!!
    When it comes to "brainwashing" they have definitely got you as you have repeated the same quote in all 3 of your postings in the Ed Milliband style which makes it true. So you would have us believe!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    #6 "there's a lot of misinformation being put out there by people with no interest in truth."

    I agree both sides of the argument believe that the right way to inform and debate with the public is through, half truths, innuendos and at times outright lies

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    9 Little old me

    The non-british population of the UK is around 8% not 0.2%!


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