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 82.

    Be careful what you wish for. You might get it. Who will we blame then for our economic problems? It's a big hard world out there and no one owes us a living. The idea that we might still have access to the common market without the regulation is naive. The whole idea was to create a level playing field where countries don't compete in a race to the bottom on employment terms and conditions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Let's not glorify this cynical, tribal, dark-hearted primitivism with the term "euroscepticism".

    The latter part suggests all the evidence has been subject to reasoned examination, and that there are grounds to claim that it is unreliable, or that the conclusions drawn from it were by flawed reasoning.

    The DM's techniques are a bit cruder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    The EU should just be a trading block it would be much cheaper similiar to NAFTA. It meddles in areas such as criminal justice & social security for which it does & should not have a remit & are nothing to do with trade. I for one do not wish to live in a distant super state like the US I prefer democracy close to me. A federal Europe is a elite fantasy. A EU football team no chance of that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Eurosceptic Isle? Surely "this Eurosceptic country". I don't see much sign of anti-EU feeling in Scotland, Wales or N.Ireland. This is just the little-Englanders concerned about lack of sovereignty and loss of empire......again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I would just like to point out that the Commission only implements the laws that are decided and approved by the Council of Ministers (elected!)of each individual country after lenghty negotiations and debate. So many people think that European law is made by unelected people, it is not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Poison, it seems, is remarkably effective.

    Just keep dripping it, day after day, little by little, until it takes effect.

    To put it another way UK citizens only hear one side of the story- the side that is in English, from the ultra- right wing anti EU press.The EU needs PR. If the EU is so bad, why are we the only ones who want to leave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    'Europhobia' is an incredibly insulting term. Eurosceptics are not afraid of Europe. We can see that this country would thrive if we stopped being little Europeans and distanced ourselves from the corrupt, inefficient shambles that is the EU.
    Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, Africa - all racing ahead and we're stuck with the useless EU - for now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    There is life outside Europe. I have it on good authority that there are whole continents out there we could trade with. In fact I have been told we used to do quite well with places with strange names like Asia, Australia, North and South America. There's even a place called China.
    Perhaps we should consider it

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    "spin" - what spin? These are your words, suggest you read your own Post first!
    Thought your Tories were so pleased to have the Literal Doormats on board that your leader (Blonde mop) described them as "natural Tories", even given a warm embrace at the TORY CONFERENCE. Typical Tories, back stabbing your own already. The Tory desperation will keep coming!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    70 posts before the '4th Reich' surfaced.
    Usual inability to differentiate between the ECHR and the EU next.
    Quite obvious that those opposed to 'creeping Federalism' don't know how a Federal system works.
    The EEC goal of ever closer political and social union was widely discussed during the '75 Referendum, it was the No campaign's major argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    68 WANAITT
    Typical Left Wing Soundbite of out of order quotes with your "spin" on it to make it read something different!!!
    A Tory Government WOULD have a Real Direction, but it is hamstrung by having to play "swapsies" with the LibDems on lots of the policies it wants to!
    The trouble is a Labour Government would have us continuing on an ever downward spiral if they had remained in power!

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Not all of us want to be a part of the 4th Reich

    Britains intellectual appeasers have always been a powerful lobby group, not just this time around

    Most of us who live in the real world aren't fooled though

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    No one voted for a Federal Europe it certainly was not on the voting paper I used.We have been conned by politicians who think they know better.Politicians who feather their own nest and are in the pockets of multi-nationals we the plebs don't count.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Economic Depression - tick . Austerity - tick. Swing to the right - tick Euro-phobia - tick. Welcome to the 1930s... seriously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    "Yes - It is a dogs dinner of a coalition!
    No Real Direction."

    Well done - at last you have recognized the FACT that there is no "real direction" or leadership on this or any other Policy within your Party.
    You get a triple AAA for waking up at last. The facts will keep coming, and repeated over & over again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    In the 1970s the Eurosceptics were the left wing of the Labour Party and the TUC. Labour have long since sold out.The so called center ground of all the main parties have always been pro European.Tony Ben has always been Eurosceptic and could have made a good PM The British people for the last 20-30 years have always sceptical unlike the BBC
    Todays Eurosceptics are now perceived right wingers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    What about 0UR Media's PRO-EU Bias - along with their constant 'hounding' of:

    Our Government
    Our Church

    and their Bias TOWARDS:
    Homosexuals & Lesbians and other Minority groups?

    This Sensationalist & Egotistical Media...

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @ 61 ever been to Romania ? over 6 million live in poverty. U.K. benefits capped at 25 K p/a tell me, what would you do ? what's that you say ? its all a scare story ?? O.K. no probs then :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Ive no problem with a federal Europe, what I have a problem with is how empire building bureaucrats are doing it. They are rushing things through based on theory. The euro should have started with just France and Germany and then exapnded, Brussels now has more lobbyists than the US and vested intrests like the CAP are rife. Its become unelected and corrupt and answers to no one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Surely it's only right to question and doubt any organisation that has so much power over our lives and controls that much of our money.


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