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 302.

    295.Eddy from Waring
    Some wealthy "farmers" near me don't even mow the grass for hay, that they let grow in their otherwise completely unused fields

    Thousands are landowners or just lease the land and every year claim hundreds of thousands of Euros from the Rural Payments Agency

    Its a real scam on an industrial level and should be stopped immediately.

    Won't happen, they are Tory voters

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    There is a lot to be Eurosceptic about.

    Unelected elites ( e.g. EU commision) trying to enforce a Euro vision that only benefits them
    Starvation of the Greeks, Italians and Spanish for the bankrupt Euro
    We can no longer make our own doctors, cars, mobile phones or ships because of EU competition rules.
    There is no effective EU immigration control
    Time to leave and make our own destiny

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    So, in summary, the British public are being brain-washed into Euroscepticism by the right-wing media?

    With a juicy quote from the 'entirely impartial' Lord Mandelson to finish off, is this the BBCs attempt at left-wing, pro-EU brainwashing?

    This makes the BBC exactly the same as the right-wing tabloids and propaganda rags they dearly like to feel superior to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    Some day,hopefully soon,all of us will realise,we are being manipulated.We have to vote for this party.Not that party.We have o buy this newspaper,not that newspaper.We have to buy this Product..Not that Product.
    Is this the future of the modern world?
    Do we stop thinking?
    And do what we are told to do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.


    Yep, was thinking along similar lines.

    I'm not a lefty by any stretch of the imagination but some of the rubbish I have seen posted here sounds full of hate and blames everyone apart from ourselves.

    We may be in the EU but we are still the masters of our own destiny.

    Let's make the EU work for us. That's how other countries seem to manage. Britain just gets in a flap about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    Maybe I should try the "Google Website" in finding the answer to a question that no journalist is credited with askiing or publishing..
    "Exactly how many major UK Politicians are ashamed of the fact that none of them thought it essential to ask the UK Electorate if they wanted to join a European Super State"
    Have to assume that no major Party..UK or otherwise..are ashamed of that fact...

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    Economic Depression - tick . Austerity - tick. Swing to the right - tick Euro-phobia - tick. Welcome to the 1930s... seriously.
    Can't even spell your own username - tick

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    "The European Union has ordered the UK to return £85m (99.4m euros) for failing to comply with rules on agricultural payments"



    Let's hope all the various scams are scotched now.

    Some wealthy "farmers" near me don't even mow the grass for hay, that they let grow in their otherwise completely unused fields.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    #251 Bootyman

    Why did former Tory Cabinet Minister, Neil Hamilton MP, currently campaigning for UKIP in Eastleigh lose his seat to Martin Bell in 1997? - "Cash for questions;" allegations of cash taken to ask parliamentary questions.

    Forgotten MP's expenses scandal already, cover pricing in construction?

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    "...When some one is trying to control people they can only use three methods:-
    1 Fear
    2 Shame
    3 Ridicule..."


    Hey, you missed out "reward" and "flattery" and probably much more.

    I make that five at least.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.


    "...local authorities have no legal powers by themselves..."


    Rubbish. Never heard of bye laws?

    Don't forget tory governments had to pass proscriptive laws, to PREVENT councils exercising general freedoms, e.g. to set up their own municipal enterprises if supported by local people.

    So, you're not by any means always in favour of democracy it appears to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    266&264 Eddy and Toryboy,
    Re your comments about the "fruit cakes" -
    I`ll tell you about control:
    When some one is trying to control people they can only use three methods:-
    1 Fear -physically or psychologically they try to scare you.
    2 Shame -they try to make you feel guilty.
    3 Ridicule -they try to belittle you.
    You are using the 3rd method. It won`t work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    The article credits our scepticism to UKIP, Politicians, and "Europhobia". But these musings miss a salient point: Some of us remember joining a "common market"... and ONLY a common market and we worked out for ourselves that we were losing our sovereignty by stealth... and without being asked.

    Europhobia? Not at all... I love Europe. Perhaps the 'phobia' word for 'fear of disenfranchisement'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.


    The BBC should expose Mr Farage's political connections with a range of far-right groups; e.g. Austrian Freedom Party & French National Front.

    CEP & e-ir wrote about these links on blogs on 20/6/12 & 31/7/12.

    Earlier far-right political movements proffered simplistic social, political and economic solutions for the Great Depression. Caveat Votor!

  • Comment number 288.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Why does nobody during BBC interviews point out contradictions, if not to say Mr Nigel Farage's blatant hypocrisy? He claimed £2m in expenses, as well as a decent MEP's salary, whilst saying he wants to leave the EU to save the UK money.

    Why should Farage & his associates be trusted with any of the UK's money?

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    #282/83 What power central govt give to local authorities they can also take away because parliament is sovereign, local authorities have no legal powers by themselves. On employment law govt can extend or restrict freedom of contract and frequently do (sale of goods act being but one example).

    What is your point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    #155. AndyTheTinker

    The total annual EU budget is a small fraction of UK national government expenditure by Whitehall.

    Whitehall also spends & controls some 80% of all EU budget related expenditure in the UK.

    "Brussels" is controlled by the Member States, i.e. the UK's Prime Minister and his nominated representatives, with shared decisions in certain areas by MEP's; also elected by you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Mandelson assesses Murdoch & Europhobic media propaganda correctly. Consider the role of others within & beyond media too.

    MPs D.MacShane & C.Huhne's compared to B.Jenkin MP, forced to repay £36,000 expenses in 2010, but freely makes allegations of EU fraud, unchallenged on R4's "Today" in Dec 2012?

    What of Stanley Hardy's Economic League, Consulting Assoc & Bus for Sterling effect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.


    "...Employment law is about freedom of contract..."


    What passes for this in the UK, is in essence the legalisation by statute, of what would, under common law, be flagrant breach of contract by employers, provided they tick a few boxes on "notice" and "consultation".

    As such it stinks, as does any such heresy of legal principle. At least a deal's a deal in the US.


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