George Eustice: Debate on the EU cannot be stifled

George Eustice: Debate on the EU cannot be stifled
George Eustice: Debate on the EU cannot be stifled

 

Last week, Europe resurfaced as a point of discussion within the Conservative Party. The revelation that the EU Commission wants an inflation-busting budget increase, combined with the ongoing eurozone crisis, made this unavoidable. A group of 2010 intake MPs, myself included, also started to cautiously make the case for radical reform of the EU.

The Conservative Party has many old scars and fear of repeating the past has tended to stifle discussion. Among the MPs who were in the Major government, there is a small group who felt betrayed and are pessimistic about the prospects of the current Government taking the tough stance they want. Another group thinks that Europe is so toxic for Tories that discussion should be avoided at all cost.

But stifling debate is not sustainable. The current Parliament takes a hard-headed and impatient view of the EU and its ways. Europe might be a long way down people's list of priorities, but, as ministers are finding, the tentacles of EU law have invaded many areas of frontline domestic policy, causing immense frustration. While the media like replaying old fights, they are also good at sniffing out fear. In terms of government comms, it is far better to cautiously reintroduce discussion about Europe than attempt to shut it down altogether and, in so doing, store up tension that would then erupt at a future date.

David Cameron will be acutely aware of the mood among his own MPs, not least because largely he shares it. He has proved an effective negotiator to date, successfully extricating Britain from the eurozone bail-outs to which the last government signed up. EU enlargement makes it harder to reach agreement and requires that the EU does less, but it shows no sign of realising that yet. As a result, the project has a questionable future.

Despite the nervousness some will feel at the profile of the European issue being raised in the media, at some point the party needs to get over the past and take its place leading the agenda for radical EU reform.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron

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