Cameron’s promise to the British public to give them a referendum on membership of the EU “to let the people decide” is a decision drenched in fear. His position is clearly based on an attempt to plaster over the divisions within the Tory party and stave off the growing influence of Ukip which is stealing the thunder of their euro-sceptic wing.
It is sheer madness that during the worst economic recession in postwar history, we have a political party that feels at ease with creating such insecurity and uncertainty over the next four years. The destabilising factors will make overseas companies look twice at the UK as somewhere to invest, with a particularly adverse impact on Scotland’s open, export-oriented economy. Over 50% of UK trade is with the EU and 3.5m British jobs are linked, directly or indirectly to our trade with other member states.
Cameron and his euro-sceptic backbenchers are playing a dangerous game here by holding a pistol to Brussels and to other national governments in the EU – to negotiate under the threat of leaving is placing Britain in a difficult position and will further add to our isolation. In turn this will only ensure that the French and Germans and most other member states resist reopening treaties which have been years in the making, to allow for British demands.
There is a world of difference between Britain joining in a constructive debate about the way the EU as a whole should develop and trying to persuade the other 26 member states that Britain alone should have a privileged position, and one that might give us a competitive advantage – that way lies failure and possible exit. The perception in Europe that Britain stands on the sidelines and constantly gripes under both Tory and Labour Governments – as Britain constantly seems to do, does nothing for our interests.
This presents the Liberal Democrats with a great opportunity now to open up some clear blue water between ourselves and the Conservatives leading up to the next general election in 2015 – Indeed Nick Clegg has already been open about our party position and has made it clear that this is not a stance that the Liberal Democrats will endorse. But we must now start to get the same message out to local communities in the run up to the Euro-elections in 2014 and ensure that this message is part of an aggressive campaign to secure the support of those people who still understand the value and importance of our role in Europe.