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'Fresh Start Project' publishes goal of new UK-EU relationship

By Tim Montgomerie
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On the 12th September more than one hundred Tory MPs met for the first ever meeting of the Fresh Start Project. The launch meeting of that new Eurosceptic grouping was reported at the time by Anthony Browne. Two Labour MPs have now agreed to caucus with the group - Frank Field and Gisela Stuart.

The Fresh Start Project's mission has been sent to ConHome: 

"UK citizens want co-operation and free commerce with our EU partners, but a majority believes that too much power has been transferred to the EU; in areas ranging from policing to employment law, from Health and Safety to petty regulation, our citizens want more control over their own lives.

The euro-zone crisis threatens to overturn the historic agreement that tax and spending are the sole responsibility of national governments. This makes the time ripe for a new relationship with our EU partners, in which the UK can take more decisions and Brussels fewer; this would be in line with the basic principle that the authority to pass laws should be democratically accountable to those who are affected by them.

MPs across all parties are determined to work together to:

  1. examine the options for a new UK-EU relationship that would better serve the interests of UK citizens
  2. examine the options for a new UK-EU relationship that would better serve the interests of UK citizens
  3. set out what this new relationship could look like and
  4. establish a process for achieving the change."


"Today, Europe is an issue that unites Conservatives rather than one which divides us."

"At times of crisis, the future belongs to those with both a viable plan and the political will to press for that plan to be adopted.  Now that the EU’s flagship policy, the euro, is in crisis it is a time for Britain to show leadership in Europe and to demonstrate what the EU should be for in the 21st century.  It is not a time to try to avoid discussion.

The Conservative party has past scars from debates about Europe and this makes some people nervous about discussing the subject now but, as a party, we have to get over our past and get used to discussing these important issues in a constructive and thoughtful way because Britain needs to have a clear and coherent foreign policy towards the EU.   The divisions of the 1990’s are now a full generation ago.  Today, Europe is an issue that unites Conservatives rather than one which divides us.

Of course, there are bigger issues which matter more to voters and to which we should devote more attention. These include getting the economy moving again, dealing with the deficit, tackling welfare dependency and driving up standards in our schools. But there are then other issues which matter less to voters but which are nevertheless important where the government must have strong policies.  These include issues like the environment, international development and, yes, the EU.  Discussing these issues should be part of a balanced diet.

One of the most destructive features of the EU since its inception has been that the concept of “ever closer union” has been hard wired into the treaties.   This has meant that once the EU acquires a new competence or responsibility, it never lets go.  It also means that the European Court of Justice interprets disputes with a bias in favour of EU integration.  The assumption that power should flow relentlessly towards Europe is where things have gone wrong.  The EU is doing far too much but doing nothing properly.  The more so called competences it accumulates, the less competent it becomes.   It has become clumsy and unstable like an over-loaded ship which is listing as it leaves port.

If it is to become a viable institution with a role to play in the 21st century then it needs to become much more flexible and to do far less.  There is nothing new about a so called two-speed or multi-speed Europe.  There are currently 27 member states but only 17 of those are members of the euro.  There are countries in the EU but not members of the Schengen agreement.  There are some EU members who are neutral and have never worked with the EU on defence matters.  In 2014, Britain will be able to decide whether to opt out of around 90 justice and home affairs powers and is likely to do so.  Those who say that you can’t have a “pick and mix” Europe have already been proved wrong.  It is what has happened quite successfully in many policy areas over the last fifteen years. The challenge now is to expand the principle so that more policies in the EU become optional and identifying those areas which ought to be returned to national parliaments is what the new group we have formed aims to achieve.  In short, we want to reverse the process of integration and create a new relationship between Britain and the EU.

Some say that this is not possible while we are in coalition with the Liberal Democrats but I disagree.  Events in the eurozone mean that reform is not only possible but necessary.  Both our parties believe in localism and we should apply that principle to the EU too. Brussels should no longer be granted immunity from accountability.  A decade ago in a pamphlet for the Centre for European Reform, Nick Clegg argued that the EU had too many powers, that the case for slashing the EU budget was overwhelming and taking powers away from the EU should not be seen as a destructive act.  He was right about that, so let’s see him work with us to deliver change."


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