Rupert Matthews: Examining our opponents' European policies - the Liberal Democrats
Rupert Matthews is one of the MEP candidates for the Conservative Party in the East Midlands Region and a freelance historian who has had over 150 books published. This is the second in a series of articles we will be publishing in the run-up to June's European elections in which he will examine the European policies of the Conservative Party's political opponents. He considered Labour's European policies here.
The Lib Dems have long had a reputation as being the most pro-EU of all the political parties in Britain. The reputation is well deserved for they have consistently been mute when it comes to criticising scandals in Brussels, but loud on cheerleading for the supposed benefits of the EU and its ‘ever closer union’.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that they have been loudly in favour of the Lisbon Treaty (EU Constitution). When the EU Constitution came up in the European Parliament the Lib Dem MEPs voted in favour of it. When the Lisbon Treaty came before the EU Parliament in July 2007, they voted in favour of it again. But this is not enough for them. The Lib Dem MEPs voted in favour of an amendment to show “firm resolve to put forward, after the 2009 elections, new proposals on a further constitutional settlement for the Union, in accordance with the clause on treaty revision.”
They have been gratifyingly candid on the similarity between the Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. Chris Davies MEP wrote on his website: “I think we should be honest in admitting that the difference between the two is minimal. Eurosceptics will claim that EU governments keep coming back time and again until they get what they want. I never dreamt that our governments would be as cynical as they have been. But I’m not sorry. I supported the Constitutional Treaty and I support the Reform [Lisbon] Treaty.”
As we all know, the Lib Dems came unstuck at Westminster over the Lisbon Treaty. The Lib Dems have a commitment to their version of democracy and many of them, quite rightly, saw that the Lisbon Treaty should not be foisted on the people of Britain without a referendum. But when the more pro-EU among the Lib Dem peers threatened to rebel, the leadership had to create a fudge by instructing their MPs to vote against a referendum on Lisbon and instead back a referendum on whether or not Britain should leave the EU. The cynicism of the move was shown when the Lib Dem peers then ditched the fudge and voted for Lisbon.
It is not only on the issues of treaties that the Lib Dems have been consistently uncritical of the EU. Despite the fact that the EU Court of Auditors have refused to approve the accounts of the EU Commission, the Lib Dem MEPs have consistently voted to pass them. On 29 March 2008 the Lib Dem MEPs voted to abolish the UK Budget Rebate – worth about £4 billion per year. Instead they wanted to see the EU have an income based on a levy raised on members states based on the gross national income.
Lib Dem MEPs have been free with EU spending. In May 2008 they voted to spend £1.8 million on implementing the Lisbon Treaty – even though it had not then (and still has not) been fully ratified. In March 2006 they voted to spend £36 million on a European Institute for Gender Equality.
Nor are they shy about increasing EU powers over member states. In August 2008 the Lib Dems launched a policy paper calling for a greater EU role in policing and criminal matters. In September the same year they backed giving the EU more control over asylum and immigration policy.
None of this has stopped the Lib Dems from playing a Eurosceptic card when they think they can get away with it. I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen Lib Dem leaflets that claim they are “standing up for Britain” or “putting Britain first in the EU.”
It is all tosh, of course, but we can expect more such efforts to mislead the public as the EU elections approach. But rely on it, a vote for the Lib Dems would be a vote for a continued drain of power, money and rights from Britain to Brussels.