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Richard Harrington MP: An EU debate amounts to a "kneejerk indulgence" for Eurosceptics

RH Aug 11Richard Harrington, Tory MP for Watford, says the EU vote equals a folly for Conservative Eurosceptics and an unnecessary diversion for Government.

The talk of the tea room has been whether members are voting for or against the referendum motion now to be debated on Monday. I believe the motion is naive and over simplistic. It is asking the wrong question at the wrong time and I think it should be resisted by all who wish to reform Europe. It plays into the hands of our political opponents who wish to see us divided and dysfunctional about an issue that we have plenty of time to deal with whilst we are in Government, which I hope will be for many years to come.

Like many Conservatives I welcome the strengths of our partnership in terms of trade and security with Europe but recognise there is a strong need for reform. There is no one answer to addressing the issues posed by our membership of the EU, and there is certainly no one question to be asked about our position.

The issue of referendum was clearly addressed in our manifesto and programme for Government; that this is not the time.

It is feckless only 18 months into this Government with so many pressing issues to address, to spend vast amounts of money and time persuading the electorate that an answer yes or no to Europe can be the solution to the problems facing them. The third alternative suggested in the motion that our Government should renegotiate the terms is absurd and ridiculously over simplistic. Assuming it was passed, what would the Government be mandated to negotiate- what terms, what conditions, what timescale etc? In the meantime, the appalling state of the UK’s economy, unemployment and social problems cannot be put on the backburner to allow a kneejerk indulgence for Euroscepticism.

The Government has not ignored the pressing issues of our membership and has taken determined action to change the balance of sovereignty and reducing spending. This is testament of the Government’s ability to protect Britain’s rights in its position as a member state as part of the Governments ongoing mandate of reform in both Westminster and Brussels.

The question over Europe is grey and it is murky. When there is such a big cloud over Europe with financial crisis’s engulfing many member states any debate on this issue is inevitably clouded by scaremongering and hyperbole. It is seemingly an impulsive reaction which gives a false illusion of dealing with the issue, whereas in reality it creates a bulldozer effect on an issue that needs a careful and considered approach over time. It is gutter politics to pretend that David Cameron is weak on Europe simply because he does not believe now is the time for referendum.

Inevitably the debate next week will see several colleagues in our party and others posturing over whether or not we should be in Europe. Many of these colleagues will have been making these arguments for many years and will still be able to make these arguments in years to come. I am not suggesting that we remove this matter permanently from the Commons, but that we grant the Prime Minister a little longer than 18 months in Government to allow for recent changes to embed, deal with the more pressing problems facing us and for him to fulfil the commitments he has already made in dealing with Europe.

We should come back to this debate at a time when heads are a little clearer, crisis is not on our doorstep and we have allowed time for the Government to make the changes on the mandates on which we were elected. By then and only then will we have the time and space for a reasoned debate on Europe.


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