George Freeman MP is the newly elected Member of Parliament for Mid Norfolk, a member of the Fresh Start Group and Co-Founder of the 2020Conservatives. Follow George on Twitter.
Last Friday’s historic Commons vote in which the Conservative Party in Parliament voted in favour of an EU Referendum Bill edges us closer to putting into law the Prime Minister’s groundbreaking commitment to the strategy of "Renegotiation + Referendum". The signal to Europe is clear: the UK is getting serious about using the threat of ‘Brexit’ to negotiate an alternative and radically reformed Europe, which we will then let the British people decide on in an In-Out Referendum.
The emptiness of the Labour benches told their own story: the Conservatives are the only party committed to engaging seriously in leading the reform of Europe, and letting the people decide. Ed Milliband’s weakness on this is palpable. Whilst David Cameron leads, Red Ed is busy shoring up the support of his trade union backers.
Domestically, Friday’s vote tees up another key reason to vote Conservative at the next Election: give us the mandate to see through the renegotiation and deliver that Referendum. But for that to be credible, and to avoid the predictable charge from UKIP next spring that we have simply 'kicked the Referendum into the long grass', we need to explain why we need the next four years to negotiate the New Europe we want to see and have a realistic and substantial alternative to present to the British public in 2017.
To do that, and to shoot UKIP’s fox, we need to begin, now, actively building a pan-European alliance for reform and the first stages of renegotiation. We stand very little chance of negotiating if it us against the rest. We need an alliance of nations signed up to a common platform of reform. If the Coalition Agreement prevents the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary from actively leading renegotiation today, why don't we appoint a senior Conservative Prime Ministerial Envoy, with the respect of business and the City, to reach out to the Chancellories of Europe and convene the London Convention on Reform so we can show the British people it is us who are serious about renegotiation?
Globalisation and the perfect storm of banking, debt and Eurozone crises are fundamentally changing the dynamics of the EU. We are at a turning point. The European project’s seemingly unstoppable momentum of ever-closer political and economic union towards a single currency and ultimately a political state – which has fuelled the disillusionment of a British electorate which voted only for a Common Market – has to change.