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Richard Ashworth MEP: Only Consevative MEPs will stand up for Britain in Europe

RARichard Ashworth is leader of the UK's Conservative Group in the European Parliament and  is an MEP for the South-East.

Do you want a vote on our relationship with Europe? Then the Conservatives are the only credible choice to deliver a referendum. However, during next year's European Elections, voters will have three choices:

  • Elect Conservative MEPs, who will work tirelessly for British interests, and start the Conservatives on the path to a majority in 2015;
  • Elect Labour and Liberal, SNP or Plaid MEPs who will side with the federalist agenda;
  • Or elect UKIP MEPs, who leave Britain's chair at the EU table empty, and increase the chance of Red Ed entering Downing Street.

Between now and the referendum in 2017, seminal shifts will have to occur within the EU. Changes being made in the euro zone will redefine the relationship between the non-euro nations and the EU. The 'one-size-fits-all' status quo will not be an option. Here is our opportunity to create an EU that works for Britain; to focus its efforts on opening markets, on ceasing the endless meddling in our lives, and accepting that often powers are better exercised much closer to the those affected by them.

At the end of the next few years the British people will determine whether they wish to remain members of the EU. But in the meantime, we need people in Brussels fighting to get the best possible deal for UK PLC.

Labour MEPs have a record of following their trade union paymasters and other socialist MEPs. They have voted for job-destroying employment legislation; for a greater European role in immigration; for further EU control over taxation, and so on. David Cameron secured the first ever cut in the EU budget, in contrast with Tony Blair's surrender of £7 billion of our rebate. Labour took us into the Eurozone bailout fund, leaving us responsible for bailing out members of a currency we decided not to join. Thankfully, David Cameron took us back out of it. Do the British people really trust Labour to stick up for their best interests, when they so often capitulate and follow their European socialist colleagues?

Likewise, Liberal Democrat MEPs have not only signed up to much of this federalist agenda, they have been leading it! Whether it be efforts to create pan-European political parties, or to forge a European Public Prosecutor that would override British courts, they have been at the forefront of some of the most integrationist measures. The leader of their wider grouping in the European Parliament is former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. He is not shy in calling for the abolition of the 28 nation states in favour of a common European one. And he's quite happy to frequently attack 'Her Majesty's Government', with LibDem MEPs sitting idly behind him.

The direction Labour and the LibDem MEPs advocate is a dangerous, sclerotic and undemocratic one. However, they do turn up and give their point of view. Unfortunately, when it comes to UKIP, they turn up only when the cameras are switched on. They fail to do the work they are being paid to do by the British taxpayers. When they do turn up, their incompetence has led to them voting against British interests, clearly failing to even read what they are voting on.

I understand the point they make: that people elect them to 'expose' the EU, not to get into the minutiae of parliamentary work. But to me that just sounds like a lazy cop-out. Our experience has shown that when a good MEP dedicates his/herself to delivering a cause, with a bit of tact and a lot of skill, they can deliver a much better outcome for Britain.

It may not always be in the limelight in the UK, but the European Parliament does matter. At present, it has equal weight to national governments in delivering legislation that impacts on all of our daily lives. Unfortunately, the UK goes into so many negotiations, votes and debates with a hand tied behind our backs, because a sizeable proportion of our MEPs have no intention of getting a good result for the country. In fact, UKIP has a vested interest in delivering a bad result because it is likely to increase disenchantment and gain them a tabloid hit.

If you want to leave the EU, that's a fair point of view. Only by voting Conservative will you get your chance. But surely, before that happens, you want every person we send to Brussels to be fighting for Britain's national interest? And Conservative MEPs have a strong record of delivery. Time and again, we have rolled up our sleeves, making use of the variety of skills, expertise and experience of our MEPs. This has secured results, such as:

  • Delivering the cut in the EU budget and defending our rebate;
  • Leading a major reform of the calamitous fisheries policy;
  • Protecting our offshore oil and gas industry from overzealous regulation that would have pushed up fuel prices;
  • Spearheading free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and the USA;
  • Shelving plans to force mothers to take 20 weeks of paid maternity leave at a cost of £2.5 billion to British business, and;
  • Opening up the Single Market to create more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The list could go on. Our successes don't sell newspapers quite like failure, but rest assured we are delivering success every day.

In the European Conservatives and Reformists Group - the new group we founded after the last election - Conservative MEPs have grown in influence, and are able to achieve more than we would have by being just a medium-sized delegation of MEPs in our former bloc. From my own experience as Budgets Spokesman for the group, I have had a seat in the so-called 'Contact Group' which led the negotiations to deliver the long-term budget.

That seat enabled me to be a 'thorn in the side', representing those governments calling for budgetary restraint. Without our group, there would have been no internal opposition in the European Parliament, as it called for EU taxes and a review that would effectively see the UK lose its budgetary veto. Our new group has given us a seat at the table, and it has been put to good use by our MEPs. One dissenting voice can make a difference and muster support from others, not least other national governments. And the UK is not alone in demanding change in the EU. Mr Cameron has allies for his agenda. Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and other powerful countries are on our side. Only more Conservative MEPs will help to deliver that agenda. More protest votes will undermine it.

Now that we have chosen our list of candidates for the Euro elections, I can say with confidence that the Conservative delegation in Europe will continue to have the skills, experience, and ability to deliver for the United Kingdom. These candidates come from all walks of life, but they are all connected by the same goals: to deliver a better deal for Britain, to fight eurofederalism, and to give the people a say on their future relationship with the EU.

So in May 2014 people will have a choice. Do they want to support the Party that can give them a say on Europe? Or do they want to make a Labour government in 2015 more likely by 'lending' their vote to UKIP? Do they want MEPs that work to deliver real change and reform for Britain? Or will they support parties that cannot and will not deliver a referendum, who advance a federal Europe, or whose laziness ties Britain's hands? Returning Conservative MEPs to Brussels, and a Conservative government to Westminster is the only way to deliver our national interests, and to be sure of getting a referendum.


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