MP’s Column - We have to reform Europe

Much ink has been spilled over the recent by-election in Clacton. It’s clear that the voters there have sent a warning shot across the bow of this country’s leadership.

There is a very real threat now that votes for UKIP could help put Ed Miliband in Number 10. This country literally couldn’t afford New Labour and simply passed the bill on to the next generation. What a pity it would be if we were to make that mistake again.

Voters aren’t satisfied that we’re doing enough about Europe, and here in Parliament we’re doing our best to make sure those voices are heard. We believe we should have a referendum on our membership of the European Union within months of the next general election, instead of two years later. The government needs to put pressure on the Eurocrats in Brussels and make serious our threat to leave.

I have always put great emphasis on the more traditional aspects of Conservative politics: lower taxes, less state interference in people’s everyday lives, and maintaining law and order in our communities. These are not only winning formulas, but they are principles which are needed now more than ever, and which the European Union has done much to undermine. Over the next few months I alongside my Conservative colleagues will be putting pressure on the front bench to make clear that there are certain powers which simply must be repatriated from Brussels. First among these is control over our own borders.

But we also want to set an overall idea of what kind of Europe we want to be a part of. Very few of us here in England are anti-European. Many of us visit the continent often and tens of thousands of Britons live in France, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere within the European Union. We are happy to erase the barriers to trade with our friends on the continent, but we do not want to be ruled by them – and I dare say nor do they wish to be ruled by us. We Conservatives have a positive vision of a peaceful and prosperous Europe where we can visit each other easily, study at each other’s universities, trade with one another and so on.

But the European Union as it now stands is suffering from a democratic deficit. The elected European Parliament has almost no direct input on the laws it votes on, which are proposed by the European Commissioners. And even if the Parliament did have more of a say, I’m not sure it would be a good thing. Most of the time the socialist group and the centre-right group agree on whatever’s being proposed. That’s why David Cameron pulled us out of the European People’s Party to start our own rapidly growing European Conservatives and Reformists group.

Simply put: we’ve got to reform Europe, and if we can’t reform it, we’ve got to get out. And the only way progress we can do that is with a Conservative majority next year.

Sir Edward Leigh

MP for Gainsborough