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Britain and the Future of Europe - Participation, Disengagement or Drift?


11 February 2013




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Britain and the Future of Europe - Participation, Disengagement or Drift?

By Conor Brennan

David Cameron’s EU negotiating strategy is “putting a gun to our own heads” warned Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, while Conservative MP Liam Fox would support Britain leaving the EU if the Prime Minister did not get a “good deal”.

Speaking at an event hosted by Business for New Europe and the City of London Corporation on Monday 11 February, Miliband argued that membership of the EU was good for Britain as we have done well out of the Single Market and have “never lost a vote on financial services.”

Debating the future of Britain in Europe before an audience of 250 business leaders, academics, British and foreign journalists and members of the diplomatic community, Miliband said that the current strategy by the government was “putting a gun to our own heads” and he stressed the importance of local associations in the future of global competiveness.

Former Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox stated that he did not want to remain in the EU “at any price”.  He claimed that currently the EU project was “unsustainable” because it is seven per cent of global population and 25 per cent of GDP but spends 50 per cent of social welfare spending.“Europe needs to change” claimed Dr Fox, citing barriers to competiveness and the democratic deficit as areas in need of reform. He supported David Cameron’s pledge for an in/out referendum, adding that it is not an excuse to deny the people a say in Europe’s destiny because you may be scared of the outcome.

Editor-at-Large of Reuters News Hugo Dixon said the UK needs to be “an active member of a reformed union”. Highlighting three ways to pursue this agenda, Dixon stated that Britain needed to build alliances and “play the diplomatic game”; stop talk of unilateral repatriation of powers and instead seek to develop multilateral agreements;and finally understand the differences that still exist within the EU and how this is impeding a closer fiscal union.

Andrew Lilico, director and principal of Europe Economics, argued that the EU is foremost a political project and its “internal logic” is driving it towards a unified federation of states. He added that this will leave Britain outside the core of possibly 23 member states with little influence over decisions and rules that it is affected by. Lilico dismissed the idea that a federation of States is “just hearsay” and compared this to before the formation of the Euro currency – people did not think it would come to fruition.

Addressing this point David Miliband argued that the Treaty of Rome proposed an “ever closer union of the peoples of Europe” and in this regard the EU has successfully offered free movement of people and improved tolerance of different cultures in Europe. Hugo Dixon disagreed Europe “was on the brink of greater integration”, claiming that even the banking union has rolled back on many fiscal union integration policies.

Concluding the debate chaired by Roland Rudd chairman of BNE, Dr Liam Fox criticised the Euro as a “flawed concept” by allowing the wrong countries to join. He also stated that people were told “the sky would fall in” if Britain did not join the Euro or the Schengen agreement, when clearly neither has happened, which should be borne in mind. Lilico added that Britain “had lost influence by not joining the Euro” and this was exactly problem that it will have in the future.


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