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Two speeches on Europe, half an idea

PoliticsatSurrey & Simon Usherwood (2014) “Two speeches on Europe, half an idea“, Politics at Surrey Blog, 27 Νοεμβρίου.


It’s that time of year when people apparently decide they need to talk about ‘Europe’: this week we’ve seen two good examples of why this might not be such a good idea.

The first, made by former British agriculture minister, Owen Paterson, to the eurosceptic lobby Business for Britain, came on Monday. At one level, it marks an important strengthening of the confidence of the Tory backbench in articulating their demands of David Cameron: as a figure with a certain degree of influence (and a ministerial track record to boot), Paterson is not so easily ignored as others who have never been trusted with a portfolio. Couple that with his ability to share his insider perspective, and it was not surprising that many media outlets chose to give it a good degree of prominence.

At the other level, this was a speech that confirmed one of the key weaknesses of the eurosceptics’ position: the lack of well-developed alternatives. Paterson’s key argument was that as a member of the EU, the UK has lost its voice in international fora, and suffers from the poor representation that the EU offers its constituents. Thus, British agricultural interests weren’t getting represented by the Commission, and international partners with whom the UK has shared interests were also weakened in developing regulation that worked for them.

Outside of the EU, the UK would – it was argued – be able to represent itself and build strong alliances with everyone it wanted, without having to live with the compromises of working with the rest of the Union.

If one accepts this view, then withdrawal would offer a benefit to the UK, since it resolves the query I’ve raised before: how one becomes more influential by leaving a large block.


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