Jonathan Fryer

Europe at the Gateshead LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th March, 2012

The agenda of this weekend’s LibDem spring conference in Gateshead has been almost entirely devoted to domestic matters, from tax to the NHS. But this morning, Conference overwhelmingly passed an important motion reaffirming the Party’s belief in the future of the European project and how Britain needs to be right at the heart of the European Union, not on the margins to which David Cameron foolishly propelled us at the Brussels Summit last December. I’ll be writing up the debate of the motion in next Friday’s Liberal Democrat News, including the recognition of necessary reforms in the way the EU functions. But in the meantime I offer here the speech I gave in the debate this morning:

Way out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean there is a small island, called Little Britain. A strange tribe known as the UKIP lives there, and over the last few weeks several Conservatives — notably the MEP Roger Helmer — have swum out to Little Britain, to help the UKIP repel foreign boarders. Alas, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, seems to dream of moving there himself — or at least that’s the impression he gave our European partners at the Brussels Summit in December. He thought they would be impressed, but they weren’t. And Cameron has done a grave disservice to the British people.

Let’s be brutally honest. Britain is no longer a first rank global power. Just recently, Brazil leapfrogged Britain in terms of GDP and India won’t be far behind. The world is moving rapidly towards a multipolar reality, in which Asia, Latin America and one day even Africa will assert their economic and political might.

For Europe to survive as a potent force in the 21st Century world, the European Union has to proceed with further integration. It must increasingly speak with one voice, not only on issues such as Trade and the environment but also in areas of common foreign and security policy. Currently, despite the best efforts of Cathy Ashton, the EU is punching below its weight. That situation must not continue, otherwise Europe itself will be marginalised.

So what does all this mean for Britain? At the moment, as so often during the past 60 years, the driving forces in Europe are France and Germany. But they would like Britain also to be at the heart of the European project. Because of our rich history and experience in international relations, Britain has so much to offer Europe. But there is a real danger that that opportunity is being lost. And the longer Britain positions itself on the margins of the European Union, the less the country will matter in global affairs. David Cameron needs to stop pandering to those in the Conservative Party who look through rose-tinted spectacles at the mid-Atlantic island of Little Britain  and instead face up to the real challenges ahead.

The world is changing fast and the EU must adapt to ensure that it keeps and indeed enhances its influence globally. It would be tragic if the United Kingdom were not a full partner in that development process. I do not want to live on the island of Little Britain, Mr Cameron — and neither should you.

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