Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Britain, the EU and the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th September, 2012

The Liberal Democrat European Group (LDEG) and Liberal International British Group (LIBG) joined forces last night at a fringe meeting at the LibDems’ autumn conference on the place of Britain in the European Union and Europe’s place in the world. I was the first speaker, stressing how important it is that the Party continues to publicise its commitment to internationalism and to the UK’s European future (as Nick Clegg had indeed done just minutes before in a speech to diplomats at the International Reception). I was dismayed that there was virtually no mention of international or European issues in the main agenda of the Brighton conference, though there have been several related fringe meetings. The Coalition government as such is hampered in its championing of the importance of Britain’s EU membership by David Cameron’s perceived need to appease his eurosceptic backbenchers. I fear that in the 2014 European elections the Tories will be tempted to try to out-UKIP UKIP, too, in an attempt to staunch the haemorrhaging of votes. And Labour is too split on the issue of Europe to be a reliable advocate. The City of London and business in general seems too nervous to stick its head above the parapet, although most businesses recognise the vital importance of EU membership. So it is going to be up to the Liberal Democrats to make the case. A few, very simple messages need to be honed, to be used on the doorstep, of which perhaps the most important is the fact that in an increasingly regionalised, globalised world, in which big new players such as China, India and Brazil are making their presence felt, Europe needs to be more united in order to be a powerful force. Britain on its own in the 21st Century never could be, despite what the Little Englanders think.

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One Response to “Britain, the EU and the World”

  1. Alex Macfie said

    I agree that it is important to emphasise our party’s commitment to UK engagement with the EU. However, for the 2014 European election, we must distinguish between policy on EU affairs, and policy on the UK’s relationship with the EU. The latter is a UK domestic issue, not an EU issue, and is thus not one on which MEPs have any competence. For the 2014 European election, we should emphasise our liberal credentials at least as much as our European credentials. Chris Davies has called the European Parliament a “Coalition-free zone”. The European Parliament is a forum where Liberal Democrat representatives are free to advance the undiluted Liberal Democrat message on big ideological issues, and we must exploit this. For the Tories, likewise mutatis mutandis. We need to point out the differences in how the LIb Dem and Tory MEPs have voted in key divisions, not just on policy about the EU but on other issues as well. We must also capitalise on the nuttiness of the Tories and the company they keep in Brussels. I would very much like to see a Liberal Democrat Euro election campaign that exposes each of the extremist parties in the ECR group (e.g. the Dutch one that is against women voting, the Baltic anti-semites and homophobes, and Poland’s Law & Justice Party (’nuff said)). UKIP are less important to our party: people who vote UKIP in European elections are most unlikely to vote for us. But Lib Dem/Tory waverers who realise whom the Tories hang out with in Europe, and the sort of things they support, could be persuaded to support us.

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