Coffee House

George Osborne: Britain is better off in a reformed EU

15 January 2014

1:48 PM

15 January 2014

1:48 PM

George Osborne’s speech to the Open Europe conference this morning was billed as the Chancellor taking a tough guy stance with European leaders, demanding that they reform or see their project crumble. It sounded, from the overnight briefings, as though Osborne was trying to cheer up his backbenchers during their current round of banging on about Europe as much as he was trying to make the case for European reform. But when he delivered the full address, it had as much pro-European thinking in it as it did threats. Osborne was focusing on making the case for the whole of Europe to reform, for Europe to create better conditions for and to not discriminate against non-eurozone members, and for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. There was no sense of ‘Better Off Out’: this was a ‘Better Off Reformed and In’ speech.

Of course, it isn’t a surprise that the Conservative leadership is at odds with many backbenchers in its belief that it is worth renegotiating and reforming, rather than exit being the best option. And a briefing from the Fresh Start Group of MPs straight after the speech underlined that while there are many vocal Better Off Out-ers in the party, there’s also a sizeable group that agrees with Osborne’s prescription for Europe. Those MPs were optimistic not just that continued EU membership (in a reformed system) had the potential to be hugely beneficial to the UK, but that there was an appetite for reform from other European leaders too. Mark Garnier told the briefing that ‘the sense that I get… is that we all agree it is a bit of a bad marriage but actually we really do want to make it work’.

Osborne’s job, as much as anything else, was to convince those European politicians and officials present at this big conference that change wouldn’t just benefit the UK but the whole of Europe. He told the conference that: ‘Some on the continent like to assume this is just the UK pursuing its own self-interest, at the expense of the collective good. But it’s the opposite.’ His main threat was that Europe could get left behind in the ‘global race’ that we all know so well in this country. His central warning was about competitiveness:

‘This is the continent that for centuries led the world in innovation and scientific discovery, enterprise and work ethic. Are we to say that the Europe that gave us Galileo, Darwin and Marie Curie, the industrial revolution, democracy and the free economy, has given up on the future because it is all too difficult? As a father of two young children, I don’t want to turn to them as we see the latest Chinese scientific breakthrough or Indian innovation and say: “that used to be us. That used to be Europe.”

‘The hard truth is that if we want to maintain our way of life in Europe we’ve got to get more competitive. And that’s going to require some tough steps: living within our means, making our labour markets competitive, expanding free trade. Most of the action needed will have to be taken at a domestic level. I’m not here to lecture other member states about that.’


And he tried to paint the UK as being as committed to central European principles by ‘taking an increasing number of cases to the ECJ’. But Osborne did also refer to a change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union, as well as reform of the EU itself, which is important as Europe-wide reform will only go so far. He said:

‘It is to change the EU and to change Britain’s relationship with it, and then to place the decision in the hands of the British people: do you want to stay in a reformed Europe, or would you prefer to leave?’

And the lines that really pleased the very eurosceptic backbenchers in the Conservative party were on treaty change. Osborne said ‘the European treaties are not fit for purpose. They didn’t anticipate a European Union where some countries would pursue dramatically deeper integration than others’. When I spoke to Bernard Jenkin, the ringleader of the latest troublesome letter, after the speech, he said:

‘The speech was healing. Good to hear him agree treaties are not fit for purpose.’

So job done: the Chancellor has taken another step towards making the case for European reform. But even though it might be healing for now, as James said earlier this week, the party will soon start picking at the scab and demanding more details of what changes the government actually wants to make.

You can read the full text of the speech as delivered here.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Sarah Willis
  • Tom Tom

    Ah The Island……Osborne sounds just like Gordon Brown with The Lecture on Europe

  • Tony_E

    The best reform that we could hope for is that the EU restricts itself to regulating only the trade between EU nations – so that all trade outside that which is cross border EU, is regulated by national parliaments and independent trade agreements. All civil and criminal law could then be returned to the nation states, and the Euro could become the hard ECU that some business leaders called for in the past: a parallel currency for internal trades which exists alongside the national currencies, but is only used for cross border activities by business and individuals, fully exchangeable with national currencies.

  • Daniel Maris

    Osborne’s analysis is completely wrong.

    He’s trying to get the EU to enter into free trade with yet wider parts of the globe.

    It’s absurd.

    What is particularly absurd is this notion we are in a global “race” with these dirt poor countries.

    China’s GDP per capita, even today, is under ONE TENTH of our own. Can you believe that? UNder one tenth.

    India’s GDP per capita by the way is under ONE THIRTIETH of ours.

    He wants us to take them as our benchmark, so we drive down wages, cut
    back on welfare and load more and more charges on to the “hard working
    families” he supposedly loves so much. Of course, we know who that will benefit – the bankers, capitalists and tax dodgers.

    Sadly there’s no one around on the left or right to expose this sort of lying narrative.

  • Denis_Cooper

    “their current round of banging on about Europe”

    What is it that makes pro-EU Tories so childish?

  • Terence Hale

    George Osborne: Britain is better off in a reformed EU. By George. Common sense will welcome Mr. Osborne’s remarks. The European commission which lack such may radical such remarks. Having knowledge of many European lands many citizens feel the same. EU reform must be a priority to stop nationalist party’s budding as spring flowers.

  • OriginalChris

    Response from Farage to Osborne is typically robust and is on the relevant website. However, what is even more powerful is Farage in absolutely cracking form at the European Parliament stating the EU is run by big business, big banks and big eurocrats.
    He also takes Samaras to task making quite clear how Greece no longer runs its own affairs, and describes graphically how Greece’s sovereignty has been sacrificed for the European project.

    This is all relevant as this is the organisation that Osborne and Cameron want us to remain part of. Neither of them can be under any illusion that reform cannot be undertaken along the lines suggested by Osborne, as the sole purpose of the EU is ever closer integration. The new treaty, which is already in an advanced state of planning (see draft proposals put forward by the Spinelli group of MEPs “A fundamental law of the European Union”) will apparently only give us the option of joining fully, or as an Associate member, with conditions less favourable than we have now.

    • Denis_Cooper

      It’s billed as the “Fundamental Law” for the EU, in other words its Constitution, and it has the same primacy article that Martin Howe QC described as being characteristic of federal Constitutions like that of the US or Australia when it appeared in the previous EU Constitution; the eurofederalist dogs are returning to their vomit.

  • Smithersjones2013

    The Toxic Tories have gone native

    If as Hague says it is unrealistic for people to expect unilateral agreements with the EU members he it must be only be a matter of time before we lose the rebate for a start and as for remaining outside the Euro after every other nation has joined? Surely that must be a pipe-dream as well

    It’s clear now that Hague, Cameron, Osborne and the rest have been lying for 8 years. They never intended to repatriate powers. The whole thing was a ruse.

    I suggest before we leave the EU we first destroy the Tory party. They of all parties are the most dishonest over this critical issue. The second rule of politics applies:

    You can’t trust the Toxic Tories over Europe”

  • RavenRandom

    Not convinced. Canada is similar in relative size to the US as the UK is to the EU. The Canadians seems to have done well, and are in no hurry to join a North American superstate.
    The UK would be fine outside of the EU. Free trade is all we want, not a parliament, not a court, not unelected presidents.

    • Alexsandr

      well yes
      nothing to stop us forming a customs union with the EU, like the US has done with Canada.

      • HookesLaw

        There are quite a few who have doubts that a simple tarrif agreement has done much for Canada.

        And as this article says, ‘ expectations that Canada would become a magnet for foreign direct investment (FDI) from companies wanting to export into the U.S. market have not materialized. Canada’s share of inward FDI flows to North America dropped from 17% to 13% during 1993-2004. Indeed, the outflow of Canadian direct investment abroad (including to the U.S. and Mexico) exceeded foreign direct investment inflows by one-third during this period.’
        This is the same dubious relationship you espouse with the EU and small Canada’s example of an independent tarrif only relationship with a massive trading block is not a good omen.

        • RavenRandom

          Canadians seem to have no problem with it. Last I looked Canada was reasonably successful economically. Also you need to remember, independence is worth something. So even if they are slightly worse off the Canadians are happy to assert their independence from the USA.
          Incidentally Canada is not that Small, look it up top twenty world economy.

          • Daniel Maris

            Gonna get a lot bigger as well through climate change and/or technological changes which always make cold countries more habitable and productive.

            • Swanky

              Climate change is in the direction of warming? You could have fooled me these past several winters…

          • Tom Tom

            Canada is in big trouble especially in Ontario

    • Tom Tom

      Canada conforms to US dictates with respect to airspace, finance and political alignment. You might look at this article from Jan 2014 with Canadians wanting NAFTA renegotiated

    • Makroon

      The US and Canada speak the same language, have a similar culture and are good chums, the Euro “entity”, on the other hand …….

  • Geronimo Huxley

    It does not appear as if anyone abroad cares what this chap either thinks or says.

    He is a has been – out of a job in a year’s time. Siding with the bankers over bonuses just does not resonate with anybody other than the bankers.

    The people of Europe are sick and tired of what people like him represent.

  • London Calling

    Ah but….the European Union won’t want any reforms….so its in, out shake it all about…….we need to branch out…………:)

  • peterb

    Also the Elephant in the room that nobody wants to address is this. Should Scotland vote to dissolve the Union (Independence) the United Kingdom will no longer exist.

    The reason the Treaties are not fit for purpose is because every treaty signed and ratified is under the legal title of the United Kingdom & Northern Ireland.

    Therefore, Scotland vote yes = UK no longer exists in legal terms and all treaties signed under that legal identity are redundant.

    This is our escape, we can never be referred to as rest of UK or rump of UK. We go back to Kingdom of England & Northern Ireland. (Wales was already part of England at the 1707 union)

    • Pip

      Our only chance of escape from the corrupt Marxist EU is to vote UKIP into power.

    • Denis_Cooper

      Do you really think that Cameron, or subsequently Miliband, would just sit back and watch and do nothing as the day approached when both Scotland and the rest of the UK would accidentally fall out of the EU?

      • peterb

        They have already stated if Scotland vote yes, the others will be. rUK (Rest of UK) this will be challenged through the courts.

        • Denis_Cooper

          That doesn’t answer my question – do you really think that Cameron, or subsequently Miliband, would just sit back and watch and do nothing as the day approached when both Scotland and the rest of the UK would accidentally fall out of the EU? Of course that wouldn’t happen; if the Scots voted for independence then shortly afterwards Cameron would be in Brussels, probably with Salmond in tow, pleading for a treaty to amend the present EU treaties so that when the separation finally occurred both Scotland and the rest of the UK would remain in the EU as two separate member states.

    • Andy

      Not so. The United Kingdom does not dissolve if Scotland decides to leave the union, because that United Kingdom is not merely England and Scotland. There is also such a thing as a successor state in international law. And it could also be argued that nothing changes because all treaties are signed in the name and by the authority of Her Majesty the Queen. You will note that Her Majesty is Queen by right of England and Scotland and that the union of crowns predates the parliamentary union by more than a century.

      • peterb

        It will be challenged as the United Kingdom came out of the Union of the Kingdom of England (Wales) & the Kingdom of Scotland two separate legal entities.

        Yes the Monarch will be the same, but that would mean Australia is a member of the EU. Once Scotland breaks the Union the legal status of the United Kingdom is changed.

        One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of money for the lawyers.

      • Daniel Maris

        Talking a load of tosh as per usual. The personal union of crowns never affects the constitutional position of governed territories unless one changes the constitution. This is a principle understood throughout history. Remember we were governed by Hanoverian Kings for a long time. I don’t think I’ve heard any mention of their Hanoverian doings ever…and I’m reasonably interested in matters historical.

        Russia is not the successor state to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was dissolved. If Scotland leaves the Union dissolves in my view. You can call England and Northern Ireland anything you like including the United Kingdom, but it doesn’t detract from the union of two free states having been dissolved by the departure of one.

        • Swanky

          The Soviet Union was dissolved.
          If only that were really true. Instead we have the former KGB officer, Putin, trying to take Russia back to what it ever was — to wit, a vastly illiberal, authoritarian regime that cares nothing for the rights of the individual.

        • Andy

          You really are an ignorant dimwit. What is or is not a Successor State is covered by the ‘Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect to Treaties’. When the Soviet Union was dissolved, contrary to what you think, the Russian Federation was recognised as the successor state to the USSR because it contained more than 50% of the population and more than 50% of the territory of the former state. Thus Russia acquired the USSR’s seat on the UNSC for example.

          So your view is totally wrong. If Scotland decides to leave the Union because Scotland accounts for about 8% of the UK population the United Kingdom will be deemed to continue in the form of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

          • peterb

            You forget that there is a significant number of Scots born in Scotland living in England.
            Just because they cannot vote, which is wrong, they are still Scots and will have rights to go back.
            Therefore, the breakaway will be larger than 8% then factor in immigrants in UK living in England. Therefore, despite your opinion there will be a challenge

          • Denis_Cooper

            Actually the UK is not a party to that Convention, so it is not relevant.


      • Tom Tom

        She is Queen of Nigeria and Uganda too……..

  • In2minds

    Osborne says –

    ” They didn’t anticipate a European Union where some countries would pursue dramatically deeper integration than others”

    Simply not true. It has always been clear what was going on. The fact is Cameron and Osborne like to pretend otherwise.

    • Pip

      Its a sad state of affairs when our Government not only seem incapable of running the Country but are completely transparent liars too, the architects of the EU and all those who signed up to it have always been fully aware of the agenda, to try and claim otherwise is an insult to our intelligence and just another nail in the proverbial that was the Tory party.

  • Kitty MLB

    So we have Grant Shapps elsewhere bleating on about ‘ The Full Orchestra of Conservatism’- whilst he is totally tone deaf and sings from a different song sheet.
    Now we have George he that was named after the patron saint of England,
    defender of this great land, deficit slayer saying that we are better off staying in a reformed EU.
    That may be your opinion sir and the opinion of the entire political class and the leftie
    dominated establishment in this country- you have already made up your mind,
    so how are we ever going to have a fair debate…
    Oh sorry that depends on you winning an election.
    Also i would rather you not pick ghastly scabs, they will never heal, you
    cannot place a plaster on them, and according to George ‘ we are recovering’
    so therefore its best to stay away from anything that can hinder progress.

  • Alexsandr

    Maybe without the EU we can chuck filth like these out…

  • sfin

    “Osborne said ‘the European treaties are not fit for purpose. They didn’t anticipate a European Union where some countries would pursue dramatically deeper integration than others’.

    Why did successive PMs, of all political colours sign up to them then?
    The underlying theme of every treaty since the formation of the Common Market has been ‘ever closer union’. Every prime minister from McMillan to Cameron has known that unchanging fact – and still, from Heath onwards they sign us up to treaties, giving away more and more powers, which were not theirs to give away in the first place.

    This isn’t about ‘competitiveness’ Mr Osborne – it’s about sovereignty and democratic accountability. We want our country back.

    • Pip

      They are just lying due to the rise of UKIP and anti EU Sentiment amongst the British People, don’t believe a word of it, the only option is for us to leave before the EU collapses but don’t expect Cameron & Co to take us out as they are all bought and paid for by those who control the EU, hence little more than Traitors as is Blair, Miliband & Co. The only choice if we want Liberty and Democracy is to keep voting UKIP until the Establishment chokes on its own deceit.

      • Daniel Maris

        Very true. Not bold enough to stick up for their true beliefs so they lie shamelessly.

    • telemachus

      Ever closer union is what we need
      The world moves on
      Remember Ancient Greece where individual cities warred against each other
      Fast forward to the 20th century when Nation States became all powerful and warred against each other
      The founding fathers of Europe EU said never again
      We joined not just because Heath had bankrupted the UK but to cement peace
      Peace we have
      Peace we must keep
      The best way is an integrated Federal Europe

      • sfin

        It’s a compelling argument and I respect your opinion, but I have seen, first hand, what happens when you force a group of disparate peoples to live together under common governance, in Bosnia and Iraq. First of all democracy is impossible (Enoch Powell was never more right than when he said Europe cannot have democracy because there is no such thing as a European demos), it requires the iron handed dictatorship of a Tito or a Saddam Hussein to force it to work. When that dictatorship fails (as it always, eventually does), bloody war is the result.
        The wars in Europe have come about because one group trying to force integration on another. The EU is trying to achieve exactly the same thing by stealth, salami slicing and politics. The end result will be the same.

        • telemachus

          I fear you are wrong
          The difference of the European project is that by and large the population do understand the need for economies of scale and the maintainance of peace
          Remember this is Christendom

          • Tom Tom

            There is no Christendom in the EU concept or practice, quite the opposite in fact

      • CharlietheChump

        Dear Special Needs Socialist,
        Like the French demanding the last shipment of reperation telegraph poles in the ’30’s, the EU, desperate for control, will lead Europe to inter nation strife.

      • Andy

        You really do talk a lot of bollocks.

        What has kept the Peace in Europe for the last 60+ years is not the EU it is NATO, the US Army and the British Army. We kept the Russians out and the Germans down.

        And do remember, you Fascist moron, that Yugoslavia was a Federation that was forced together without the consent of their peoples. It exploded in a bloody War. And that is what idiots like you will create with your ‘ever closer Union’ cobblers.

        • telemachus

          Do you really think the Krauts would have remained at peace without the restraining force of the EU
          Remember a leopard does not change its spots

          • Tom Tom

            You are a p”llock to use terms like that. Germany lost 5 million dead and had people melted in the fire storms of Hamburg and Dresden. 250,000 men were taken as POWs in Stalingrad and 5000 returned 10 years later. The EU only survives because Germany wants it to… only exists because Germany was forced into it as a price for Re-Armament in 1957 and Convertibility of the D-Mark. The Americans wanted Germany anchored in The West when Khrushchev offered a Unified Germany outside NATO and neutral like Austria which accepted the same deal in 1955. NATO was terrified of losing German manpower and bases

      • RavenRandom

        Clinging to the top post remora boy?

      • Tom Tom

        Remember the League of Nations where the largest world war in history erupted ?

    • HookesLaw

      The principle point is that with a Conservative govt you will get a referenmdum and can decide if any renegotiations or reform or whatever make it worth staying in or not.
      Telemachus tells us what to expect from a Labour govt when he says ‘Ever closer union is what we need … The best way is an integrated Federal Europe’

      • sfin

        I’ve no doubt that you argue from conviction. The problem is that a growing number of people don’t actually care which of the big three win the next election. Whoever is the next prime minister will be a forty something Oxbridge PPE graduate who has done nothing in life, outside of politics leads a social democrat party and believes passionately in the EU project.
        The party, which still calls itself ‘conservative’ is the worst of the lot in my opinion. At least the LDs are open about Europe and Labour are at least transparent in their opposition to the electorate having their say. The ‘conservatives’ have, by far, been the most mendacious on this issue – and in aping their idol Blair (the most despicable individual ever to disgrace the office of prime minister, in my view) they have stuck two fingers up to their core vote. I want to see them utterly destroyed at the next election.
        There is only one truly conservative party left in British politics and it is called UKIP.

        • Tom Tom

          You could change it. You could squeeze your MP with constant meetings of a bloc of voters and make him do his duty to constituents. You could seize control of the agenda in each constituency with an active electorate instead of kindergarten children. That is why it worked BEFORE OMOV

          • sfin

            Good in theory…The problem is the ‘One Man One Vote’. The British aren’t normally given to popular uprising (our uprisings are always carried out by the vocal minority) and the sort of political mendacity, as reported on in this article, is designed to head off any hint of it.
            Remember Cameron’s ‘cast iron pledge’ on a referendum on the Lisbon treaty? This was followed, one year after achieving office by him whipping his party to reject a referendum on Europe
            The principal point is that our establishment – and I include all of the main political parties in this – are completely out of step with the majority of the electorate in being wedded to ‘the project’. Margaret Thatcher was ousted because, towards the end of her premiership, she started to fall in line with her electorate and the likes of Howe, Clarke and Heseltine knifed her for it – no other reason.
            The British electorate will never get a direct say on Europe whilst any of our social democrat parties are in power.
            One Man One Vote – vote UKIP.

      • Tom Tom

        Another who sees “principal” in lack of “principle”

    • Tom Tom

      The US told them to. Foggy Bottom has had a problem since 1944 of how to deal with Europe having stripped Britain of its Empire and Sterling Area and yet keeping the 11 air bases in the UK and control of key nations in Europe.

      The bundling of European States allows the minnows to be kept on board without the whales dominating them. The European movement was funded by MI6 and CIA and the influence of Josef Retinger to bundle Europe for the US

  • AnotherDave

    I find it very encouraging that the Conservatives are being more openly pro-EU.