It is unfashionable to quote polls these days but one recent finding went unremarked even though it is remarkable. It showed that only 15 per cent of members of the Conservative Party want to pull out of the EU. From the noise surrounding the debates on the Referendum Bill you might believe that this is a surprise.
In reality the vast majority of Conservatives at all levels of the Party want Britain to stay in a reformed EU. We believe it is now time for the silent Conservative majority to get behind David Cameron and start to make the case for the UK’s continued membership of the EU and the eventual Yes campaign.
Both of us have always supported a constructive and pragmatic approach to engaging with the EU, based on our political experience in the Westminster and European Parliaments. We also have a personal conviction of the need to pursue cool-headed British national interest.
Start with the economy – the single market is worth £12 trillion, some 50 per cent of British foreign trade is with other EU states. Britain benefits with a large number of jobs, often quoted as 3 million, dependant on free access to the single market of 500 million people, and the UK is enjoying free trade agreements negotiated on behalf of the whole union with countries from Colombia to Singapore.
For instance, UK bilateral trade with South Korea has nearly doubled since the EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) came into force in 2011, which belies the myth that the UK’s membership of the EU somehow prevents it from trading with the world. This is not an argument one ever hears in Germany, the premier EU exporter. It is a fact that 28 countries can extract a better deal than the UK acting alone in negotiating such agreements.
The freedom of movement of goods, people, services and capital is an important economic achievement. These EU Treaty rights allow British people to work and study anywhere in the EU, buy second homes or retire in France or Spain, and establish businesses and bid for contracts on a level playing field.
EU membership means an ability to hold British local authorities to account when they breach air quality directives. EU membership means our world-class universities can access Horizon 2020 grants for medical and scientific research on an international collaborative basis, and UK institutions have persistently received the largest share of that fund.
27 million British people visit other EU member states each year, and enjoy many protections while doing so, from capped mobile roaming charges to the freedom to access those countries’ health services through the European Health Insurance Card.
The EU single market law has opened up and deregulated European airspace and entitles passengers to compensation when airlines misbehave. British students have been able to study abroad for the same low university costs as locals and their professional qualifications are now mutually recognised across the EU.
Those who want Britain to leave the EU often cite the romantic alternative world of the USA and Commonwealth ‘Anglosphere’ awaiting to re-embrace the UK once we have left. This is an illusion. Firstly English is a global language no longer owned exclusively by Britain and ironically is the working language of the EU and will remain so even if we depart. Secondly no Commonwealth or American leader has ever advocated Brexit. On the contrary all those we encounter very much hope we remain in the EU as a natural political and economic bridge for them and thus in their own national interests.
How much genuine economic freedom would the UK find outside of the EU? Ask the Swiss or Norwegians who spend hundreds of millions of Euros each year to access the EU single market. Of course we need protection as a country which is not part of the Eurozone. The Chancellor rightly wants to strengthen these protections for our financial services industry as one of the government’s top renegotiation priorities.
Britain has real influence in Brussels. David Cameron, as a re-elected Prime Minister with a strong mandate and personal authority can succeed in renegotiating aspects of the relations the UK has with the EU. We hope for a new accommodation which will achieve the old William Hague Tory slogan: ‘In Europe but not run by Europe’.
Outside observers and Conservatives in this country need to know where the centre of gravity is in the Conservative Party on this issue. We in Conservative European Mainstream represent the bulk of our party’s opinion and instincts on this matter. We will put our case calmly and strongly in the coming months.
Damian Green is the Conservative MP for Ashford. Charles Tannock is a Conservative MEP for London.