Have you noticed that Britain’s future in the EU has been in the news recently?
David Cameron’s speech on the subject says that if he is Prime Minister after the next General Election then he’s going to ask us all whether we want to stay in the EU. I can tell him my answer now – I do.
Now that isn’t because the EU is perfect – it is a long way from that. And I am quite happy that the UK renegotiates a few bits of the EU deal to make it better, but it would be madness to be isolated from our nearest geographical, cultural and economic partners.
But in any case, all of this is moot until David Cameron emerges triumphant from the next General Election and the current Betfair odds are that Labour is the favourite to gain an overall majority at around 5/4 with ‘no party having an overall majority’ at around 7/4. A Conservative majority is at odds of longer than 7/2. In other words, there is less than a one in four chance, at present, as judged by the weight of money, that David Cameron will be able to give us a choice on Europe.
In fact, all this posturing on the EU is far more about what happens on 7 May 2015 than afterwards. Cameron’s position on the EU is more about fighting the UKIP threat to Tory votes (including the threat of MP defections to UKIP) and clinging to the chance of retaining ‘power’ than it is about getting a better deal for us all.
It’s well worth reading the text of the Prime Minister’s speech. It’s not an anti-EU speech, on the whole but it is not an inspiring one either.
Cameron points out that the EU has worked in many ways – big ways – and has become a force for good in the world. His concerns are about how the EU works, and how it works for a rather narrowly-drawn definition of prosperity – economic prosperity. This speech is Cameron’s ‘Ask not what the UK can do in the EU but what the EU can do for us’ speech. It’s a speech of self-interest and what he calls a ‘practical’ approach. Cameron is keen to say that he is not un-European and not a British isolationist because you could well get the impression that he might be.
The environment crops up in his speech only as a problem in keeping with the Osborne line on the environment as follows ‘we need to examine whether the balance is right in so many areas where the European Union has legislated including on the environment, social affairs and crime‘. I cannot speak for social affairs and crime but the EU has done a good job, particularly in the past, on the environment. And it’s important to have EU-wide environment legislation for two main reasons – to improve the environment for EU citizens and to provide a level playing field for EU businesses.
The current EU legislation, in which the UK has a full say, of course, is the type of protection that we need against an environmentally illiterate government like that of Cameron and Osborne. Without the backstop of the EU then this lot would be wreaking even more damage to the natural world in the name of economic progress. And we in the UK face an environmental deficit compared with most of our EU partners. We are not living in a wildlife-rich land – we have natural austerity compared with most EU countries.
But Cameron is clearly aware of the weakness of his line on the environment. Different environmental legislation across EU countries would impose different obligations on EU businesses – a non-level playing field. Business is always calling for a level playing field and certainty in order to plan for future investments. Cameron’s line on an in-out EU referendum removes the certainty and if we were to leave the EU then it would presumably be to reduce environmental protection rather than to increase it. If the PM were on an environmental crusade I’m sure he would have mentioned it. And that’s why Cameron says there’s no need for an ‘infinitely level playing field’. Well Mr Cameron, do you want a level playing field or not? Business needs and has got a level playing field – what are your aims? Haven’t you got a poorly thought through and poorly justified hankering after removing environmental protection because you still hold to the Osborne line that environmental protection is holding back recovery. If so, you are absolutely bonkers.
It’s tempting to look to our future in Europe but from an environmental perspective we need a green government here first – and we certainly don’t have one. We all get the chance to choose on that front on 7 May 2015.