Wednesday, June 02, 2004
What Howard did not say

Howard's speech in Southampton is finally up on the web. Quite hard hitting, although if you've paid any attention to the campaign there are few overt surprises.

There are the attacks on UKIP, now seen as a significant opponent:

At one extreme there are the candidates from the UK Independence Party. They represent a party that wants to pull out of the European Union altogether. They have frequently failed to vote in the European Parliament on issues that are vital to Britain.


But the fringes at both ends of the European debate are united in one thing. Both give the British people the defeatist message that we cannot have a flexible Europe. They argue that we have to put up with what we are given or leave altogether. Both sides peddle this myth for their own political ends. And they are both wrong.

Some say "that sort of Europe is not on offer". I reject that defeatism. It is on offer from the Conservative Party. And it makes sense - not only for countries like Britain who do not want to transfer any more power to the EU. But also for those countries who want to integrate more closely but feel held back by other member states.


And let me make this clear. Only the Conservative Party can deliver this Europe. Not the Labour Party. Not the Lib-Dems. No other party.

There is the affirmation (or admissions) of the Conservative's pro-EU past:

We have always supported Britain's membership of the European Union. But we have also always been prepared to stand up for Britain's interests in Europe.

And there is the future - probably unattainable - view of a flexible Europe which the Tories want to remain a part of - just like most voters do:

I want to build a Europe of nation states. I do not want to build a nation called Europe.


Saying ‘no' doesn't mean we must leave the EU – just as we can say ‘no' to the Euro without leaving the EU.


We want to create a more flexible Europe. Individual countries should be free to integrate more closely if they want to, so long as they do not force other countries to follow them. And, in the light of experience, we should look at taking back powers from Europe that would be better exercised at a national level here in Britain – and in other countries too.


Britain's interests are best served by staying in Europe - but by using our influence to make the EU confront its failings and become more tolerant. That is what the mainstream majority in Britain want - and that is what a Conservative Government will give them.


So what was missing? In the whole speech there's not one mention of Britain remaining in Europe for ever under any circumstances. There's no mention of the idea that a Conservative government would "never" contemplate withdrawal. Howard, it seems, has untied his hands.

The ball is now in UKIP's court. This election gives them the golden opportunity to ask the Conservatives if they still would "never" leave the European Union, under any circumstances. An evasion of the question would be one of the most significant steps to withdrawal that Britain has ever made.


Post a Comment

Blog Archive