In 1975 I campaigned and voted to leave the Common Market. My attitude to the European Union has not altered a great deal over the years – as regular readers of this column will be aware. I do believe however, that David Cameron has earned the right to be trusted in re-negotiating our EU membership. As Leader of the Opposition he withdrew his members of the European Parliament from the federalist European Peoples’ Party and instead created a new Eurosceptic block. When he got into government he became the first Prime Minister ever to repatriate powers from the EU: First by withdrawing UK from the Euro bail-out mechanism that the previous government had signed-up to; and second, by leaving scores of Justice and Home Affairs arrangements that we had previously opted into. He is the only UK prime minister ever to veto an EU treaty, and the only one ever to secure a cut in the EU budget. He enacted the Referendums Act which requires a referendum every time that powers are ceded to the EU, and now he is implementing his election promise to re-negotiate the terms of our EU membership and delivering the In / out referendum, that his opponents said would never happen.
Given this record, I believe that I owe it to the Prime Minister to wait and see what his negotiations achieve, before coming to a decision about how to campaign and vote in the referendum. Many constituents however, have already made up their minds and write to tell me as much. Overwhelmingly my correspondents are in favour of leaving, but this week I had my first letter from an outraged EU enthusiast. His beef was that the PM’s investment in trying to negotiate us out of the aspiration to ‘ever closer union’ was the height of gesture politics, and is of no substance whatsoever. I disagree profoundly. The objective of ever closer union, which is central to the Treaty of Rome – the initial founding treaty, informs the judgement of the European Court of Justice that determines the interpretation of EU law and all of our disputes with it. Dispensing with a UK commitment to ever closer union would be a very significant departure. It would mean that, whatever speed the rest may choose to go at, we would no longer have join them at their destination, or even go in their direction.