Leader of the Opposition speech to Open Europe
The Leader of the Opposition, Dylan Macmillan, made a speech to Open Europe where he outlined a responsible plan for negotiating with the EU in lieu of a credible plan from the Coalition
When dealing with a competent set of negotiators at the other end of the table it is important that negotiations be focused around achievable goals that work in the mutual interests of all parties. The new government have collectively taken the time to set out an extraordinary wish list of policy proposals and ideas for European reform which should make anyone opposed to ever deeper integration into the European Superstate very nervous indeed, not just because of some of the policies for later down the line but also because of the fundamental misunderstanding betrayed at the heart of the cornerstone policy for this term. When the Coalition 2.0 came up with the statement that they would like to “grant the European Parliament legislative power and primacy” what are they saying? Well the specifics might be hard to nail down since it is a rather empty statement that, while sounding good on a billboard, holds water about as well as the average colander. In Europe they must be chuckling to themselves over this statement because the obvious subtext implicitly put forth, if not explicitly stated, is that they want to see the Commission lose its role as the chief proposer of legislation. This plan may sound like a whole load of “so what?” but it actually has a very important and wide-reaching set of knock-on effects because the Commission does function as the Government of the European Union in many regards, for better or for worse. How many members of the Coalition would be willing to give up control of the House of Commons’ timetable and legislation to the House of Commons itself? I’m willing to wager that the precise number of Ministers who support such a move would be zero.
Of course this doesn’t really matter in the long run because the Coalition’s long term European plan is likely to be far more egregious to the European Union, and to the citizens of the United Kingdom as well I’d imagine. The creation of a US-style Senate would only hasten the creation of a superstate, not only that but it would create an institution in which the United Kingdom had the precise same voting power as Luxembourg or Malta, hardly an attractive proposition to be selling to the people of the United Kingdom at a time when Euroscepticism has arguably never been higher, just ask the people of Thurrock and Shrewsbury. The creation of a single unified President of the Council, Commission, and Parliament would need to see a complete u-turn from Europe on the whole idea of the separation of powers with the Executive and Legislature essentially being merged into one.
So we’ve established that the Coalition’s negotiating priorities are either detrimental to the EU itself, detrimental to the United Kingdom, or unlikely to ever be accepted by the EU28 for a new treaty. I said in my introduction that for credible negotiations to take place the goals must be achievable, this Government’s goals are patently not. The EU is in desperate need of reform, we need to find a common ground between freedom of movement and completely unrestricted health and benefit tourism where for six months an EU citizen may live in any member state and not work, we need to complete the single market and create the conditions necessary for continuing to expand the UK’s capacity to reach new and exciting investment opportunities, and we need to reform the European Parliament, just not in the way that the Coalition 2.0 have suggested.
The European Parliament is in desperate need of a great many reforms, we can start by adopting measures called for by Liberal Democrat, Conservative, and generally eurosceptic voices to end the frankly ludicrous culture of moving the entire entity from Brussels to Strasbourg for a week every month in a manner not dissimilar to a travelling circus. However in terms of substantive reform that will empower the European Parliament what they actually need is the power to debate all topics and all issues affecting the union. At the present time the EU has three different mechanisms for passing legislation, on issues such as fiscal policy like the Tampon Tax the European Parliament doesn’t actually have any power whatsoever, their voting and other such democratic expressions are merely advisory to the Commission and the Council. This special legislative procedure needs writing out of EU treaties immediately so that the Parliament actually has the power to do more than merely express an opinion with all the force of a toothless individual trying to gum their way through granite. Then there’s the slightly less, but still quite, egregious legislative procedure which means that the Parliament cannot amend certain pieces of legislation, it can only accept it or reject it. That may not sound like too big of a deal but in reality it very much is, if Parliamentarians have to choose between rejecting a whole piece of legislation over a single clause or passing it bad clause and all which would you do? Instead of wasting time pontificating about raising the European Parliament above the Council and the Commission as the Coalition are doing we need to actually give the Parliament a leg to stand on, then we can have the discussion about legislative proposals, personally I favour the system we have here in the UK where MEPs would be able to propose legislation in a manner akin to 10 Minute Rule Bills or Private Member’s Bills but such reform proposals should be handled by international consensus. These reforms do not fundamentally overturn the very balance of power within the European Union but they make a meaningful contribution in transforming the European Parliament from a source of intense frustration and frequent comparisons to the talking clock and instead give it a purpose and an ability to stand up for itself under existing frameworks.
Obviously there are other reforms that we can talk about, for the Conservative Party these reforms include protecting and extending national vetoes in both the European Council and the Council of the European Union, vetoes which are already due to expire in some areas by November of this year. But I think everyone here can agree that the three areas of reform I have outlined, and the intricate details of reform I have outlined for the European Parliament, represent a far more credible plan for EU reform which can show the people of this country why the European Union works for them, or can be made to do so if they feel it doesn’t at the present time. The Coalition plan is no doubt well intentioned but it does not address the issues that fundamentally turn Britons to Euroscepticism, we need to address these issues as politicians if we are to win the future in/out referendum that remains Conservative Party policy. Only the Conservative Party have a credible plan to empower the MEPs, reform the European Union, and then give the people a proper vote on this burning constitutional question.
Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire
Leader of the Opposition
Prime Minister (2014)
Parliamentary Experience: Novice (21)
Media Experience: Capable (58)
Policy Experience: Novice (29)
I think this was a pretty effective speech: it effectively balanced your electoral coalition and offered a practical alternative. Practical arguments don't usually cut it on the European question, but I do think this was effective scrutiny the British public will be buying - the Lab-Lib coalition do have a lot to live up to and an ambitious policy agenda. We know ambition can be a two-edged sword, and which edge you fall is depends on whether you live up to your ambition or not.