Opportunistic politics is pushing Britain closer to an EU exit

Writing for The Guardian newspaper, Sajjad warns that opportunistic politics is pushing Britain closer to an EU exit.

The recent European Commission bill for £1.7bn has catalysed more than the usual politicking that the EU debate tends to create.

But this time, we have seen strange bedfellows emerge in Nigel Farage, Ed Balls and Daniel Hannan.  While all three apparently sit on different ends of the political spectrum, they seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet as never before.

project_bed jpeg (2)Of course, the way in which the bill was sprung on the UK was undoubtedly wrong and as described by the PM, was “appalling”. There is good reason to feel aggrieved by the Commissions tactics. But the Prime Minister and Osborne were right to challenge it and fight for the best possible deal for the UK.  Presumably, any party that ultimately believes in the value of Britain’s continued EU membership (as the Labour Party claims to), would have similarly fought for a compromise.

Just days ago Ed Balls suggested the government should consider taking the European Commission to the European Court of Justice should they continue to insist on a December 1st deadline. But Osborne’s success in agreeing an interest-free delayed payment plan, described by BBC’s Brussels correspondent Chris Morris as a success the government could claim, especially given European finance ministers claimed Britain’s entire rebate was threatened if the December deadline was missed, has gone unacknowledged by Ed Balls or his Party.

The entire issue instead appears to have provided an irresistible opportunity to discredit the Conservatives just months before the general election.  Whilst we are well aware of Nigel Farage and UKIP’s motives in using these events to perpetuate a narrative that ultimately ends with Britain’s exit from the EU, the same cannot be said of Labour. To some extent, circumstances have enabled political opportunism and ideological hubris to overlap.

Unfortunately for my political party, the problem is also much closer to home.

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has been vocally critical of the party leadership and clearly seems far more aligned to UKIP messaging then the more nuanced position mainstream parties have taken on the EU.

Hannan was recently one of three Conservative MEPs who voted against the formation of a new European commission in the European parliament. It was an act that was in total defiance of the leadership’s line and undermined Britain’s interests in the EU. The UK will not achieve the concessions it desires from the EU if it continues to treat European institutions as a playground for undermining the EU as a whole.

The need for greater direction and discipline within the Conservative Party will be critical in the run-up to the next elections; particularly given two Tory MPs have already defected to UKIP and questions remain as to what role some Conservatives may have played in this.  Without it, the danger is that Daniel Hannan and company could drag the Conservative party further to the right, leading to the party losing its direction, its moral compass and a balanced perspective on the UK’s engagement with the EU and with it the General Election. We abandon the centre right at our peril.

We are within a European Union that has not yet seen the real change it needs and that many, including myself have been calling for. Instead we see the same EU old guard occupying all the key roles, but we must play the hand that has been dealt to us. Instead of advocating  EU exit, something that would see Britain subjected to many of the same trading regulations should UK-EU trade continue whilst leaving Britain with no say in what those regulations should be, we need to remain a part of the club so we can fight our corner and help shift the EU towards the reform it needs.

The EU backdated bill was unfair and unreasonable and has understandably been criticised. But we should be careful that the issue is not used to propel a populist narrative that creates the mood music for a UK withdrawal from the EU, at least not from Labour and certainly not from within Conservative ranks.

You can read the article as published in the Guardian here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/12/opportunistic-poli…