Tim Montgomerie has written an astounding piece at Conservative Home, entitled “We need to address the abusive relationship rather than just stop the latest punch from Brussels“. For Tim, like many Tory bloggers, any notion of accurate reporting goes out of the window when it comes to the European Union, and foaming-at-the-mouth prejudice comes to the fore instead.

While I don’t do point by point rebuttals (for these sorts of reasons) very often, I’m going to have a go this time, as there is so much in what Montgomerie has written that’s wide of the mark.

The opening lines – that a 4.9% increase in the budget is unacceptable – is probably about the only thing that’s correct in the piece. There’s no way that is going to actually see the light of day anyway. The figure relates to a proposal for the increase in the 2012 annual budget of the European Union.

It’s worth pointing out that a real-terms (i.e. inflation not included) 1.3% increase between 2011 and 2012 has been known about anyway right since the 2007-2013 financial perspectives were agreed – see table towards the bottom here.

Montgomerie goes on, quoting George Osborne in Metro:

Unfortunately because the last Labour government signed away our veto on budgetary matters, it’s possible we won’t be able to stop all of the increase.

This is not true.

Three treaties – Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon – were agreed during Labour’s time in office, yet the procedure to adopt the annual budget in the Council has remained the same since 1992 and the Treaty of Maastricht – the last Treaty the previous Tory administration signed. This Treaty is only available online in a scanned PDF (huge download here) but the important line is in Article 203 3. and states: “The Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall establish the draft budget and forward it to the European Parliament”. Note the words qualified majority – i.e. not unanimity. So there has been no signing away the veto by Labour – that has been no veto at least since 1992. Unanimity still applies if the UK’s budget rebate were to be amended in future.

Montgomerie again:

a transfer to French hobby farmers, ineffective regional aid programmes and other unaudited EU projects

OK, it’s possible to not like the French agricultural industry, but it’s not as if it is not a professional operation! More on this here – it’s not as if CAP cash ends up in the hands of small ‘hobby’ farmers. Plus the agriculture budget is set already for the period to 2013 anyway. The ineffective and unaudited stuff I’ve dealt with before – EU spending is not perfect, but it’s much less bad than it was, and the UK is no better than anyone else.

Britain is an abusive relationship with Europe. Brussels keeps hitting us with more and more demands.

So Tim, how does all of that sit with Number 10’s very public calls to complete the Single Market? Or is it because you’re annoyed with things like the EU is ticking off the UK about air pollution? There’s a fundamental contradiction here. To make the Single Market work you need rules, and rules that everyone respects. You can’t expect others to open up their markets, liberalise etc., without the UK living with the things that are important to others.

…to get a sense of the real frustration at Europe. Whether it’s the budget, votes-for-prisoners, controlling immigration, protecting the City from dangerous regulation or reviving the UK fishing industry, the EU is a massive problem.

Budget I’ve dealt with above.

Votes for prisoners is the Council of Europe, not the EU, but of course it’s all ‘over the channel’ to a Tory.

Controlling immigration – what’s the problem? Migration from EU countries now shows a downward trend (some stats here), and if the UK were to negotiate limits on EU migration, how would all the Tory voters feel who own homes in France and Spain and would see their movement restricted? Freedom of movement within the EU is here to stay, and even Tory ministers would admit that.

City and regulation – here there might be a point, but as the financial crisis has shown, there’s a determination across Europe to make sure the same thing does not happen again, and no country is immune to the dangers within the European Union where capital can move freely. The problem with the City is that it overplays its hand in Brussels and lobbies in an insensitive manner – the legislation could be shaped in the UK’s interests, and that needs positive engagement, not a bull-in-a-china-shop approach.

Fisheries – Maria Damanaki is doing a better job to reform the Common Fisheries Policy than any of her predecessors, and is making bold efforts to cut down discards. These efforts should be commended, shaped and supported, not berated.

Only when the Tory leadership is seeking a fundamental resetting of Britain’s relationship with the EU will it deserve to be seen as Eurosceptic.

So it’s not even about policy outcomes then – the notion that the UK government’s interests and the EU interest could somehow be aligned. It’s about going to Brussels, fighting, and winning. Very responsible approach to politics, that is. Well done.

2 Comments

  1. david poyser

    Nonsense like Tim Montgomerie is like background noise. And we have allowed it to go unchecked for too long. One day Britain will slip out of the EU and it will be because newspapers, schoolteachers, broadcasters and politicians and others have let this nonsense like this get said – again and again – without checking it. Debate is fine and obviously good, but the UK population having totally the wrong end of the stick on an important issue is scary. Would we accept such a misunderstanding on local government? Equal opps? The Inland Revenue?
    The worst of it all is that Montgomerie himself probably has no idea that he is writing misinformed nonsense.

  2. Tim Montgomerie shows his sense of team play and burden-sharing. Delightful.

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