European Commission President José Manuel Barroso will today (20 October) issue a plea to Britain not to isolate itself from Europe by picking fights over immigration, adding that EU membership boosts British international clout.
Britain’s future in the 28-country trading bloc has been thrown into question by Prime Minister David Cameron, who has adopted an increasingly defiant stance on immigration to tackle the threat of the anti-EU UK Independence Party. UKIP’s rising popularity threatens his bid for re-election in 2015.
Barroso, whose ten-year term as head of the EU’s executive body comes to an end next month, issued a warning to Cameron on Sunday against trying to seek changes to the EU’s freedom of movement rules, saying they were essential to the bloc’s internal market.
In a speech due to be delivered today he will go further, saying that by engaging in such rhetoric on immigration, Britain risks isolating itself in Europe and undermining its attempts to achieve wider reforms.
“It would be an historic mistake if on these issues Britain were to continue to alienate its natural allies in central and eastern Europe,” Barroso will say in a speech at London’s Chatham House.
“It is an illusion to believe that space for dialogue can be created if the tone and substance of the arguments you put forward question the very principle at stake and offend fellow member states.”
Under pressure from UKIP and Eurosceptic lawmakers within his own party, Cameron has promised that if he wins the next election he will seek to renegotiate Britain’s European ties and put the new relationship to voters at a referendum by 2017.
Cameron has broadly outlined areas in which he wants to win reform from the EU, such as migration controls, retaining lawmaking powers at a national level, and cutting red-tape for businesses. He has not given specific details however. Other British parties also want reforms, but there is no consensus on a renegotiation strategy.
Barroso will say that while he understands British voters’ concerns over Europe, the country has benefited from having the backing of other EU states on major geopolitical issues such as climate change negotiations and sanctions against Russia.
“In short, could the UK get by without a little help from your friends? My answer is probably not,” he will say.
Last week Cameron, who has long said he would like Britain to stay in a reformed EU, struck a newly Eurosceptic note, warning that his attempt to force reforms would be his last, and acknowledging that it might end in failure.
Barroso will criticise parties across the British establishment for not being straight with voters about the benefits of EU membership, and for not challenging Euroscepticism.
He will urge leaders to start making a positive case for remaining in Europe, or risk losing a potential referendum.
“If people read only negative and often false portrayals in their newspapers from Monday to Saturday, you cannot expect them to nail the European flag on their front door on Sunday,” he will say.
The UK European elections were held the 22 May, coinciding with local elections in England and Northern Ireland.
A total of 73 MEPs were elected. The Conservatives, the party currently in governing coalition with the Liberal Democrats, were pushed into third place for the first time in a European Parliament election, the same position as Labour in the previous 2009 European Parliament election. It was also the first time since 1984 that the largest opposition party failed to win the European Parliament election.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) won 32.88% of the vote and 24 MEP seats. The Labour Party came second with 27.4% of the vote and 20 MEP seats. The Tories came third with 26.03% of the vote and 19 MEP seats. The Green Party of England and Wales obtained 3 MEP seats, the Scottish National Party obtained 2, The Liberal Democrats and four smaller parties obtained one seat each.
A recent opinion poll shows that Support for the anti-EU UK Independence Party hit a record high of 25%.