A caucus of eurosceptic Conservative MPs has issued a manifesto today (16 January), two days before Prime Minister David Cameron is set to make a landmark speech on Europe, stating that “the status quo is no longer an option” and demanding “a new and different relationship” with the European Union.
The Fresh Start group of Conservative backbenchers – numbering nearly 100 of the party’s 304 deputies – sets out proposals to repatriate legislative powers to the UK and cut Britain’s bill for EU membership by billions of pounds a year.
Cameron will outline his vision for Britain’s future in the EU in his long-awaited speech in Amsterdam on Friday (18 January). He is expected to set out plans to renegotiate the country’s relationship with Europe which will then be the subject of a referendum, probably in 2018.
The Fresh Start manifesto recommends four significant revisions to the EU treaties including the repatriation of all social and employment laws, such as the Working Time Directive; an opt-out from all existing policing and criminal justice measures; an “emergency brake” on any new legislation that affects financial services; and an end to the European Parliament’s monthly move from Brussels to Strasbourg.
Threat to withhold funding
The MPs also raised the possibility of the UK withholding funds for EU development schemes if these were not reformed, to force a "meaningful negotiation" on budgetary priorities.
"Events in Europe mean that the way the EU operates is bound to change significantly," they said.
"Over the coming years, there will be a series of opportunities for the UK to take back power from Brussels. This is the perfect chance for us to negotiate a radically different relationship with the EU, one which properly serves Britain's interests.
In an interview with EurActiv, Dominic Raab, a leading member of the Fresh Start Group – and author of the manifesto’s chapter on justice and home affairs – said: “We would like to be good, strong operational partners in Europe but that shouldn’t mean… to cede democratic control.”
US input dismissed
Raab said that he favoured a “referendum sandwich” for the UK, meaning that there should be two referendums: one to validate the bargaining position of the UK in Europe and a second to validate the negotiation.
He resisted criticism of the UK eurosceptics from US quarters, claiming that the US will become increasingly disinterested in Europe as it pushes for a more Asia Pacific focus.
“I think the europhiles and eurosceptics would both agree that the US does not really understand what exactly is happening in the EU. The more federalist and centralised the EU becomes the more the UK’s role will be eroded,” Raab said.
The Fresh Start manifesto is likely to put pressure on Cameron but also increase tension within the Conservative Party, where moderates still favour heavier engagement with the EU.
„The European Union shouldn't cave into Great Britain's blackmailing", said Jo Leinen from the Socialists & Democrats group, in the run-up to Prime Minister David Cameron's speech about the UK's future relationship to the EU.
"We can't allow cherry-picking by one member state at the expense of the others. The United Kingdom must decide if it wants to stay a full member of the EU or prefers a privileged partnership outside the Union."
18 Jan.: British Prime Minister David Cameron to deliver landmark speech on EU-UK relations