Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

At Last, Britain Is Having an Honest Debate about Europe

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

At Last, Britain Is Having an Honest Debate about Europe

Article excerpt

Both Labour and the Conservatives began this parliament intending to say as little about Europe as possible. Hemmed in by his Europhobic backbenchers on one side and the Europhile Liberal Democrats on the other, David Cameron made few commitments beyond the promise of a referendum on any future transfer of power to Brussels. Similarly, Labour, which has its own small but significant Eurosceptic wing, had no desire to reopen the debate about integration. But events, dear boy, events have intervened.

The turmoil in the eurozone has forced politicians of all parties to begin a more honest debate about the costs and benefits of Britain's membership of the EU. In the past week there have been thoughtful contributions from Mr Cameron, the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, and the former foreign secretary David Miliband, writing in the Financial Times. A necessary preliminary to any discussion of Europe is the acknowledgement that the EU, formerly the European Community, has been a remarkable force for good. It has brought peace to a continent once ravaged by war, transformed eastern Europe and the former Mediterranean dictatorships, and vastly expanded trade and prosperity.

In his 14 November speech to Baltic and Nordic ambassadors, however, Mr Alexander was right to steer Labour away from the wilder shores of Blairite Europhilia. He was also right to declare that joining the euro is not on his party's agenda. The New Statesman has been consistently opposed to British membership of the single currency. At the time of its creation, we warned that monetary union would be economically defective without fiscal union, and politically defective without greater democracy and transparency. The Conservatives, in the person of William Hague, have sought to take retrospective credit for the decision to retain the pound, but the praise belongs to Gordon Brown and Ed Balls. …

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