Let’s not beat around the bush. The Fresh Start manifesto, launched with huge fanfare by Tory MPs yesterday, is a programme designed to force Britain out of the EU. The list of demands are so utterly unreasonable and unachievable that their purpose can only be to allow the Tories to claim they tried to negotiate and then blame the big bad EU wolf for pushing Britain towards exit. It is a reverse-Wilson; his was a sham renegotiation to stay in, theirs is a sham renegotiation to leave.
The manifesto doesn’t even try to mask its hard-line agenda. For example, it proposes that Britain unilaterally suspends EU legislation on renewable energy and employment legislation. That’s right their ‘negotiating tactic’ is to violate European law. And not in a subtle way either. For employment they propose an act of Parliament which they glibly say should be used as negotiating leverage. You can only imagine how Britain will be viewed by its European and international partners: “Don’t worry US, we’ll sign that agreement with you and no, we won’t flout its terms like we did with the EU, that was a one off, promise”!
The madness doesn’t stop there. On trade, they call for the UK to negotiate trade deals on services which, again, is illegal under EU law. Perhaps most barmy of all is justice measures where they call for the government to opt-out of all legislation enacted since 2009, most of which Tory Ministers agreed to in the first place, including important legislation countering human trafficking.
And the cheek, oh the cheek! Not only do they want wholesale repatriation but they want the EU to dance to their tune by protecting the British rebate, liberalising the service sector and signing free trade deals with any economy under the sun.
These proposals would be laughable were they not being taken seriously amid a general acceptance that ‘something needs to be changed’. There was further evidence of this meek reaction this morning when Ed Milliband waffled on about ‘a more flexible’ but not a ‘looser Europe’. The only dividing line he and Clegg seem willing to draw with the Tories is the European Arrest Warrant where they are happy to play the ‘paedo card’ and sense they are on the right side of the tabloids’ mob-justice mentality.
However, as noted in a previous blog, they must urgently articulate why less tabloid-friendly issues such as EU employment, environmental and financial services legislation are crucial and should not be thrown on the scrapheap. Otherwise, it might not just be the Tories that find themselves committing to a repatriation of powers.