The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Why the EU debate still matters

Speaking to the Bruges Group in Bournemouth, John Redwood said:

The Rt Hon. John Redwood MP

“Iain Duncan Smith has shown over the last year that we Conservatives are interested in many issues besides Europe. He was right to do so. We have always been a great national party, with views on all the main issues. We recognise that what matters to people most are those things that affect their daily lives: schools, hospitals, transport and law and order and we have plenty to say about them.

...we need to remind our core supporters that we have not forgotten their concern with the way our democracy is being replaced by European bureaucracy in so many areas

“Now we need to remind our core supporters that we have not forgotten their concern with the way our democracy is being replaced by European bureaucracy in so many areas. It is now our duty, as a broad-minded national party that aspires to govern, to explain why Europe matters in our daily lives and our contemporary pre-occupations.

“Europe is no longer one subject among many. It’s not a specialist subject for political junkies. It’s too central to everything else to leave it to a couple of dedicated bands of Eurosceptics and Euro-enthusiasts.

“My constituents have in recent months been very concerned about world poverty and the response of the West to the conference on global development and the environment. They are right to be concerned.

“Most agree, whatever their party political position, that the West can and should open its agricultural markets more fully to the products of the poorer countries of the globe. They are agricultural societies that need our markets more than our charity. The answer to this need lies in reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. It requires negotiation and agreement in Brussels. It is not something we can do for ourselves in our own democracy.

“My constituents have been agitated by the very poor public transport systems in the UK. They need to know that solutions require the UK to live under European law on railway safety and organisation. Our main schemes have to be notified to Brussels to help their policy of Trans European networks.

“My constituents are worried about whether we will go to war with Iraq. They would like a UN solution, and are perplexed by the disagreement between France and the UK, both members of the EU and of the Security Council, over how to proceed. They would, on balance, like to keep control over our own foreign policy and not strengthen the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. But they would also like us to have more influence with France at this crucial time, so we could reach a common accord quickly through the UN.

“My constituents are alarmed by the huge increase in business regulation, at a time when it is becoming more and more difficult to run a profitable business for a variety of reasons. They know that much of that regulation comes from Brussels. It is not in any party’s power in the UK to reverse it without the agreement of many other states.

“Sometimes when I have to write to a constituent to explain that the UK has no power to act alone to tackle the problem they face, the constituent writes back an offended letter, asking how it can be so.

“Now that the Conservative Opposition have shown that we understand the problems facing the country in public services, it is time to highlight how Brussels is very much part of the story. To show how so many of the everyday issues that people want their government to tackle are directly affected by EU laws and directives. We need to convince people to stifle their yawns and give them the background to the big constitutional debate now underway, so they can understand its significance to their daily lives.

“The issue is simple. Do we want more areas of our daily lives where there can be no British democratic solution – as with farming and fishing? Or do we want to hold the line, so we can still decide for ourselves whether to go to war, what interest rates to charge on our mortgages, and what sentences to impose for various misdemeanours?

“In many cases, it is not a question of whether the British government of the day wants to change the law but whether they are able. The Labour government shies away from this debate because they know they cannot win it. The Conservatives have a duty to explain the realities to the electorate – a duty to provide substance not spin, reality not rhetoric. It is an argument we can and must win.”