The debate over Britain in Europe is hampered by unwarranted defeatism, the leader of Britain’s Conservative MEPs told the Conservative party conference.
Speaking in the opening debate on foreign affairs and Europe, Richard Ashworth MEP told delegates: “Labour and the Liberal Democrats think Europe is unreformable so they give IN; they readily accept ever more centralisation.
“UKIP think Europe is unreformable. So they give UP. They want Britain to run away, to surrender, in the mistaken belief that isolation is a substitute for an effective foreign policy.”
But he said running away from problems was neither the British nor the Conservative way. Something Margaret Thatcher proved during the 1970s and something true in the European Union today.
He went on: “We must take the lead and argue our case with confidence and conviction.
“And that’s what the Prime Minister has done. In his speech on Europe earlier this year he set out his vision of a European Union which is ‘more flexible, more adaptable, more open – fit for the challenges of the modern age…a future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part.'”
The speech had echoed Margaret Thatcher’s in Bruges 25 years ago. it had stressed the need for change to keep up in the global race, and history taught that the West was stronger economically when it stood together politically, said Mr Ashworth, Conservative MEP for the South East.
So it was important not to lose sight of the fact that the EU single market, despite all the current difficulties, was still the world’s largest trading bloc. What was more, it was now working with the United States to put together a trans-Atlantic single market.
“So instead of giving in or giving up, instead of having to choose between centralisation or isolation, we should be fighting for change – to create a Europe relentlessly focused on creating prosperity for its people, a Europe that respects the rights of its member states and a Europe that rejoices in the diversity of its cultures.
“And we’re not alone in that fight. Time and again we find there are other member states, states like – Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany -,
all wanting the same change, all sharing the same vision, all on our side.”
He said Conservatives could and would win those arguments for change again, but the Prime Minister could not do it all alone. That was why it was vital to return Conservative MEPs to support him in next year’s European elections.
He concluded: “I am certain that if we work together, this party can rise to the challenge and will deliver that change, deliver the referendum, and deliver for Britain.”