So farewell then, Jose Manuel Barroso. The outgoing EU Commission president’s valedictory tour of our TV screens has underlined one inescapable fact: Europe’s bureaucrats are much too bossy, interfering and out of touch. They need to wake up and smell the coffee.
I wish Barroso a long and peaceful retirement. But let me gently remind him that our Prime Minister doesn’t answer to him, or to the European Commission. Our Prime Minister has only one boss. That boss is the British people. So if the British people want greater control over our borders and a say on Europe, that is what our Prime Minister will fight for. No ifs. No buts.
Barroso made a whistle-stop tour of London’s media outlets this weekend, and he made a number of outlandish claims. Let me tackle them head-on. Most alarmingly, he suggested that Britain would risk losing its global influence and status on the world stage if we give the public a say on EU membership.
My answer is simple. First, democracy isn’t optional. It isn’t an afterthought. The terms of our EU membership have been a disputed question in our politics for decades. Knock on any door, in any town, and you will hear it for yourself. Millions of people aren’t happy with the status quo in Europe. They think the EU wastes too much of their money.
They want more control over our borders. And they want a say. General elections haven’t settled this debate – it has rumbled on for decades. So a popular vote is the only way to settle it, after we have had one last go at renegotiating. Our Prime Minister is committed to a proper renegotiation, and then an in/out referendum before the end of 2017.
Second, Britain’s influence is growing in the world, not shrinking. Our country is now the fastest growing major economy in the world. We are on track to be the second largest economy in Europe. We have created more jobs domestically since the last general election than the entire EU has managed together. This hasn’t happened by accident, either. It is because we have had a Conservative-led government working through our long-term plan: building a healthier and more competitive economy, where more people have the reward of a meaningful job and a decent standard of living.
Bluntly, when the crunch came, other European governments failed the test. Close your eyes, and you can probably still picture those terrible scenes from the 2008 crash. The record deficit. The jobs lost. The homes repossessed. Labour presided over our worst recession in 100 years. And sadly, we do not have to look too far overseas to see the damage still being wrought by the “Ed Miliband doctrine” of more wasteful spending, borrowing, and taxes. Other countries have not gripped their deficits. They have lacked fiscal discipline, and their people are still paying the price.
Here in Britain we took the more difficult and politically painful path. We have tried to live more frugally and within our means.
The IMF, in its recent reports, points to the UK as a model of stability and fiscal responsibility. Barroso states on his own EU website that one of his central aims in office has been to help the Eurozone to “make a successful exit from the crisis”. This is a noble aim. But the Eurozone crisis lingers on, even as he departs.
The bottom line is that Conservatives have always secured what Britain needs in Europe. And naysayers like Barroso have always insisted, in advance, that it would be impossible. So his lecture should actually give us some hope. Margaret Thatcher extracted our precious rebate from the claws of Brussels, you will remember.
Likewise, David Cameron has already cut the EU budget, vetoed a treaty that would have harmed our national interests, and got us out of the expensive Eurozone bailout fund. The list goes on.
All these things were impossible, they said. But they are all things delivered by Cameron. In fact, if you think back over the last four years, we’ve spent a lot of time delivering things that many Eurocrats insisted were absolutely impossible at the time. Barroso’s claims are just the latest example.