Too often the UK's political discussion of the European Union is conducted by politicians, on all sides of the debate, whose strong opinions are complemented by an absence of any real understanding of or willingness to engage with the detail of individual EU policy areas. A sterile and noisy debate that ends up characterising people as 'Pro' or 'Anti'. Well today we saw something different - a group of MPs actually engaging with the nitty gritty of the EU's individual policy areas and it makes for interesting reading.
Earlier today the EU Fresh Start Group of around 100 Conservative MPs launched their manifesto - and you can't accuse them of not dealing with the substance. The manifesto sets out a blueprint for a new relationship for Britain within the EU which the group hopes will be taken on as Government or Conservative Party policy. So what does it contain?
Much of what they wish to do can be done within the EU treaties. For instance they wish to see and list significant and specific reforms to areas such as the CAP, CFP, EU budget, regional policy as well as an end to the domestic 'gold-plating' of EU regulation. All this could be done without changing the EU's rulebook. In addition, they have identified five areas where EU treaty change would be required. These are:
- An emergency brake on financial services.
- Devolution of social and employment law to the national level.
- A UK opt-out from policing and criminal justice measures not covered by block opt-out.
- A single market safeguard.
- The abolition of the second European Parliament seat.
There will be the usual refrain that 'none of this is achievable' and 'they will say no'. The truth is that we don't know how much of this will be picked up by the government or eventually accepted. But it's absolutely extraordinary that the same people who used to moan about MPs not engaging with policy on Europe, now complain about Fresh Start conducting the exercise.
Let the best argument win.
What happens now? Well the publication and work is perfectly timed to feed into David Cameron's EU speech to end all EU speeches now due for 18 January in the Netherlands. No 10 today called the Fresh Start contribution "interesting." We will wait and see.
David Cameron with the "Fresh Start" MP Andrea Leadsom