There is much fretting in the Commons today. Conservative MPs are torn between the demands of party discipline and their higher loyalty to constituents and the country. Many colleagues are wrestling with their consciences.
It’s because at 7pm we’ll be voting on whether to approve an increase in the EU Budget. Not for this year or next year, but for the next 7 years.
This increase would be in line with inflation — some other countries are calling for a real terms increase! — but I have signed an amendment that calls on the Government to demand a reduction in the EU budget.
Only two areas were ringfenced from the current spending cuts: the NHS and foreign aid. The EU is not on the list. Why should it not take its share of austerity? Let’s not forget that because Britain’s public finances are in deficit (thanks to Labour), we borrow and pay interest on the money we give to the EU every year.
After years of rolling over for the EU while in government, the Labour Party are saying they will vote for the reduction. There’s a whiff of opportunism in the air. Knowing that the Coalition could be defeated, no Conservative will enjoy going through the lobby with the spendthrift authors of Britain’s present financial misery. Nevertheless on this occasion Labour are – even if for the wrong reason – helping the Prime Minister. The stronger his parliamentary mandate to demand the EU takes a cut, the stronger his credibility will be at the negotiating table. Other Governments will know the PM cannot deliver a Commons’ majority for a bad deal in the way Balir regularly did.
I think it is simple: given all the difficult decisions being made at home, the European Union must take a spending cut. If Parliament is unable to express that view and if the Government is unable to carry it through, then the case for a referendum on our membership will be ever more clear.