In his article in the Daily Telegraph today, on the EU, Boris Johnson says, quite rightly, “Look – I hesitate to put it this way but, quite frankly: I told you so.I have been saying for weeks that the sublime instincts of the British people would urge them to vote Tory. Time after time, under pressure from a journalist, I have explained that in the privacy of the voting booth the people would find their hands twitching crablike towards the Tory box and that with a final almost unconscious spasm they would put their cross by the party that offered the best hope of stable economic growth – and powee: look at what has happened.
This has been the most amazing election of modern times; and that is because the rout of the Labour Party and the ruination of the Liberal Democrats have been accompanied by the wholesale and hilarious humiliation of the pundits. The press was wrong, the pollsters were wrong, the pontificators were wrong and – joy of joys – Alastair Campbell has been forced to eat his kilt on live TV.
Why this orgy of error? Almost everyone underestimated the “shy Tories” – the people who secretly agreed with the case that the Conservatives were making, but didn’t want to make a big deal of it. There were millions of people who accepted the thrust of the argument – that you need a strong and dynamic economy to have great public services. They just weren’t sure, when interrogated by pollsters, that they necessarily wanted to be associated with the Conservative Party.
We Conservatives need to reflect on that; we need to show the world that our case is every bit as moral and compassionate as the case for socialism – in fact, that it is more compassionate than socialism. We need our supporters to feel they can be proud and open Tories: that there is no need for shyness at all. We need to show by our good intentions that they can publicly flock to our banner – and not just in Britain. Yes, my friends, there are shy Tories everywhere in the European Union!
What is the number one challenge for this fresh and confident British government? To find allies around the table in Brussels, as we prepare for the reform of the treaties and an in/out referendum in this country. Already we are told by the experts that there is nothing doing, that no one sympathises with Britain – and that we won’t get a sausage, or even a chipolata, from our friends in Brussels. The markets are taking this negative stuff seriously, and learned Financial Times commentators are so scathing about our negotiating abilities that they are warning about the risk of “Brexit” – a popular vote to leave the EU – because we will fail to get the changes we need.
Well, for the sake of their blood pressure and their professional reputations, I urge these pundits to put a sock in it. I have every confidence that our negotiators, led by David Cameron, will be able to achieve a reform that is in the interests not just of Britain but the whole of Europe; and that is because there are so many other EU governments who now agree – shyly, bashfully, discreetly – with so much of what we are saying.
Let’s take immigration, by far the most contentious issue. We are not asking for the drawbridge to be yanked up; we don’t want to expel all hard-working immigrants. We are merely asking for a four-year delay on the payment of benefits to EU migrants – a suggestion that has been greeted with Batemanesque outrage by some Lefty Euro-federalists in the UK. What these British commentators fail to understand is that there are other northern EU governments who also have lavish means-tested benefits systems, and who are worried about the impact of immigration on public services. The Swedes already insist that EU incomers must have health insurance before using the Swedish health care system – a stipulation we have yet to make even in this country.
My point is that we have potential supporters, even among countries that have been traditionally reluctant to be associated with the curmudgeonly British; and as with the shy Tories, they are increasingly with us on the biggest issue of all – the economy. The EU is still a microclimate of gloom, and the best and cheapest way to kickstart growth is to complete the single market.
Indeed, that is how we should present these reforms – as a package to generate jobs and economic confidence: and like the original single market, with its potent 1992 deadline, we should agree the Treaty by 2017, and set a deadline for completion by, say, 2020.
Across Europe we have companies that are failing to expand or invest because they cannot get access to cash or credit, because the banks are still in shock and chronically leery of lending. We need to complete the market in financial services not just because it is massively in the interest of the UK, but because it is in the interest of every European company that needs access to the capital markets to help it grow. Put it like that and we will win our case.
We have support in liberalising energy markets – from the Spanish and now from the eastern Europeans who are nervous of Putin’s grip on gas supplies. We have the backing of almost everyone in feeling that the 48-hour week is absurd in its impact on junior doctors. There are plenty of countries which would like to see the liberalising of the retail sector, especially in Germany. Loads of countries – especially France – can see that it is mad for one rich country to send EU “regional funds” to another rich country, rather than focusing on the truly needy areas. Every government, without exception, will agree to give a greater role to existing national parliaments.
These reforms – completing the Thatcherian vision of the single market – will be good not just for Britain, but for families and businesses across Europe. It is the right way forward for Europe, and never in our lifetimes has a British prime minister had such an opportunity to lead the way. And that is because there are plenty of people in Brussels who agree – however secretly and shyly – with what we are saying.”