David Cameron has beaten Europe at its own game. That makes it worth staying
By William Hague
As all the confusion, delays and dramas of last week's Brussels summit subside, it is worth looking at what happened there in comparison to the innumerable summits of previous decades. This one stands out because David Cameron did something no previous British Prime Minister has ever done: he came back with the European Union less powerful over the affairs of the UK than when he arrived, and left it with considerably weaker prospects of increasing its power in the future.
For decades his predecessors have fought rearguard actions against new powers and rights for the EU. He is the first to have turned the pressure the other way around. Coming on top of his unique achievement of securing an actual reduction in the EU's budget, this entitles him to rather more praise than he often receives.
Few if any European leaders can any longer be under the illusion that Britain can be dragooned into a more centralised Union. And if they ever do return to seeking more powers over the UK in a new Treaty, it has been British law since 2011 that a referendum of the British people - yes, another one - would be required to decide on it. All in all, this Prime Minister has made my own slogan when I was Conservative leader - "In Europe, not run by Europe", a viable possibility in years to come.
Like many Conservatives I could be on either side on 23 June, but what tips me into voting to stay in the EU is partly the opportunity David Cameron has now created, and partly three serious concerns about the effect of a British exit.
The first of these is my strong belief that if the UK leaves the EU, Scotland is much more likely to leave the UK. How would we feel about freeing ourselves from Europe if our own country disintegrated as a result? The only real answer I have heard to this is that the price of oil is too low for Scottish independence. But would anyone bet their house on what the oil price will be in two or three years? It is quite a risk to bet the entire Kingdom on it.
Second, we need some kind of European Union to exist whether we are in it or not. Otherwise, Europe's seething nationalisms and tensions will break loose again, as they did in the Balkans in the 1990s. Britain needs most European countries to be anchored in a formal grouping, for the sake of our own long term peace and security. Departing from it would undoubtedly weaken it, and the ultimate consequences of that are unknowable.
My third concern would be about business. It is now vital that the campaigns to leave the EU set out what sort of arrangement they think we would have instead of membership, for the detail of that is every bit as important as all the details of British membership negotiated last Friday. If we leave the single market, the effect on business confidence and investment would be very damaging. But if we seek to stay in the single market, then that would certainly mean we would have to keep the rules, regulations, payments and freedom of movement of that market. The key difference would be we would no longer have any say over those things.
For these reasons, I come down on the same side as the Prime Minister I was happy to serve with for many years. He is doing the right thing in giving this choice to the people of the country, but he is giving them the right recommendation as well.
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