How do you solve a problem like Europe? Former prime minister Tony Blair has a go, suggesting Britain should lead on reform in Brussels, while current leader David Cameron gets into an EU spat.
Above: Ken Clarke – “Without being unfair to Tony, he’s not as popular as he was”
It is one of the most divisive and politically controversial issues out there: Europe. And if the recent European elections told the mainstream parties anything, it is that the current approach is not working.
The tension was hardly helped over the weekend, when it was reported that Prime Minister David Cameron had said the appointment of one particular candidate to the top job at the European Commission could force the UK out of the union.
Mr Cameron is said to have warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit last week that Britain could leave the EU if federalist Jean-Claude Juncker is handed the job.
A figure from the 80s cannot resolve the problems of the next five years. PM David Cameron (reportedly)
According to Der Spiegel magazine, the premier told his counterpart: “A figure from the 80s cannot resolve the problems of the next five years.”
Downing Street has declined to comment on the contents of the “private conversation”, but Mr Cameron has already made clear his bitter opposition to Mr Juncker’s appointment.
In London on Monday, former British leader Tony Blair – a figure from the 90s at least – became the latest person to propose a way out of the European mess for governments. His intervention prompted some to suggest he was seeking a European role for himself, which he denied.
Mr Blair warned that it would be “complacent and dangerous” to ignore the rise of Eurosceptics like Ukip but said that leaving the EU would be damaging to the British national interest, rather than standing up for Britain. David Cameron has promised an in/out referendum on Europe in 2017 if he remains in No 10.
In a speech at the London Business School, Mr Blair said the recent elections should be a “wake-up call” and proposed reforms to the EU, led by Britain. His proposals appear to come from the “better to be inside the tent…” school of thought.
Mr Blair said: “It is not those who argue that Britain should be in Europe who are at odds with our nation’s history, but those who under a false banner of independence would make this country dependent on global powers and their manoeuvres that we would be powerless to influence or inhibit; who would have us exit from a principal stage of the world, on the grounds that we would be better able to write our own script, when all that would in reality happen is that the stage would remain, the play would continue, the actors would act, but without our participation.
“This is not satisfying our national interest; it is traducing it.”
Mr Blair also tackled immigration, saying it was “dangerous and wrong” of politicians to give people the idea that immigrants were taking their jobs and opportunities, when actually it is the links and connections the UK has with the rest of the world which make it successful as a country.
Ken Clarke, the Tory minister without portfolio, told Channel 4 News (see above) that though Mr Blair is “not as popular as he was”, he did agree with the former prime minister on Europe.