The Conservatives should reinforce their readiness to quit the European Union by including in their election manifesto a pledge to invoke a clause in the Lisbon Treaty that automatically triggers a two-year negotiation on the terms of a British exit, the former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson will say today in a landmark speech on Britain’s future relationship with Europe. The aim of the negotiation should be to ensure that Britain withdraws from the political aspects of the EU and retains only a free trade arrangement with its continental neighbours.
Invoking Article 50 of the Treaty, the only legally binding path to an EU exit, would enormously strengthen the hand of a future Conservative government in reshaping Britain’s European destiny. The outcome of the talks would then be put to the British people in a referendum in which they would be invited to choose between a “Norway” option of membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) outside the EU or full participation in the European project, which would include joining the euro and signing up to political and economic union.
In his speech to the Business for Britain campaign group at the London headquarters of Policy Exchange, Mr Paterson, who has formed the think-tank UK 2020 to research robust Conservative policies, will say how Britain quits the EU is just as important as why. He will also warn his Eurosceptic allies that he fears that if an In/Out referendum were held shortly after next year’s general election, the establishment, drawing on scare stories such as the potential loss of three million British jobs, would emerge as the likely victor.
On immigration, he will say that to gain real border control, it is necessary not just to quit the EU but to replace the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act with a new British Bill of Rights, which would stop the “absurdity” of Britain not being able to deport asylum seekers because, according to UK judges, France is not a “safe country”.
Mr Paterson also paints a "positive and optimistic picture of a Britain freed from what he calls the constricting embrace of the European Union." Pointing out that many regulatory agreements, covering vital industries such as car manufacture, agricultural trade and financial services, are now reached at a global level, he says that a Britain outside the EU would gain rather than lose influence. For instance, at present, it has one twenty eighth of one seat on the World Trade Organisation because membership is extended to the EU, not Britain.
Mr Paterson will say in his speech that the euro has turned much of the Continent “into an unhappy land of semi-permanent recession”. "We have now come to the fork in the road. The Eurozone has to become, in effect, a new country to make a full redistributive federal state where there are legitimate means of transferring funds from the wealth creating areas such as Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg or Noord-Brabant to places like Andalucía, the Mezzogiorno and the Peloponnese, where it is simply not possible to create wealth at the rate at which their countries joined the euro."
Mr Paterson will continue by setting out a precise mechanism and timetable for quitting the EU while retaining a friendly trading relationship. He will say the answer to this is to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It is the only legally binding mechanism that can be used to require the rest of the EU to enter formal negotiations with us, on setting out a new relationship. It allows two years for negotiations, so there would still be time for a referendum in 2017. This would now be on the outcome of the talks, when the details of the settlement would be known.