IF David Cameron is to be believed, Britain is better off in Europe – despite the scale of the eurozone financial crisis, the interfering nature of Brussels diktats and the reluctance of successive Prime Ministers to hold a defining “in or out” referendum on this country’s membership of the European Union.
All three issues have the potential to cause lasting damage to Mr Cameron’s Government as he struggles to bridge the gulf that exists between his party’s Eurosceptics MPs and Ministers who believe they are representing mainstream opinion, and the likes of the Liberal Democrats and Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke who refuse to deviate from their pro-European beliefs.
It is task made even more difficult by today’s Open Europe report which reveals the extent to which this region, and other parts of the country, are shrotchanged by the EU – Yorkshire taxpayers receive just £784m for the £2.3bn that they contribute to “structural” funds. Only West Wales and Cornwall are net beneficiaries.
A three to one return, in the EU’s favour, will not find favour in these parts, even in those areas that have been the recipients of European regeneration funds. It is an argument made even more profound by the realisation that Britain is paying £30bn between 2007-13 towards “structural” funds – and receiving just £9bn in return.
In a month when youth unemployment reached a new high, and with Mr Cameron increasingly reliant upon retailers like Asda or the fast food giant McDonald’s to create private sector jobs, just think what could be achieved with this money if Britain was exempt from this financial undertaking? It would certainly go a long way towards building the HS2 high-speed rail line from London to the North.
As such, Open Europe’s critique should serve to remind Mr Cameron that the issue of EU membership will not disappear overnight; he cannot keep saying that now is not the right time to hold a referendum because of the Eurozone’s financial turmoil.
While there is some legitimacy to that argument, the problem is that it will never be the right time to hold such a vote if the issue is left to politicians. And this is why voters remain so suspicious of the PM’s intentions.