Last night the Southend Echo hosted the first in a series of general election hustings for the area, this one for my own constituency of Rochford & Southend East.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it there myself, but my impression from watching the online coverage — and the Echo’s rolling liveblog of the evening is still online should anyone wish to read it — was of a good, if uneventful, evening attended by all five candidates.
One point did catch my interest, tweeted by local radio journalist Tim Gillett, was Tory incumbent James Duddridge’s position on EU membership:
James Duddridge con ppc Rochford&southendeast says he would take Uk out of EU and renegotiate entry
— Tim Gillett (@TGtheradioman) April 7, 2015
Now, at first I simply thought that Tim had simply mistyped, which is easy to do when you’re livetweeting something as fast-paced as a debate. But I’ve had it confirmed to me by other parties who were in attendance that this was indeed what was said. Which is decidedly odd, as Mr Duddridge is a minister in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and ought to know that his proposal is absolutely bonkers.
Conservative policy is for an EU referendum in 2017, on a membership renegotiated by David Cameron (And, presumably, damn the two years of economic chaos which the impending referendum will cause -Ed). James Duddridge’s apparently preferred version is that we leave the EU, and then renegotiate the terms under which we’ll rejoin.
Now, nevermind the immediate confusion here — would there still be a referendum? Would it come before leaving or before rejoining? — there is an alarming amount of naivety inherent in this (You don’t get to be naive about foreign policy when you’re a junior minister in the FCO. From that pulpit, you’re not “naive”, you’re “foolish” -Ed) regarding quite how the renegotiation would work.
I’ve always understood the Tory position being that the threat of the UK leaving was the bargaining tool. If we’ve already left, what bargaining power would we have? Nevermind that leaving and joining the EU are both lengthy and expensive processes anyway, and I can’t see the whole thing taking less than a decade or costing less than a small fortune. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU would cripple our trade potential, and likely see us still subject to EU rules without having a say in what they are.
Does Mr Duddridge really think that we would get a better deal behaving in this manner?
Maybe this is just an act of self-sabotage, from a man who genuinely wants to see the UK enter international isolation. Maybe he’s just not that bright. Maybe he simply misspoke, and meant to spout the approved party policy.
Or maybe he knows something the rest of us don’t about dangerous new Tory plans for the UK’s EU policy.
At the moment, though, it’s clear as mud.