Now that Brexit is done, our focus must be to forge a new special relationship with Europe
A ‘European Britain’, engaged in Europe, enjoying strong, strategic relationships with its neighbours and allies is an integral and essential element of Global Britain, write David Lidington and Stephen Hammond MP. | PA Images
The Conservative European Forum will advocate for close strategic partnerships with our European allies, grounded in our common values and shared interests.
Brexit is done and it’s now over a year since the UK ceased being a member of the EU. We wish to begin by stating that we welcomed the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), which put the concern to avoid a no-deal cliff edge well and truly behind us.
The UK-EU trade deal should not be viewed as an end, but as the beginning of a new chapter in the history of UK-European relations. Talk of a rejoin movement is nonsense, there is no appetite for it. Now we are fully out of the EU, when arguments for close strategic partnerships are made, no-one should be alarmed, or make false accusations, about Brexit being ‘betrayed’.
The labels of ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ no longer serve a purpose, except to sow further division at a time when we must come together. The critical question facing both the UK and Europe is what kind of relationship we want to build over the next five to ten years. A ‘European Britain’, engaged in Europe, enjoying strong, strategic relationships with its neighbours and allies is an integral and essential element of Global Britain – not an alternative to it.
The Conservative Group for Europe must now change focus, priorities and mission. After all, to be a Conservative means to be pragmatic and to adapt to changing realities. Last Thursday, we launched the Conservative European Forum (CEF), to help build a new relationship between a UK, outside of the EU, and the democracies of Europe.
Issues that mattered whilst the UK was in the EU still matter and require engagement with Europe from a right of centre perspective
At the launch of CEF, we outlined three key objectives. First, the organisation will advocate within the Conservative Party and the wider conservative family for close strategic partnerships with our European allies, grounded in our common values and shared interests.
Secondly, CEF aims to become a thought leading centre-right organisation, putting forward positive and constructive proposals for mutually beneficial cooperation between the UK and our European partners including the EU. Issues that mattered whilst the UK was in the EU still matter and require engagement with Europe from a right of centre perspective.
Thirdly, CEF is uniquely placed to help rebuild trust between the Conservative Party and the mainstream centre-right parties of Europe. We share many common principles and beliefs. By coming together and cooperating, the European centre-right can learn from each other’s experiences and how best to advance our agenda to make all our countries, safer, more prosperous and more influential.
We know that the institutions of the EU are not perfect. However, bilateral working with EU members states will not be enough. The EU treaties give the Union the legal authority to act on the behalf of all Member States. The TCA establishes an EU/UK Partnership Council, together with 16 committees and four working groups to covering a range of issues. To ensure the agreement works smoothly, the UK must engage constructively with the EU institutions. This is a political reality and whatever one’s opinion of the EU, it is part of the world order.
There will be some who will question whether there is any point in us pushing these arguments and launching CEF. However, whether they voted Remain or Leave, many Conservative supporters favour developing UK-European cooperation. In 2019, a fifth of the Conservative vote came from people who had voted to remain. Without that support we would not have a Conservative government in office. CEF will be their voice in the Conservative family.
In the coming months, we will be working to ensure CEF builds support within Parliament and the wider Conservative Party for developing close future partnerships between the UK and Europe.
At the launch of CEF, we said we believe it is our national interest to establish a new “special relationship” with the democracies of Europe and a powerful centre right voice across the continent. And for every Conservative it is the national interest that should come first.
David Lidington is the former the MP for Aylesbury. Stephen Hammond is the MP for Wimbledon. They are chair and deputy chair of the Conservative European Forum (CEF).