"The obsessive focus by some on the worst aspects of the EU gives the British public a grotesquely distorted view of Europe," is the conclusion of a group of Lib Dem MPs and peers.
Their thoughts on how the public sees the European Union have been revealed in written evidence to a committee of MPs, published on Tuesday afternoon. It reinforces the commonly-held view that the Lib Dems remain the party most enthusiastic towards Europe at Westminster, but it also tells us something of how David Cameron's veto of the EU fiscal compact treaty is viewed by the party.
The MPs write:
Rather than the exercise of a British veto, the December council was a decision by the rest of the EU to walk away from the UK and carry on with their negotiation in a different room. The key danger now is that the questionmark over Britain’s future place in Europe becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as other member states start to overlook UK interests.
While the Lib Dem parliamentarians acknowledge that the EU is "not perfect" and requires reform, they claim that: "The vast majority of MPs have little or no engagement with substantive EU matters at all. The level of understanding of how the EU operates and Britain’s role within it is staggeringly low and the awareness of EU policy developments practically non-existent."
In excercising his veto the Lib Dems say David Cameron "broke the number one rule that has guided British policy on Europe for decades: that we should always seek to exert maximum British influence on decision-making inside the Union. And, far from protecting the City of London, it actually put the City’s interests, and broader British interests, more at risk not less."
The Lib Dem international affairs committee is chaired by Martin Horwood MP, who replaced Tim Farron last year.
Similar criticisms are found in seperate evidence to the committee from Lib Dem MEPs, who write: "We are gravely concerned about the state of British European policy which we find too often to be driven by short-termism and partisan and populist pressures, managed by a declining diplomatic force, and guided by no sense of strategic direction."
Their views are echoed by Robin Niblet, the director of the influential think-tank Chatham House, who argues that rather than withdrawing from the EU or standing on the sidelines, Britain should make the most of its full membership of the EU. He writes: "This represents the best choice for the UK, in light of both the compelling economic case and the strategic realities inside and outside the EU."
The criticisms by Lib Dems in Parliament are arguably the strongest-worded public comments about Britain's european policies since the Prime Minister exercised the veto in December. Nick Clegg is on-record as saying he thought veto was "bad for Britain", but the reference to "no sense of strategic direction" suggests the Lib Dems remain very unhappy bedfellows with the Tories when it comes to Europe, among many other things.