Ukip represent the greatest danger facing the Eurorealist cause within the Conservative Party. Why? Because on their current heading they could deprive the Conservative Party of the marginal seats and votes in Parliament to fend off a Lib-Lab coalition. That would spell the end of Britain's chances of a referendum, of an exit from the EU, or even a renegotiated relationship with Brussels.
I have been opposed to European integration for over two decades - my record is there for all to see in Hansard, my motions and votes, and my pamphlets and books. I have been fighting this cause in order to preserve the right of British voters to govern themselves. This right was paid for in the blood and sweat of those who fought and died for us, and it is a right which I have never taken for granted.
The Bruges Group debate during the Tory Party Conference at Manchester Town Hall presented me with an opportunity to address Ukip's growing attacks on the Conservative Party because I believe the attacks are now a real threat to the Eurorealist cause - and our ability as Eurorealists within the Conservative Party to reverse EU integration and to protect our Westminster democracy.
Ukip may claim that in my two-decade struggle against EU integration, little seems to have been achieved. This is not just inaccurate, but also proves just how misguided and unrealistic Ukip are in their views, goals and understanding of British democracy.
We have already seen the prime minister veto an EU-wide treaty that aimed to tackle the Eurozone crisis. The prime minister also took the crucial step of committing to an EU referendum in 2017. James Wharton, a Conservative MP, came top of a ballot of backbench MPs which entitled him to introduce a Private Member's Bill during the 2013-14 parliamentary session. He chose to address the issue of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. The bill provides for a referendum on the question of "Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?", and would require the in/out referendum to be held before 31 December 2017. This makes the Conservatives the only main political party in the UK to offer an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. We are now intending the repeal of the Human Rights Act - a policy which I put through as Shadow Attorney-General, and which became Conservative Party policy until the Coalition Government in 2010.
The prime minister has already made these concrete steps to combat further Euro-Integration because he democratically consults with committed Conservative backbenchers like myself, who are able to use their influence and weight of numbers to affect policy - in a way that Ukip never will.
Ukip might attempt to argue that they are changing the nature of public discourse on the EU, but it is the Conservative Party that is actively changing Britain's relationship with the EU, and is actually in a position to deliver real change, where Ukip cannot.
It has been pointed out that I share some of the views held by Ukip. This is certainly true - we both champion the cause of British sovereignty, and are fiercely opposed to any further erosion of that sovereignty through EU legislation. But in Ukip, there is a strategy that is not only being wasted, but is actually damaging their own cause.
By eroding the Conservative marginal seats, as I said at the Manchester debate, Ukip are now dangerously threatening our ability to fend off an Ed Miliband Labour government, and the attending EU disaster that that would entail. Ukip are now at about ten per cent in the polls and although, as applied to individual constituencies, this may produce a variable pattern, taking votes from different parties, they have now reached a threshold where about 60 Conservative seats are now severely at risk. In the last General Election, when Ukip had only 3%, they deprived us of over 20 seats. The threat is real; but instead of rejoicing, Ukip should be looking at the cold, hard facts, of what they actually stand to gain.
The simple fact is that under our current voting system Ukip, on any reasonable estimate, will not win a single seat in the House of Commons. Indeed, according to recent surveys, they would need to get at least 20% to get even one MP into the House of Commons. But even if they did, above all and fatally for Ukip, they would not have a majority in the House of Commons to repeal or amend the European Communities Act 1972 itself, or even one European law. Farage, or any prospective Ukip MP, could stand up and sermonise in Parliament, as Farage does in Brussels, and he or she may attract a great deal of press and attention. But in the end, Ukip would find themselves dangerously pointless as a party, seat-less in Parliament, devoid of influence while having been largely responsible for putting a government of Euro-integrationists and federalists into power.
If Conservative Eurorealists (who number in their hundreds) have been fighting this campaign for over two decades, what can Ukip expect to achieve with just one MP?
Ukip have done the Eurorealists some favours: it is now hotly debated in the media, and amongst the British people. This is a positive development, and is a testament to the positive role they can play in protecting our democracy. But if we, as the British people not merely as the Conservative Party, are to succeed in our fight to preserve our sovereignty and to exit the EU, we must be realistic and pragmatic in our approach.
Only a Conservative government will take the steps necessary to get a referendum under way, and to begin the process of a withdrawal from the EU. That is a fact.
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