Tory Eurosceptic Rebellion is of Cameron's own Making

24/10/2011 00:12 BST | Updated 23/12/2011 10:12 GMT

Economic growth is flatlining, unemployment is rising and inflation has hit five per cent. Up and down the country people are worried about their jobs and their falling living standards. And instead of taking action to fix the economy, the Conservative Prime Minister is bogged down by squabbling from his own MPs demanding a referendum on our membership of the European Union.

This all sounds too familiar. Last time the Conservatives were in power, they tore themselves to pieces over the Maastricht Treaty while the economy crumbled around them. It seems as if the early 1990s are back.

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, could have played politics with this issue and teamed up with the Tory Eurosceptics, but he is a responsible opposition leader. He will lead Labour MPs in standing up for the national interest and rejecting this motion.

In contrast, Cameron has shown weak and irresponsible leadership. Instead of telling the truth about Britain's interests in Europe, he chose to pander to the anti-European wing of his own party in opposition. He won support in the leadership election by cutting ties with moderate Conservatives in the European Parliament and forming an alliance with people Nick Clegg famously described as "nutters, anti-semites and homophobes".

Not once in his time in opposition did Cameron make the pragmatic, pro-European argument he now is making in Government. He has recently repeatedly stressed that our membership of the European Union is in our national interest.

Any serious political leader, when faced with the realities of Government, will recognise that Britain's interests lie firmly in playing a leading role in the EU. Not only do the majority of our exports go to the other 26 member states, but our banks are also heavily exposed to their continental counterparts.

Britain is not in the Eurozone, but is certainly affected by instability there and its collapse would have dire consequences for jobs, businesses and banks.

Were we not in the EU, we would still be affected by its decisions but we would no longer have any say in those decisions. Leaving the EU would drastically reduce our influence in Europe and the world, not enhance it. The government's economic strategy is based to a large extent on export led growth. To cut ourselves off from our largest export market would be an act of extreme ideological folly for which the British people would pay a dreadful price.

There are many areas in which the EU needs reform, such as the Common Agricultural Policy. The single market should be further extended to provide more opportunities for British businesses and jobs. The only way to advocate those reforms is as an active member, not shouting across the Channel as an outsider. By questioning our membership, the Tories are weakening our ability to secure change.

John Major's failure to show leadership over the Maastricht rebels came to define his premiership and he never recovered. Cameron now faces a similar fight with many of his backbenchers and possibly some of his ministers, who want to vote for a referendum on Monday.

Cameron's opportunism in opposition has now left him exposed to his right flank who are already exasperated by what they see as an agenda too heavily influenced by the Liberal Democrats.

By fanning the flames of Euroscepticism in opposition, instead of tackling it head on, Cameron's rhetoric is coming back to haunt him. If he had shown some leadership in opposition, he wouldn't now be in this position.

The Prime Minister is wasting precious time attempting to heal the divisions in his party on Europe. Instead he should be focussing on getting our economy growing again and getting people back to work.