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Reform EU or Britain quits – George Osborne lays down ultimatum | Politics | The Guardian

Reform EU or Britain quits – George Osborne lays down ultimatum | Politics | The Guardian.

George Osborne in Brussels, 2010

The chancellor, George Osborne, at a EU finance ministers’ meeting, in Brussels, three years ago. Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex/

George Osborne will today deliver a stark warning to Britain’s European partners that the UK will leave the EU unless it embarks on whole-scale economic and political reform.

The chancellor’s comments come as the Tory leadership tries to regain the initiative on Europe, after 95 MPs signed a letter calling for the dismantling of the core principles of the EU.

In a speech to a conference organised by the pro-reform Open Europe thinktank and the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs, Osborne will say: “There is a simple choice for Europe: reform or decline. Our determination is clear: to deliver the reform, and then let the people decide.”

Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin won the support of about 100 MPs for a letter to David Cameron calling for the British parliament to be given a veto over all EU laws.

Such a move would dismantle the rules of the European single market which were drawn up by Margaret Thatcher’s ally, Lord Cockfield, to prevent France imposing protectionist measures by denying member states a national veto.

Jenkin suffered a blow when Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Commons Treasury select committee, said he had been wrongly listed as a supporter. But Osborne will make clear that Cameron will push for wide-ranging reforms if he wins the general election next year with a mandate to renegotiate the terms of British membership.

Osborne will tell the conference: “The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn’t come from those who want reform and renegotiation – it comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate.

“It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline.”

Osborne will say the EU suffers from a chronic lack of competitiveness and that the European economy has stalled over the last six years while the Indian economy has grown by a third and the Chinese economy by 50%.

He will say: “Make no mistake, our continent is falling behind. Look at innovation, where Europe’s share of world patent applications nearly halved in the last decade. Look at unemployment, where a quarter of young people looking for work can’t find it. Look at welfare.

“As Angela Merkel has pointed out, Europe accounts for just over 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its economy, and 50% of global social welfare spending. We can’t go on like this.”

Osborne is expected to say that Cameron will press for a realignment of the rules of the single market to ensure the 18 members of the eurozone cannot outvote the 10 EU members, such as Britain, which have not joined the single currency.

Tory divisions will be highlighted at today’s conference as MPs from the Fresh Start group challenge Jenkin’s letter.

Mats Persson, director of Open Europe, said the Tory party risks “becoming its own worst enemy” as the likes of Jenkin table unrealistic demands.

Persson said: “There is a huge debate in Europe about what the EU’s defining mission should be in future – the single market or the euro?

The chancellor should clearly set out that the UK cannot accept an EU dominated by euro countries preoccupied with shoring up their currency at the expense of those who cannot join for democratic reasons. If the EU becomes a political extension of the euro, it’ll be hard for the UK to remain a member.

“As our conference clearly shows, there’s growing momentum for reform across Europe. However, the Tory party risks becoming its own worst enemy when it comes to achieving a new settlement in Europe.”

David Mowat, the Tory MP for Warrington South, who will address the conference, said that the Fresh Start group was proposing a constructive set of proposals to help the prime minister in his negotiations if he won the election. “The letter is a different initiative,” he said.

The Fresh Start group, led by the No 10 policy board member Andrea Leadsom, will focus on three areas of reform at the conference.

The areas include delivering Cameron’s proposal to keep Britain apart from moves to create an “ever closer union” in the EU; completing the single market, especially with services; and delivering William Hague’s plan of bumping up the EU’s “yellow card” system to a “red card” one.

This would mean that a third of national parliaments could block EU laws if they can reach an agreement.

Thatcher had secret plan to use army at height of miners’ strike | Politics | The Guardian

Thatcher had secret plan to use army at height of miners’ strike | Politics | The Guardian.

1984 Miners' Strike at Orgreave

Ranks of police face the picket line at Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham in June 1984. Photograph: Pa/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Margaret Thatcher was secretly preparing to use troops and declare a state of emergency at the height of the miners’ strike – out of fear Britain was going to run out of food and grind to a halt, government papers released today reveal.

The 1984 cabinet papers, released to the National Archives, show that Thatcher asked for contingency plans to be drawn up to use troops to move coal stocks, despite official government policy ruling out the use of service personnel. A plan involving the use of 4,500 service drivers and 1,650 tipper lorries was considered capable of moving 100 kilotonnes a day of coal to the power stations.

A separate contingency plan, codenamed Operation Halberd, to use troops in the event of a dock strike, had also been drawn up.

The files show that there were two moments during the government’s bitter year-long struggle with the miners when Thatcher and her ministers “stared into the abyss” and glimpsed the possibility of defeat.

The first came in July 1984, when Britain’s dockers joined the miners on strike. The Downing Street papers show that Norman Tebbit, then Thatcher’s employment secretary, wrote her a “secret and personal” letter warning that “I do not see that time is on our side”.

In the face of secret estimates that they would run out of coal stocks by mid-January, Tebbit suggested urgent measures be taken, including opening a new front against the rail unions, to win the strike by October.

“In practice, we could not go right up to the brink,” he told her. “I am much concerned that the NUR and Aslef [the rail unions]which are so reducing the transport of coal and coke to the power stations are being carried out at very little cost to the unions, and at no cost to the individuals taking this action,” said Tebbit urging legal injunctions be taken out against them.

The second moment came that October when the combination of doubts about power station stocks and a strike ballot by Nacods, the pit deputies’ union, threatened a total shutdown in British coal production.

The secret list of “worst case” options outlined to Thatcher by Whitehall’s most senior officials included power cuts and even putting British industry on a “three-day week” – a phrase that evoked memories of Edward Heath’s humiliating 1974 defeat by the miners that brought down his government and which must have sent a chill down Thatcher’s spine when she read it.

The Cabinet papers also reflect the violence of the dispute that saw its bloodiest battle between police and flying pickets at Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire in June 1984. They show that in August 1984, the Association of Chief Police Officers told the prime minister that the miners, “frustrated by the failure of mass picketing, are taking to ‘guerrilla warfare’, based on intimidation of individuals and companies”.

They also show that senior Home Office officials shared the popular picket-line view of the Metropolitan police. The Met units sent to the picket lines are described as having been “valued in violent confrontations” but more likely to increase tensions the rest of the time.

The Home Office also told Thatcher that the most notable development in police tactics during the strike – the policy of “stopping and turning back” busloads of flying pickets on the motorways – was not the “unmixed blessing” it had been officially seen as. Officials pointed out that while the police had to know where the pickets were heading to intercept them, once they had turned them back, they had no idea which other picket lines they had gone to join.

The Downing Street papers also provide further confirmation of the role of David Hart, a shadowy old-Etonian, charged with organising and funding the working miners’ anti-strike movement, and nicknamed the “Blue Pimpernel” in Tory circles. Thatcher’s personal diary lists at least three face-to-face meetings with him at Downing Street, and in October 1984 a note on the file shows that he had phoned her in alarm that the press had found out that he had direct access to her. He told her he was “infinitely deniable”.

The papers also show the widely publicised “return to work campaign” was in reality “no more than a trickle” during the first six months of the strike, with no more than 500 going back to the pits in July.

Thatcher’s own handwritten notes on “possible strategies for the coal and docks dispute” paper for the 18 July meeting of Misc 101, the special cabinet committee on coal that she chaired, outlines the details of the plans to use the army. It involved using 2,800 troops in 13 specialist teams that could be used to unload 1,000 tonnes a day at the docks, but would require a declaration of a state of emergency to ensure they had access to the port equipment, such as cranes, that they needed.

The “secret” paper for the meeting spelled out the dangers a week after the dockers had walked out: “The political and economic stake[s] are much higher for the government in the coal dispute than in the docks dispute. Priority should therefore be: end the dock strike as quickly as possible, so that the coal dispute can be played as long as possible,” advised Peter Gregson, head of the Cabinet Office civil contingencies unit.

The agriculture minister, Peggy Fenner, advised that Britain would not run short of food supplies within the next 10 days but panic buying could drastically alter that. There were however looming shortages likely of certain kinds of fruit and veg, bacon, oil and fats and hard wheat.

Gregson added: “Even if no problem over food and oil … serious disruption to industry will soon be felt and there will pressure on government to find a solution.” He reminded Thatcher that troops had not been used to break a dock strike since 1950 and could bring more severe picketing and law-and-order problems.

The prime minister asked the attorney general to advise on how far it was possible to use troops to unload the food imports under a state of emergency even though there was not an immediate threat to the “essentials of life”.

Minutes of the secret cabinet committee, Misc 101, reveal Thatcher and her closest ministers were unsure of what to do: “It was not clear how far a declaration of a state of emergency would be interpreted as a sign of determination by the government or a sign of weakness, nor to what extent to which it would increase docker support for the miners’ strike.”

The armed forces minister, John Stanley, reported that troops could actually be provided on “a considerably larger scale” than the 2,800 in the plan. His pledge was never tested though, for that weekend the dock strike that had paralysed 61 ports for 12 days crumbled and was called off. It was immediately followed by Tebbit’s secret plea for tougher action to bring a swift end to the strike.

But Thatcher met this wobble by calling in Sir Walter Marshall, the head of the Central Electricity Generating Board, who reassured her that the coal stocks were not in danger of running out and that the power stations could be kept going at least until November 1985.

The second “darkest moment” came in October 1984. Thatcher had to contemplate possible power cuts and a three-day week if the threatened strike by Nacods, the pit deputies’ union had gone ahead.

Everything was done to avert that prospect and when it was called off the relief in Downing Street was palpable: “The news was announced this afternoon and represents a massive blow to [Arthur] Scargill,” read the “secret and personal”‘ daily coal report for Wednesday 24 October.

The strike was to drag on to the following March but the struggle had long been lost by then.

George Osborne distances himself from Boris Johnson’s IQ comments | Politics | theguardian.com

George Osborne distances himself from Boris Johnson’s IQ comments | Politics | theguardian.com.

George Osborne on The Andrew Marr show

George Osborne on The Andrew Marr show Photograph: BBC

The chancellor, George Osborne, has distanced himself from Boris Johnson‘s suggestion that some people cannot do well in life because of their low IQ, but agreed with the idea that economic equality is impossible.

Osborne is the first senior Conservative to reject the controversial remarks made last week by the London mayor, who said it was futile to try to end inequality when “16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% have an IQ above 130”.

The chancellor dismissed the language of Johnson, a fellow rival to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader, but suggested there was an element of truth to what he was saying about inequality.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “I wouldn’t have put it like that and I don’t agree with everything he said. Where I think there is increasingly common agreement about across the political spectrum is that you can’t achieve equality of outcome but you should be able to achieve equality of opportunity. You should give everyone wherever they come from the best chance and actually education is the absolute key to this.”

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, told the same programme that Johnson’s remarks were not uncommon in Westminster.

“That idea that greed is good and the poor are poor because they are stupid is pretty outdated set of views and there’s rather too much of those attitudes around in politics,” he said.

Johnson’s highly provocative comments were made during a speech in memory of Margaret Thatcher last week, in which he appeared to mock the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 as he called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130.

“Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% …” he said as he departed from the text of his speech to ask whether anyone in his City audience had a low IQ. To muted laughter he asked: “Over 16% anyone? Put up your hands.” He then resumed his speech to talk about the 2% who have an IQ above 130.

Johnson then told the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank, which helped lay the basis for Thatcherism in the 1970s: “The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.”

Johnson moved to associate himself with what were seen as the excesses of 1980s Thatcherism as he said: “I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

The deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that Johnson’s comment revealed an “unpleasant, careless elitism”.

 

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