Not that it’s a great surprise, but Liam Fox has come out as an out-er – i.e., he’d vote to leave the European Union if it cannot be reformed. He has hinted at this before, writing that the idea of leaving the EU “holds no terror” for him but on Sunday Politics he explicitly told Andrew Neil that he’d prefer independence to the status quo. Once, that would made Fox a minority voice but now it’s the mainstream position – and one shared, I suspect, by at least a dozen of his Cabinet colleagues who have no yet gone on the record.
If you’re happy with Britain’s EU membership, you occupy a fringe position in British politics. And you want to keep the status quo, Fox said with a not-entirely-respectful chuckle, ‘vote Liberal Democrat’. And then:-
Andrew Neil: “If we don’t as a country get a major repatriation package and that – roughly – the status quo was roughly on offer, would you vote to leave?”
Liam Fox: “If the choice for me was between going in the current direction – which, let’s face it, is towards ever-closer and ultimately a greater and greater loss of British sovereignty, then personal preference would be to leave. I don’t want to have ever-closer union, I don’t want to be European first and British second.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if, tomorrow, some newspapers write this up as the ‘Tory right’ putting pressure on David Cameron and going off on a tangent. But this isn’t about Tories, not any more. It’s about the basic fact that there’s only so long you can keep a democracy in a union against its will. The below (from an excellent Citi research note on ‘Brexit’) shows an opinion poll taken not by UKIP but by the European Commission – the largest poll in the world – asking people if they’d be better off out of the EU.
This shows that no one – not the sado-austerity suffering Greeks nor the technocrat-led Italians – wants out of the EU more than the Brits. This is not (take note, BBC) about a Tory leader trying to assuage a wing of his party – you simply can’t be in the game of democratic politics and ignore this. Ed Miliband should have a long, hard look at the above graph. Because a good chunk, perhaps most, of his target voters won’t like our current EU relationship any more than Liam Fox does.