The sound of Euro-silence

Phil Parry says the parties have avoided discussion around Europe in the run up to the election.

The one area we have heard almost nothing about at a UK level during this election campaign is Europe. Yet the issue of a referendum on our membership of the EU is of paramount importance and affects Wales perhaps more than any other part of the UK.

The leaders’ TV debate in Wales covered the subject but it needs much more coverage.

For the Tories Europe is a ‘third-rail’ issue – and they leave it well alone.

For Labour the proposed referendum is a ‘distraction’ but best keep quiet about it.

For the Lib Dems continued membership of the European Union is a given, and they assume everyone knows that, so they don’t talk about it.

For Plaid Cymru and the Greens it is important yet they say little about it.

Only UKIP bang on about it, and they are deeply opposed to Britain’s membership of the EU.

Yet a recent CBI survey found that 400 businesses favoured staying in the EU. As Wales is poor we get a lot of money out of being a member. We receive £163 per head compared with £128 per head from the UK Government. According to figures five years ago, Wales stands to lose £207 million in structural funds and £209 million in agricultural funds if Britain leaves.

Those in favour of staying also say it is a fundamental tenet of democracy that the elected Government is allowed to sign treaties. The European Economic Community (as it then was) treaty was signed by an elected Government in 1973 and major changes like Maastricht were ratified by an elected parliament.

On top of that a referendum was held in 1975 which endorsed what had already taken place. For UKIP and others the treaties binding Britain to the EU, and erosion of British sovereignty, are different.

They are so significant that we should leave.

Both are valid arguments, but they should at least be heard.

The promise of a referendum under a Conservative-led Government is not just a gamble to fight off the Tory right-wing; it is an enormously important issue. It has huge ramifications for voters.

The ‘repatriation’ of powers is proving difficult. Many powers are in fact already devolved to EU member states.

I trawled through the party manifestos.

For Labour, Europe is on page 76, behind ‘global challenges’.

The Tories had it on page 64 behind ‘dignity in retirement’.

Plaid Cymru talked about it in Chapter Eight under the heading ‘reform, migration’.

The Greens discussed it on page 31 behind ‘stateless nations and minority languages’.

Even the Lib Dems, perhaps the most traditionally pro-European of them all, talked about “reforming the EU”.

The BBC’s ‘Manifesto Watch’ did not rate giving it a mention. Only UKIP boldly declared a BREXIT with a “roadmap to freedom”.

The media are little better (and I count myself in this criticism). They are obsessed with polling data which puts Labour and the Tories virtually neck and neck, and how the SNP will affect the final outcome.

The questions rarely focus on the party’s attitude to Europe.

It is a bit like a highly-controversial view of Islam.

Some commentators – perhaps Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the most prominent – believe there is something inherent in Islam which tends towards intolerance and violence.This may or may not be true but it should at least be discussed.

Yet the issue is deemed so sensitive it is rarely talked about.

So it is with Europe.

Perhaps we will hear more about it in the final UK leadership debate.

Or perhaps not.

Phil Parry is Editor of the investigative website Wales Eye.

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