WITH Euro elections just around the corner, debate has once again returned to the EU and Britain's role in Europe. If the pollsters are to be believed, UKIP will do well. It is a debate I have always followed closely. I first got involved in politics campaigning for James Goldsmith's Referendum Party in 1997. I then stood as a UKIP candidate in the 1999 Euro elections and, after leaving them, went on to spend four years campaigning for the anti-euro No Campaign, which derailed Tony Blair's ambitions to force Britain into the euro.
I left UKIP after about six months because I actually thought they were too defeatist about the prospects of changing our relationship with Europe and because their activity often undermined the cause they claimed to believe in.
For instance, in the euro debate, they insisted on claiming that it was impossible to keep the pound but stay in the EU. It was exactly the same argument that was being used by the campaign to abolish the pound and, after ten years being in the EU while happily maintaining our own currency, we now know that UKIP were wrong. Ironically, UKIP still have the pound sign as part of their logo even though they were a counter-productive liability to the anti-euro campaign.
Today, the same sorts of people who said we couldn't keep the pound and stay in the EU are saying that it is impossible to renegotiate our relationship with the EU. I disagree. Britain was one of the early members of the EU and is still one of its largest. It's our EU too and if we want to change it then it can be changed. We have global reach when it comes to diplomatic ties and we are an important market for Europe just as they are for us. They want us to stay and will accommodate our needs because the rest of Europe would be hugely diminished without the power and influence that Britain brings to the table.
Two years ago I founded the Fresh Start Group of MPs which argued for a renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU and the return of some powers. It is a view shared by David Cameron who took up the idea in a landmark speech at the beginning of last year. In it he pledged to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU and then have a referendum so that the people could decide whether to stay in or not. It was the most important speech any Prime Minister has given on Europe since we joined. But once again, the party most likely to deny David Cameron a majority and therefore scupper a referendum is UKIP.