Last week we learnt that the UK’s national income has dropped by 13% over the past five years. Domestic government departments are having to make savings of a fifth because we can’t carry on borrowing one out of every five pounds we spend.
It therefore beggars belief that Parliament is being asked to promise the EU an inflationary increase in its budget for every year through to 2020 – to exempt the EU entirely from the financial pressures facing families and governments across Europe. We are even asked in the same government motion to praise decisions being taken by “countries across Europe to … stimulate economic growth”.
That is why I and other Conservative colleagues are supporting an amendment to say that there must be at least some constraint on EU spending. Although many of us would wish to see a substantial reduction in EU spending, at least in line with cuts at home, today we are only asking the government to strengthen its stance so that there is some real terms reduction in the EU budget.
Some real terms reduction is surely not an unachievable or excessively radical goal, given the extent to which we and other EU countries are making less palatable cuts at home.
Parliament must also set the negotiating position because any budget settlement will require us to pass primary legislation. That is because the EU is seeking to agree its ‘Multi-annual Financial Framework’ (MFF) for 2014-20.
Unlike the annual EU Budget an MFF requires both unanimity among member states and specific legislative sanction in the UK. If MPs are not willing to sanction inflationary increases through to 2020, then we must make that clear to the government before it signs up to something it would not be able to deliver.
At my last constituency surgery I saw a number of police officers who wanted to speak to me about their terms and conditions and police pay. I was asked to explain why we are freezing their pay, yet we are giving inflationary increases to benefit claimants. Even though I spoke about our wanting to protect the poorest in society, it was not an easy conversation. It is certainly not one I want to repeat defending the EU budget.