On 20th September 1988 (just few months after my birth to give you a historical perspective!) the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher delivered an epic speech to the College of Europe in which she outlined a positive vision of a wider, decentralised and democratic Europe. She attacked the Europe of Delors and in the process reinvented Euroscepticism as an intellectually powerful and popular movement across the political spectrum.
With chilling accuracy she predicted the stark choice facing Britain with which we have wrestled since. Should Britain be part of a centralised, unaccountable federal Europe or should we use our influence to help create a Europe of independent, freely trading, cooperating nation states? Margaret Thatcher opted for the latter choice and her vision was supported by the British people. Tonight I will be attending an event hosted by the Bruges group in central London to commemorate that momentous speech.
The guests of honour tonight will be Baroness Thatcher herself, Norman Tebbit and President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic who will speak via video link. Lady Thatcher is held in great esteem by millions of people across Eastern Europe who credit her with freeing them from the shackles of communism. In many ways she acted as the mediator between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev which ultimately avoided disaster. Reagan later said in his memoirs that it was Thatcher who first began to bring down the Iron Curtain by persuading Ronald Reagan that Gorbachev was someone who could be trusted.
David Cameron is likely to come under increased pressure to state his position on the issue of Europe. In his speech Norman Tebbit will say: “I hope that the Conservative Party will set out a negotiating brief that the next Conservative government will take to Brussels early in its next term, and that it would, within two years of the next election, present to the British people the outcome of its negotiations. Then, in a referendum, the British people would decide whether to accept what was on offer – or simply to leave the union. We cannot drift on as we have been. It is not fair either to the British people or to the European Union. We need to show Thatcherite courage and determination to lead the country along that path.”
Czech President Vaclav Klaus will also address the event and will state “The marching towards an ever-closer union must be reversed. We need to continue fighting vigorously for the goals outlined in the Bruges Speech, just as Lady Thatcher always has.” In her speech Thatcher declared: “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.” I sincerely hope that Cameron will take note of the issue and state his full position even if it stands at odds with the majority of his party and the country. After all it is better to take a side and fight for it than sit on the fence.