Battle for UK’s European identity as general election looms

Battle for UK’s European identity as general election looms


By Thanasis Gavos – London

The political landscape in Britain seems to have changed dramatically ever since Nigel Farage spelt out his no reservations eurosceptic message.

The mood in the country has shifted so much that any talk of restricting the number of European Union migrants coming in, especially from Eastern Europe and mainly Romania and Bulgaria, does not cause the reaction it would in pre-crisis Britain.

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said earlier in the week that areas of the country are being “swamped” by immigrants. He later retracted and apologised, but commentators and even Labour’s former frontbencher David Blunkett defended the Defence Secretary, stating that Britons should be honest with what’s happening in the country.

Seven months before the next general election it seems that immigration and the EU will be the main battlefield. Farage’s UKIP has made its case clear as have the only unconditionally pro-European party, the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives seem to be sliding more to euroscepticism each day, to a large degree in order to stem the flow of MPs and voters to UKIP.

So the main question is where the Labour party stands. Its rhetoric has incorporated some anti-European elements, and its leader Ed Miliband seems to be on the fence. Instinctively he wants the EU and he realises that maintaining the Labour party’s European-friendly identity may give him the full support of the people who appreciate the EU membership; at the same time however that would also leave him exposed to shedding votes to UKIP, mainly in northern English constituencies.

Migrants from Romania and Bulgaria are the latest main target of the anti-European arguments. Although official statistics do not confirm scaremongering scenarios raised by the extreme eurosceptics, the larger numbers of Eastern Europeans in towns and cities around the country in a period of relative economic hardship have been causing uneasiness with otherwise open-minded people.

Perhaps a sign that the Labour party has in the end decided to boldly back Britain’s European orientation is that Ed Miliband recently replaced his shadow Minister for Europe. In Pat McFadden they now have someone who is considered a heavyweight politician, “able to take on the Tory arguments about the EU and immigration”, as the Guardian commented.

In a recent article Mr McFadden accused the Conservatives for placing a huge question mark over the UK’s membership of the EU, the country’s biggest export market, being driven by UKIP.

Of course under his European portfolio, Pat McFadden will have to deal with wider European deficiencies and concerns, such as the situation in Cyprus. The President of the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK was probably the first lobbyist to congratulate and “body check” the new shadow Europe Minister.

Peter Droussiotis did not waste any time in making clear what the large Cypriot community in the UK expects from Mr McFadden and his party: “The UK has a crucial role – and the influence – to ensure that appropriate pressure is exerted on Turkey which remains an occupying power on the island and which, through its actions, impedes the rule of law on and around the island. In opposition, the Labour Party has its own responsibility to hold HM Government to account so that the latter stands up to its moral and legal commitments,” was the message conveyed in a letter Mr Droussiotis addressed to Pat McFadden.

Photo: The Telegraph