Timothy Kirkhope – 2010 Speech to the 1922 Committee

Below is the text of the speech made by Timothy Kirkhope, the then Leader of the Conservative MEPs in the European Parliament, to the 1922 Committee on 13th January 2010.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak to the 1922 committee again in my capacity as leader of our MEPs.

I want to pay tribute to their hard work and express to you my happiness that we again won the European elections in June when we had the largest number of MEPs elected.

I also want to thank both William Hague and Mark Francois for all their help and advice they have given me personally and for their support for our activities in pressing the Conservative cause in Brussels.

New group

Sir Michael, let me say a few words about our new group: the European Conservatives and Reformists which was successfully formed in July last year and which now holds a pivotal position in the Parliament and the negotiations and discussions with the European Commission & Council.

We were told that to leave the EPP-ED alliance would lead to a loss of influence in the European Parliament and that we would become a marginal and irrelevant small group on the fringes of the Parliament.

The Labour Party is still pushing this line but the evidence shows that this is completely the reverse of the truth.

Combining the votes of the ECR, EPP and Liberal groups (many of whose members are liberal as in the classical sense – not like our UK liberals here) we have a clear majority to outvote the left. The EPP knows this and on key issues it has turned to us and asked for support: the re-election of José-Manuel Barroso as President of the Commission was an example of how we used our votes to good effect. Mr Barroso did not get our votes too easily though. He came to our Group first, before any other group, to explain his policies and took very searching questions. Then we supported him. Similarly we have worked with others on the centre right to prevent the efforts of the left to get the parliament involved in domestic Italian politics, we defeated measures to add additional burdens of further employment legislation, and on a number of occasions in votes we have made the difference between progress and reform, and backward steps towards socialism and federalism.

Paradoxically, being the largest delegation in the ECR our influence with the EPP is actually greater now than if we had stayed inside.

And we hold a vital committee chairmanship: Malcolm Harbour presides over the Internal Market Committee. Under the old alliance we chaired the Agriculture Committee with Neil Parish who hopefully will be joining you shortly.

We have a blend of experience and new blood that gives us a powerful voice in key committees – from past Committee Chairmen such as Struan Stevenson who leads on fisheries, and Giles Chichester with Industry and Energy, to new members now dramatically making their mark such as Kay Swinburne and Vicky Ford on economic affairs where they have particular expertise. The quality and hard work of our delegation has an important impact on the Parliament. This matters as Parliament is no longer the talking shop it was in 1979; you will know that it is now a full co-legislator alongside the Council. So it is vital we have a strong voice promoting Conservative ideas and defending British interests.

With the realistic prospect of a Conservative government in a few weeks time, this is more important than ever and a new government working with our new group will get even better results for Britain and Europe. Over the next few years key policies come up for review: a new budget in the medium-term framework from 2014 has to be agreed, and also new reform packages for agriculture, regional policy, research, and the discredited common fisheries policy. There is a lot at stake.

One party

Sir Michael, we strongly support the ‘one party’ vision of David Cameron – whether we are Conservative representatives in Westminster, Edinburgh, Leeds or Brussels, we are one party. We have a shared responsibility for the Conservative ‘brand’ – to enhance its reputation and credibility at all levels of government.

To this end we maintain regular contact with the party to share information and develop policy. Our delegation was involved in the preparation of the party’s response to the deeply disappointing result of the Irish referendum and the subsequent ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

Given that the government had shamelessly betrayed its public pledge to hold a referendum on the treaty, we agree that our energies must be devoted to initiatives in areas where we can still make a difference and move on. Although, as you know, two of our members felt the need to withdraw from the frontbench, the delegation as a whole is steadfastly behind David Cameron’s European policy.

We are working closely with the shadow front bench teams – over the next few weeks, for example, we will receive in Brussels visits from the Home Office, business, and international development teams. It is vital that the party speaks with one voice here in Westminster, in – we hope – the European Council and Council of Ministers shortly, and in the European Parliament.

Expenses & lobbying

One area where we are working hard to reinforce the Party’s message is in pursuing the highest standards in public life. Both our institutions have had, to say the least, difficulties over recent years. We are trying to fix them. Our delegation has now introduced rigorous but practical new policies for recording online our expenses and as of 1st January contacts with lobbyists.

We know that in truth the vast majority of our elected members in both places have always demonstrated integrity and probity but the public now needs the reassurance that only full transparency can deliver. We have taken decisive steps to ensure that this expectation is met.

At the start of a critical year for our country, we look forward to working closely with you as we campaign for the election of a Conservative Government. We will do our best to help you and our PPCs to obtain a resounding victory. And beyond that, we look forward to playing our full part in working with the new Government in delivering for Britain in Europe.