Richard Ashworth MEP’s Conservative Party Conference Diary
Writing exclusively for Endeavour Public Affairs Richard Ashworth MEP reports back from last week’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
Richard Ashworth is a Conservative MEP representing the South East of England; he is also the leader of the UK Conservative group of MEPs in the European Parliament.
As I left Birmingham for Brussels it was clear that the Prime Minister’s affirmation of the Conservatives as the party of aspiration had captured the mood of conference.
With the EU facing the greatest challenge of its existence I felt that similar thoughts could be applied to our relationship with Europe. For many, joblessness, especially among the young, has given rise to sense of hopelessness and even a sense of pointlessness.
It is now that we must renew our commitment to the aspiration nation, and use this in the coming months and years to redefine our relationship with Europe, to show our leadership within Europe.
Britain will rise through aspiration because aspirations lead to invention and competition. Europe must do the same.
In the wake of Sunday’s Europe debate, this was a hot topic on Monday morning as my appearance on The Daily Politics show alongside Mark Reckless MP beckoned. There was plenty of speculation in the media about an EU referendum. A straw poll of delegates had drawn great interest and showed only a minority supporting the idea of for a referendum now. This has to be correct.
There are difficult and vital negotiations on going in Brussels and, as the Prime Minister stated in his speech, should any future deal not be in the best interest of the UK he will use his veto again. In stepping up to these negotiations in Brussels, the Prime Minister needs the support of his party and the nation in negotiating the best deal for us. Any decision on referendum must be taken when we know the structure of the EU we are looking at.
On Tuesday we held a Business-Day session on Europe. Delegates engaged well with the panellists in a lively debate on the future of the single currency. The optimism of representatives from large multinational companies was refreshing and will have renewed hope for many. Contact with business is vital to our work as policy makers and this event provided an opportunity for real debate and real communication.
After a quick dash to the opposite side of the Conference venue, I chaired the Conservatives in the European Parliament fringe event on the Eurozone and the Single Market. These are two very distinct topics: the Eurozone can only survive with greater integration of those member states inside the monetary union, something which the UK will not be a part of. However, the completion of the Single Market, the central trading relationship, is vital to British interests. Helpfully we had the expertise of the Rt. Hon David Lidington MP (Minister for Europe), Malcolm Harbour MEP (Chairman of the Internal Market Consumer Affairs Committee), and Dr Kay Swinburne MEP (UK Conservative Spokesman on Economic and Monetary Affairs) to assist in leading these discussions. I was overwhelmed by the popularity of this event; the passion of those attending was clear, especially when discussing how to enlarge the single market of services without encroaching on member state sovereignty.
As Chairman of the British Pub and Beer Group in the European Parliament I had the pleasure of joining with my colleagues in the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group at our reception supporting the Campaign for Real Ale. The All-Party Group is a valuable organisation showing support for a significant and expanding British industry.
Tuesday evening saw my annual South East Dinner – this is my opportunity to thank the Area Chairmen, key supporters and those who help and assist me across the region. I am grateful for their support, and this evening provides an opportunity for all to relax and enjoy the company of friends. For me it is a real highlight amid the intensity of the rest of conference. It also provided an opportunity to invite the newly elected regional chairman Andrew Sharpe, who joined us as a special guest.
Conference couldn’t have come at a better time to renew our faith that Britain will rise, and it is clear that Britain has a great opportunity to lead Europe to rise again too.