As posted on the Total Politics blog:
David Davis: Cameron must be clearer on Europe: Tory MP offers his former leadership rival some advice on tackling the UKIP threat
David Davis has urged the prime minister to take a clearer stance on Europe in order to regain ground from UKIP.
“If I were David Cameron I’d be public about what we need to get back from the EU to make it worthwhile staying in,” Davis told the Conservative Party Conference.
Speaking at a fringe event called Tackling UKIP, Cameron’s one-time leadership rival said that the prime minister also needed to talk more about immigration.
“Our problem is that the current leadership of the party does not want to talk about the issue,” Davis said.
“But if you don’t talk about it, someone else comes along and talks about it for you.”
He said immigration from Europe was too big an issue to “take a vow of silence” on, although he admitted that his party was “pretty handicapped in terms of what we can do about it” because of the EU.
The Haltemprice and Howden MP did, however, offer some practical suggestions to his party on policies towards the EU. These included freeing the 99% of British firms who do not deal with Europe from the burden of EU regulations, opting out of all 135 of the EU’s justice and home affairs measures, and having “a general emergency pull-out where we can say no – a permanent constitutional opt out.”
On leaving the EU altogether, Davis said:
“You have to at least say you’re going to walk away – and it helps if you mean it. What would it be like outside the EU? It’d be quite good, if Britain were run as a Tory country. It’s quite attractive.
“As long as you have in your mind that the alternative is attractive, you’ll strike a better deal.”
Davis confirmed that he had “no truck” with doing a deal with Nigel Farage’s party, saying that his aim was to deny UKIP ground “on that part of the Conservative spectrum which we traditionally occupy”.
“This isn’t about being more rightwing, its about being more relevant to people in the street,” he said.
He added that the last six months of a five-year parliament were “barely about government at all, they’re about campaigning”. This, he said, would offer his party a chance to escape from the “Liberal menace” and offer voters an “an aspirational shop window” of what a majority Tory government would offer.
Among the policies he suggested were the abolition of employers’ NI contributions, raising the 40% tax threshold and giving the Right to Buy to everyone who is in a housing association. This latter policy would, he said, turn a million people who pay rent to housing associations into potential home-owners and lead to another “Thatcherite revolution”.