Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

The Bruges Group calls for a radical change in Conservative Party policy


Thirty years ago, twenty-three Conservative Members of Parliament voted against the Maastricht Treaty. Our main concern was that it opened the door to the abolition of the Pound and its replacement with what became the euro.

Some twenty-seven years later in two-thousand and nineteen, twenty-seven Conservative Members of Parliament voted against Theresa May's plan for Brexit. It was referred to as Brino – Brexit in name only.

These two Parliamentary votes reveal that the number of Conservative MPs who truly believe in the independence of the United Kingdom has been and remains relatively small. It goes some way to explain why the present Government is making somewhat of a hash of achieving the full benefits of leaving the European Union.

In Cabinet there are only two 'Spartans' the name given to those who voted against Theresa May's Brino proposals. They are our intrepid Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Attorney General Suella Braverman who almost single-handedly has kept up the fight to reform the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Regrettably, the lack of political will and focus has meant that many of the key institutions of government remain hostile to the whole concept of Brexit.

When Margaret Thatcher become Prime Minister in Nineteen-Seventy-Nine, she had clear objectives and was aware that much of the British establishment wanted her to fail. At the core of Thatcherism was the need to assert the benefits of free market economics and break with the post war consensus.

Thatcher knew that it was essential to bend the Treasury to her will and she put in place a topflight political team consisting of Howe, Brittan, Ridley, and Bruce-Gardyne, all of whom at that time shared her commitment to reform. She herself was very much the First Lord of the Treasury. The Treasury is the most powerful institution of government and takes the lead in setting the course within Whitehall. Not only has the Treasury been a long-term opponent of Brexit but it has driven the fiscal and monetary policies arising from the Pandemic. There have recently been many criticisms of the Bank of England but essentially it has been complying with the Treasury's requirements for a massive monetary stimulus.

Importantly the Treasury has failed to offer any strategy to make Brexit Britain more competitive. Indeed, it has opted to raise corporation tax to twenty-five per cent to French levels, just when we should have the lowest. It has also raised national insurance contributions for those earning as little as twenty-five thousand pounds per annum. The need to further tighten monetary policy remains, but at this time a severe fiscal restraint may well be contrary to requirements.

We also have a Cabinet that is mired in confusion with absolutely no credible plan to steer the country into calmer economic waters, raising the prospect of a hefty general election defeat unless it grasps this nettle quickly.

At the same time the Bank of England has let the inflationary genie out of the bottle. We are now heading for inflation levels of over ten per cent in the coming weeks.

To my mind, some monetary tightening should take precedence over the Chancellor's ill-judged decision to materially increase taxes as we head into recession.

My fear is that we have a prime minister who is unaware of the scale of the changes that need to be made. Indeed, there needs to be a major reset to deal with the problems which we face.

The Conservatives have been in government and making choices for the last twelve years. Those choices have led to government debt rising to ninety-eight per cent of national income. It was twenty-one per cent of national income when Margaret Thatcher left office. Government debt has risen four-fold in real terms.

While this government likes to talk about freedom of choice and lower taxes, the overwhelming evidence is that it favours the big state.

Margaret Thatcher famously said at Bruges, "that we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state for them to be reversed at a European level." However, successive Conservative governments have themselves vastly expanded the frontiers of the state.

I am afraid that Boris Johnson's economic and political philosophy can be summed up in one word, cakeism. This is a wilful betrayal of Thatcherism.

What's more, we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who raises taxes and national insurance contributions on many who are 'just managing'. In fact, it is the Treasury that is ripping us off at the pumps because of the sheer size of tax revenue from petrol sales. It is all summed up by the fact that despite promises to the contrary VAT is still being charged on fuel.

What we need to do is to change Britain's economic model through deregulation and radical reductions in taxation.

In the coming weeks the Prime Minister must appoint a new Chancellor of the Exchequer with a dedicated political team committed to maximising the economic benefits of Brexit and bringing tax relief to the hard-pressed middle-ground. At the same time the Bank of England must do whatever it takes to bring inflation back under control. The Treasury should be made responsible for driving the opportunities that arise from Brexit throughout Whitehall.

In coming weeks, we will find out whether this is a government that merely wishes to hold office and be buffeted by events, or is a government which truly wishes to be in power. 

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Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
The Bruges Group
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Founder President :
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
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