Belfast Telegraph

EU love unrequited as MPs bite the hand that feeds them

By Tom Moseley

How quickly things change. Less than two months after a backbench rebellion by his Eurosceptic party threatened to boil over, David Cameron was yesterday cheered by his backbenchers as he defended his decision to veto treaty changes and place the UK alone in the EU's naughty corner.

But while his defiance has cemented the leadership of his party, and infuriated the Liberal Democrats, there are plenty of MPs who still want nothing short of an 'in/out' referendum.

Among those are the DUP, which will today give MPs another chance to vent their spleen on the issue by dedicating their Opposition Day slot to the ongoing eurozone crisis.

Unlike yesterday's statement by Mr Cameron, the DUP will put forward a motion to be voted on. If, for example, the DUP returns to the issue of a referendum, what will those 81 MPs that rebelled in October do?

One MP whose views on the matter are clear is the Northern Ireland Secretary. Owen Paterson hit the headlines last week when he said a referendum would be "inevitable" if Britain signed up to a new treaty.

As it turned out, the veto ensured this dilemma was averted. Nonetheless, Mr Paterson's comments - in a magazine interview - cemented his position as a standard-bearer for Euro-bashing Tories.

Should we be careful what we wish for? Support for the Brussels project is in short supply in politics at the moment. Among the Northern Irish contingent, only the SDLP and the Alliance could be seen as being genuinely pro-EU.

It's hard to deny that plenty of money has come Ulster's way as a result of membership. The Brussels bureaucrats, so derided by Eurosceptics, have looked kindly on Northern Ireland.

Take the opening of the new bridge over the River Foyle this year, built with funds from the £295m Peace 3 programme.

EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn promised to push for more funds, but he added, pointedly: "As you might have heard, the British Government is not in favour of spending a lot of money on European projects." The Common Agricultural Policy - so derided by English farmers - brings in around £300m to the rural economy every year.

But there are drawbacks - not least on fisheries, where centrally-set quotas have had a devastating impact on the industry in the Irish Sea.

Wherever Mr Cameron's veto leaves us - and there are plenty of those who say its significance has been vastly overestimated - life would be very different without our friends in Brussels.

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