Former minister Ken Clarke has claimed Margaret Thatcher was a pro-European who “knew the value of the EU” and Nigel Farage has “no answers” to the problems faced by modern Britain. His comments came at a private dinner in the Palace of Westminster for members of London’s business community, during which he also called prominent Conservative Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg a “parody of an 18th Century politician”.
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer was a minister under Thatcher and has been an MP for 44 years. He retired from the government in July 2014, but still plans to remain an MP until the 2020 general election.
He cited the example of Thatcher signing the Single European Act (SEA) as evidence of her support for the EU. SEA extended qualified majority voting in EU institutions and was intended to help complete the single market for good and services.
It was seen by Eurosceptics as the start of the major transfer of powers from national governments to Brussels, as it became easier for ministers in member states to be overruled by the majority.
Clarke said: “Thatcher was a pro-European, she knew the value of the EU and she was the one that signed the Single European Act. She was fully in favour of the single market and her government worked to develop it.
“About 20 years ago the anti-Europeans began rewriting history to claim she wasn’t in favour of the EU, but it’s not true. Since they started this myth the Conservative Party has been tearing itself apart, and that’s why we haven’t won a general election since 1992.”
He went on to claim the leader of the Conservative opponents to the European Arrest Warrant, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was a “parody of an 18th Century politician” and that Nigel Farage had “no answers to the important questions” facing the country.
He went on: “It’s ridiculous to claim the pressure on our health service comes from immigration, it’s because we are living longer. The reason for the housing crisis is that people all want their own flats and people don’t stay together for long periods like they used to.
“As far as the economy goes, it’s not the EU that gave us to worst financial crisis in our lifetimes, it was Gordon Brown’s disastrous economic management and the failure of the regulators he created to control financial markets.”
Clarke also used his speech to call for party unity and said he did not want to be in a party that was not a “broad church”. He also said David Cameron should not pander to UKIP in order to win back the votes lost to them.
Margaret Thatcher is generally accepted to have been a firm Eurosceptic because she negotiated a rebate of taxes paid by Britain to the EU. She also served as Preisdent of the Eurosceptic think-tank the Bruges Group after she ceased to be Prime Minister.
The comments came the day after the government was attacked by Jacob Rees-Mogg for the “underhand” way it pushed through the European Arrest Warrant without a proper vote. He claimed the proceedings on monday night were “the way of tyranny”.