David Cameron’s feral Eurosceptic backbenchers are not going away.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph today 102 of them urge the Prime Minister to “opt out” of 130 EU laws, including the European Arrest Warrant, over the next two years. And this is no ordinary letter, signed as it is by the officers of the 1922 Committee – Chairman Graham Brady, Vice-Chairman Charles Walker, Secretary Mark Prichard and Treasurer Brian Brinley together with former Cabinet Ministers John Redwood and Peter Lilley
Crucially, the 102 warn Cameron that if he fails to get these powers back within this timescale, the transfer of powers to Europe will be irreversible.
This sounds to me very much like an ultimatum. The backbenchers apparently want Mr Cameron to use the “opportunity” provided by the Lisbon Treaty to repatriate up to 130 EU rules and regulations on policing. Since the UK opt out is due to end in June 2014, the Eurosceptics see this as their deadline.
Since the Tories have 306 seats in the House of Commons, 102 represents a third of the parliamentary Conservative party. To have such a high proportion of your MPs against you on an issue they believe to be of the utmost importance is not a very comfortable place to be, to put it mildly.
As I have said many times before, repatriation of powers is a policy which cannot be achieved. I can see no reason why 26 EU member states should agree to the demands one country, especially when they do not agree with the demands being made by the UK. What is more, David Cameron has not helped himself in the EU by increasingly marginalising the UK. Taking the Tories out of the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, and not signing up to the treaty changes in December last year are just the two most significant of Cameron’s actions to have alienated our colleagues in Europe.
Cameron’s position is made even worse by the fact that many of these Eurosceptic MPs voted for him to be Tory leader because they believed he was one of them.
The Eurosceptics are, of course, merely using the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as a hook for their own agenda. It would be foolish to claim all is well with the EAW. One of the main complaints concerns proportionality. We know that the UK, and Germany as well, get more warrants than they issue, and nowhere does it state that the warrant must only be used for major crimes. This matter is indeed being investigated and Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has acknowledged that the warrant is being misused for low-level crimes.
Having only just got over being castigated for caving in on not opposing the “fiscal compact” countries having access to European Union institutions and the European Court of Justice, David Cameron is facing another onslaught. I’m tempted to wonder how long this war of attrition can go on, especially since the Tories’ Lib-Dem coalition colleagues have a very different, pro-European Union perspective.