Wiliam Hague was most interesting at the Conservative Party Conference. I have watched the Tories’ movements regarding Europe very closely since they formed the Coalition and as a result found his speech very enlightening.
As we all know, the Conservatives had to drop most of their Eurosceptic election promises so that Nick Clegg, who for all his faults is at least pro-European, would be able to justify forming a government with them. Since then the coalition government, far from standing up to what some Tories might call the encroaching powers of the EU, has accepted many new laws from Brussels, including one which hands some powers over financial transactions to the European Commission.
It is, however, becoming increasingly evident that there are those in the Tory party who are very unhappy with the way things are going with Europe. And it was such a promising start for the Europsceptics. David Cameron took the Tories out of the EPP, the centre right political grouping in the European Parliament. (Tory MEPs then formed an alliance with far right elements whom Nick Clegg described as a “bunch of nutters”). Cameron also promised to repatriate various powers to do with employment law.
In an attempt to assuage the Eurosceptics’ doubts, William Hague made an impassioned speech to the Conservative party conference that outlined plans to introduce a sovereignty clause on to the statute books in the United Kingdom asserting that EU law only has primacy in the UK because the government allows it to be that way. He also made some forceful comments about governments being able to “undo” the things they have done.
All well and good for playing to the Eurosceptic core in the Tories you might think, but unfortunately, if we believe what the Daily Mail has reported, many of them aren’t buying this entirely superficial gesture. The Mail has a quotation from a Tory MP, Douglas Carswell, saying ‘This is politicians using clever words to appear to be preventing further European integration when they are not.’
Attention has so far focused on the internal strife within the Lib-Dems as a result of their involvment in the Coalition. William Hague has now shown that Europe is proving, as predicted, a difficult issue for the Tories. In the not too distant past, European issues almost undid John Major’s government leaving him significantly weakened. If David Cameron has any political antennae left, he will be desperate not to have Europe anywhere near any agenda. However, the decision doesn’t seem to be down to him but rather his restless grass roots.
Seemingly, Wiliam Hague’s attempts to placate the Eurosceptic wing of their party aren’t working quite as well as they might have hoped, as they can see it for what it is, sound and fury, signifying nothing.