The Conservative Party remains deeply divided on Europe

Labour Party

The Conservatives are all over the place on Europe. Yesterday’s Guardian was a veritable treasure trove of Tory tangle.

Writing about the views expressed over the weekend by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, the excellent Jackie Ashley saw through their carefully crafted comments. Cameron has said on a number of occasions that the Eurozone needs a deeper structure with further political integration. Meanwhile Osborne pointed out in the Sunday Telegraph that Britain is heavily dependent on what goes on in the Eurozone.

This much is true. However, every time David Cameron has demanded, in his very own imperious style, that the Eurozone sorts itself out, he has also made it abundantly clear that the UK could not be part of the arrangements he espouses for others. Jackie Ashley is absolutely right when she says that David Cameron is effectively advocating a super-state which leaves Britain in grave danger of being overshadowed with little control over our political, as well as our economic, affairs.

Meanwhile the über-Eurosceptic think tank Open Europe has just come out saying that Britain’s exit from the European Union would pose “unpredictable political and economic risks”. This is certainly a turn up for the books and will, I hope, be taken seriously by those who support Open Europe’s general point of view.

So we have the Prime Minister and the Chancellor advocating a European super-state without Britain which, by virtue of its size and clout, will inevitably overshadow its much smaller neighbour, the UK. At the same time an influential strand of anti-EU thought is warning that Britain would be better not leaving the Union.

As if this weren’t enough, in the same edition of the Guardian George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle and former press secretary to David Cameron, is still fighting the repatriation of powers corner. He maintains. “We can do better that just leave the EU. With the right approach, we could change it.”

Although superficially appealing, I find the Eustice line deeply hypocritical. As I have said many times on this blog, changing the EU, in other words repatriating powers from Brussels to London, is not a runner. Such a change would need the agreement of all 26 other member states – a huge task. The scale of what Eustice thinks possible can be seen if the question is put the other way; why indeed should the rest of the EU allow Britain to cherry pick?

Eustice’s plan is quite simply not feasible. If it were tried in any serious fashion, it would surely lead to Britain leaving the EU, probably slowly and probably without a referendum. The Eustice idea that powers can be repatriated is really the worst of all worlds presented as reasonable and desirable.

Cameron, Osborne, Open Europe and George Eustice do not, of course, represent the views hard-line Tories who want nothing less that immediate withdrawal from the EU. Daniel Hannan MEP has recently repeated his mad idea that Britain should transform itself into Norway or Switzerland, while Douglas Carswell and Bill Cash rarely let up on their hatred of all things EU.

All in all, there are at least four Conservative positions on the EU represented in this short blog post. The Tories are well and truly divided on what is fast becoming one of the current defining issues. It is becoming ever clearer that the Conservative Party has not resolved its internal divisions, and there has always been general agreement that a split party is not good for the health of the government.

The Tories remain split on Europe

Labour Party

Europe is certainly proving interesting for the Tories at their annual shindig – I hesitate to call their let’s pat ourselves on the back and tell the world how wonderful we are jamboree a conference.

The depth of the Tory problem on Europe is becoming ever clearer. Even arch-Eurosceptic and (former) darling of the unreconstructed Tory right, William Hague, has been forced to state that any fundamental change in Britain’s relations with Europe is not on the cards at the moment.  Quite some change, shown on the Today Programme this morning when it was suggested that the former Tory leader was “put on this planet” to reduce the EU’s influence over Britain.

In order, it seems, to salvage some of his past glory, Hague came out with all the usual anti-EU rhetoric in his speech earlier today. “The EU doesn’t need a single extra bureaucrat. But it does need burdens on businesses lifted,” he proclaimed. “It is now acknowledged that when we said joining the Euro would be a disaster for Britain, we were right.” And, just for good measure: “The EU has more power over our national life than it should have.”

I would be amazed if the grassroots Tories go for this empty rhetoric. As the Guardian’s live blog said: “What’s the good in having a Conservative government if it can’t step away from Europe, they ask?”

David Cameron in his keynote speech to the Tory conference still in progress as I write this blog post, has given us a master class in cowardice. Instead of dealing with the concerns on the EU his Conservative Party members feel so deeply, all we got was a cheap jibe at the EU for issuing a Directive, a small part of which mentioned the potential dangers of people with diabetes driving cars.    

But it goes much further that that. Many of these grassrooters want a referendum on leaving the EU altogether. And it’s not just the jamboree attendees. Mark Pritchard MP, Secretary of the 1922 Committee is demanding a vote on Britain’s membership of the EU while George Eustice MP, a close aide of David Cameron wants a “new relationship” with the European Union.

Splits are never good for political parties. When the governing party is so deeply divided with one particular topic – membership of the European Union – a running sore incapable of healing, it’s very bad news indeed. The Tories will not be able to rely for ever on the Lib-Dems to suppress their internal wrangles.

It’s down to David Cameron to resolve the Tory divisions on Europe. He and William Hague have told the British people there will be no referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU. I suspect many Tory jamboree goers and their local Conservative associations know it is simply not possible to repatriate powers from the EU back to the UK as Cameron et al are trying to claim in order to show they are doing something on Europe. So the Tories remain split – hardly and election winner.