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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rebels in need of a cause?

As you are undoubtedly aware by now, last night 79 Conservative MPs defied a three line whip to vote for a referendum on the EU. There have been Tory euro rebellions before, and no doubt there will be again – but this one was different. Not only did it take in nearly half of all Tory backbenchers, but it also included many of the 2010 intake untainted by the Tory euro wars of old. This new group are not against the EU in its entirety but wish to see some form of EU reform where powers are returned to the member states. Much can be said about yesterday's vote - and we'll return to this issue when the dust has settled and tempers have cooled down.

Leaving aside the issues of Cameron's party management skills, backbench powers and residual discontent over the Coalition (pretty big issues in domestic politics for sure), yesterday's debate, whilst good in part, did suffer from a certain lack of clarity and definition.

We know that many MPs are unhappy about the status quo in Europe - that was clear from the interventions. But moving beyond discontent, what sort of Europe are MPs/should MPs be arguing for? David Cameron said that he agreed with the rebels as to their ends but not their means – yet scratch the surface and there are a variety of opinions, some informed, and some less so. Some MPs talk of repatriating powers, others of a free trade agreement, and some of a Norway-style arrangement as if these were mutually interchangeable. In fairness Tory MP Nadim Zahawi made exactly the same point during his speech yesterday. There is also disagreement as to what the UK's negotiating position ought to be; some believe the eurozone crisis has given the UK a golden opportunity to demand reform, while others take a more cautious line.

But - and this is where the debate is likely to head next - there's growing agreement across the political spectrum that the move toward eurozone fiscal union creates a new situation for the UK and one the UK needs to respond to in a strategic manner. It is unclear when or if there will be a new treaty, but when the time comes the UK will need to know what to ask for. In other words, we need to calmly and rationally weigh up the UK’s membership of the EU and decide what our priorities should be.

Strategies should include:

What does the UK need to safeguard from an unsympathetic eurozone voting caucus? What should be decided at the national level only? How can safeguards and carve-outs be made watertight and legally binding, given the EU's history of circumventing such measures (think Charter of Fundamental Rights)? What does the UK do if there's a new eurozone-only Treaty, stripping the UK of its veto over the next step of European integration, but leaving it exposed to the secondary effects?

These questions need answering, and the government needs to draw up a plan to make sure the UK's priorities get pushed through. It is important that the UK ascertains who its potential allies are, what its negotiating levers are, and when to use these to maximum effect. Encouragingly, it looks like this process might already be under way, as the government announced this afternoon that a review of which powers could be returned from Brussels to Westminster is in its early stages, with Europe Minister David Lidington saying that he “would welcome constructive suggestions from the Opposition as well as any part of this House as that work is carried forward."

If last night’s vote increases the sense of urgency in the need to come up with such a properly thought-out strategic plan then it will have served some good.

If not then it will be just another chapter in Conservative Party’s internal politics.


WitteringsfromWitney said...

For heaven's sake, when will OE wake up to the real world? Most of the so-called rebels believe in renegotiation of powers and subsequent return - yet obviously have no idea what 'acquis communitaire' means.

If this debate had been purely in or out the number of rebels would probably have been equal to the signatories on BOO.

Methinks that OE are but another mouthpiece for the Conservative Party!

Peripatetic Scribe said...

"If last night’s vote increases the sense of urgency in the need to come up with such a properly thought-out strategic plan then it will have served some good." This is perhaps THE most important aspect of the adventure. Without a credible, concrete strategy which can gain widespread support country-wide, it will be another Conservative footnote. It is a great opportunity to re-fashion the model, not in terms of "ours is the best" view but a cohesive approach to an age-old problem allowing each country to motor at its own speed without over-reliance on the others.

Ian Harris said...

If David Cameron says he can renegotiate our membership of the EU he is either lying or delusional. Why should the other 26 members allow the UK an opt-out from all the burdensome regulations which the EU is imposing on them? In the end, we will either give in - the Foreign Office's default position as it keeps their empire constantly enlarging - or we will have to leave.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be agreat deal of 'should' 'might' and 'want' concerning repatriation of control and of powers by the government.
There is very little 'will' 'can' or 'have'!
I am afraid Mr Cameron and his team are whistling in the wind. the transfer of power is a one way street and we have been sold down the river by this and past governments..
Oh how I would love to be proved wrong but I am not holding my breath!

Peripatetic Scribe said...

Anonymous - building on your comments I would say that the current government runs the risk of "painting themselves into a corner" - once on the topic you mention (but it is early days and hopefully the government will develop a credible strategy) and secondly (and more profoundly) in giving additional funding to the IMF. Unless this additional finance is "ring-fenced" it could go anywhere!
And that's a frightening loss of control.

Peripatetic Scribe said...

Re Ian Harris comment - I think it is not a case of negotiating "membership" but of negotiating in those areas where certain powers can be repatriated from Brussels. It will be a long process (and difficult at times) - hence the need for a cohesive strategic approach.

Ed Slade said...

How stupid does Cameron think we are?
As has been already said, there is no possibility of repatriation of powers as it is ILLEGAL to repeal Euro-law( i think) according to the Euro legislation.
The only possible way of doing so would be to repeal the various acts and re-negotiate from a position of strength - you want our cash then talk etc; Not please can we have our cash back ...

Lastly the Euro-zone has ALWAYS aimed to go further and further down the federal route - why would they change for us?

Ed Slade

Barbara Miller said...

I want to know who makes these new 'laws' that 'they' keep bombarding us with! as the original 'laws' were illegal in the first place.

The only vote the people of Britain had was an option to join the EEC for trading not to give control of our country to a foreign power; this takeover has caused untold hardship not only to our country but all member countries except France and Germany!! How can an organization that makes things worse for the indigenous population of member countires be good for anyone except the traitors selling us all out.

A straight in or out vote is what we need not an attempt to take back a few paltry powers from our captures.

dubious said...

We should just leave the EU. end of story.Switzerland is OK without it & all the EU states will still want to trade with us & vice versa. That would return control to us for our Govt to govern & restore common sense on Health & Safety, Justice, Immigration & Employment laws.
We would no longer pay £billions into the EU budget to subsidise the CAP & use it for the benefit of GB.


Peripatetic Scribe said...

Dubious - can you imagine the tariffs and other obstacles that could/would be placed in our path? Having once been "in" and then "out" I have serious doubts about the quantity of bilateral trade that would occur if UK does as you suggest. And the number of jobs that could be lost? Believe me, there would be many zero's at the end of the number. Sorry but I think this could cause more problems than it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Barbara Miller is spot on; since we moved from the EEC (then the EC and eventually into the EU), there has been no authorisation from the UK electorate for the attempts by successive governments to give away UK sovereignty. No UK government will risk a referendum on continued membership of the EU because they know the answer they will get. So, a line of UK governments has defied the known will of the British people. Any attempt at renegotiation will be frustrated at every turn so we must extricate ourselves and rejoin the rest of the world. Not too difficult for us as the world's first global nation.
Peripetetic scribe should have more faith in the British people. Remember all those dire predictions that the UK would crash if we didn't join the Euro? Don't hear much talk of that recently. Yes, the EU might try to make life difficult for a newly independent UK but, with friends like that...! In any event we have a trade imbalance with the EU and I really don't see them refusing to sell us their German VWs or their Spanish holidays, or their French wine etc.
The EU is the world's failing economic bloc and the sooner we get out, reform ourselves into a sharp economomy which is quick on its feet to respond to changing world conditions, the better.