Tory group outlines EU vision Cameron should have

Thu, Jan 17, 2013, 00:00

David Cameron is not trusted by many Conservative backbenchers and not just on the European Union. In the words of one, he is barely a Conservative. For Cameron, however, even his friends can make life difficult, even when they try to help.

In room 18 in the Houses of Parliament yesterday, the Fresh Start group of Conservative MPs outlined the powers they believe should be repatriated to London.

Most of the demands would tie in broadly with No 10’s thinking: protection of the single market and London’s financial industry, less immigration, less Cap and Structural Fund spending. Powers over social and employment law should be London’s business, while it should also have power to opt out of EU justice and home affairs measures not already covered by its opt-out.

“We want to protect British sovereignty, ensuring that the British parliament can decide what is best for Britain. We do not share the vision of “ever closer union” as set out in the EU treaties, Fresh Start said.

Cameron would disagree with little of it. Also the demand for an end to the European Parliament’s shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg would be echoed by many.

Some in Fresh Start are enemies of Cameron, but most are not, and broadly agree with him that EU membership while frequently annoying is still in the UK’s interests.

Party not united

London would not fail to negotiate a better deal because the “rest do not want to kick us out”, MP Andrea Leadsom told a crowded room 18. “They do not want to lose us any more than we want to lose the single market,” she said, pointing out that the rest of the EU sells more to the UK than it manages to sell to them.

The difficulty, however, is that the party is not united: some want to quit the EU. Most, however, want a renegotiation, though there are differences on what the deal should be.

Despite the protestations of some in Brussels and Berlin, a new EU treaty will have to be agreed in the coming years, the Tory MPs argue, if the changes necessary to strengthen the euro zone are to be put in place.

Then, London can demand its pound of flesh. This does not have to happen today, or tomorrow, Leadsom said, pushing the timetable to after the 2015 general election. Not all in Fresh Start would be so patient.

On the question of quitting the EU. Leadsom, who rejected charges that Fresh Start is seeking “to box in” Cameron before he makes his EU speech, said: “At the end, the UK has to be ready to leave, but I don’t think that that is a realistic question.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street’s organisation of Cameron’s day in the Netherlands tomorrow, where he will make his speech, is bizarre.

With just 48 hours to go, a location has yet to be announced. Two hundred guests are being scrambled to attend. Reporters, meanwhile, have been told “to head for Amsterdam and await further orders”. It would be funny if it was not so serious.