Monday, February 28, 2011

Why don't EU stop posturing?

Your humble Devil has finished performing in Barnes Charity Players' triumphant production of Terrance Rattigan's Flare Path (a production of which, starring Sienna Miller, is about to start a run in the West End); as such, it is time for me to ease myself back into the sordid tedium of commenting on the deeply sordid political scene.

Scanning through the blogs, I was heartened—if not entirely convinced—by my friend Mark Wallace's assessment of the politicos' current attitude towards the EU.
When The Freedom Association launched the Better Off Out campaign in 2006, its aim was not to convert every MP overnight but to demonstrate that the doomsayers were mistaken.

By proving that the sky did not fall in on the heads of Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone or Douglas Carswell, they started a process of erosion that has seen many other MPs feel free to speak out on the topic. There are now 21 MPs as well as numerous MEPs, councillors and Members of the Northern Irish Assembly who are signed up.

Davies, Hollobone and Carswell turned marginal seats at 2005 into hefty majorities in 2010 despite or because of their EU views – they drank from a supposedly poisoned chalice and they are in hearty health.

To change the politics of the EU debate, we need to sweep away a deeply entrenched system of perception and assumption. The cracks are showing in Parliament, the stubborn obstructionism of our opponents is starting to break down, Fleet Street’s unanimity is broken and – crucially – there are signs that there may be sales and votes in the issue.

Make no mistake about it, the plates are shifting.

Perhaps so, especially since Mark links to a James Forsyth report that Oliver Letwin has even mooted the idea of a referendum on our membership of the EU.
Constantly being told what you can and can’t do by Brussels is driving Ministers and No 10 deeper and deeper into the Eurosceptic camp.
Oliver Letwin, Cameron’s mild-mannered and cerebral Policy Minister, has become so frustrated by this constant interference that he has told colleagues he thinks Britain should leave the European Union if it won’t give us all the opt-outs the Government wants.
Letwin is not alone in thinking this. In one department, a recent meeting between a Secretary of State and a junior Minister ended with the pair agreeing that the only solution to the problem they were discussing was to get out of the EU.

If true, this is indeed something of a turnaround for that turn-coat Letwin; long-time readers might remember that, in 2007, I reported on an email conversation I had with Oliver Letwin—a conversation that was updated, after an incredibly spineless reply from Letwin, in June 2007.

In essence, Letwin delivered three reasons for being in the EU, all of which I rebutted in a long reply; Letwin's considered response was that "we shall have to agree to differ". If even he is considering a referendum then we may have turned a corner.

However, I think it very unlikely that this is the case—I have neither seen nor heard anything in the last four years to make me think that Letwin has changed his mind on this issue.

No, I think it far more likely that this is the first in a series of bargaining gambits: having seen their naive leader get shafted—and made to look like a total idiot—over the EU budget, the Tories have decided that it is time for them to play at being tough. This idea is contained within one of the paragraphs quoted above... [Emphasis mine.]
Oliver Letwin, Cameron’s mild-mannered and cerebral Policy Minister, has become so frustrated by this constant interference that he has told colleagues he thinks Britain should leave the European Union if it won’t give us all the opt-outs the Government wants.

This is a warning shot across the bows to the EU and the other member states—it is most emphatically not a "cast-iron" guarantee of a referendum. Nor is it even a particularly convincing gambit.

The EU will simply call Letwin's bluff, we won't get the opt-outs—and Ollie will not call for a referendum.

Apart from anything else, the Tories are in a Coalition with the deeply EUphile Liberal Democrats, and they simply don't have enough clout to push anything at this stage.
The Tories try to keep their newly hardened Euroscepticism under wraps when dealing with their Lib Dem colleagues, who remain committed to the European project. But even the Lib Dems have been shocked at how much influence Brussels has on decisions that should be taken at a national level.

Indeed. However, whoever leaked this particular news to Forsyth must be gunning for Clegg...
Nick Clegg was appalled when officials told him that the EU wouldn’t allow VAT to be set at a local level.

It is simply inconceivable that Nick Clegg—an ex-MEP, a party leader and general policy wonk—is unfamiliar with the constraints on the setting of VAT levels. It is entirely conceivable, however, that the Tories are setting Clegg up for when the inevitable backlash over the VAT rise finally hits home.

Whilst I would like to believe that Mark is correct in his assessment of the EUscepticism of our MPs, I suspect that the Tories remain as wedded to the EU project as they ever were. Although, believe me, I would be happy to be proved wrong on that...


WitteringsfromWitney said...

Couldn't agree more Chris!

Anonymous said...

I am clutching to the straw that the only way the Tories will get reelected at the next general election will be if they offer an EU referendum.

Let's see if they have the cojones...


Mr Ecks said...

"Never trust a Tory"

I used to think that was a line of socialist shite but the more I see of the blue brigade the more I think it is the truth.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone else noticed Clegg's voice lately?

Not what he says but the flakey tremulous "undersound" of it.

The man is massively stressed. IMO.

Michael Fowke said...

It's about time Tory voters turned to UKIP in great numbers.

Robin said...

Tories have FORM about the EU .

The criminal type form where they have signed up more treaties for EU integration than Labour .

And the horseracing type form , where if you study their bluster over previous years , you can tell they are going to cave in and sell us out .With a bit more sqeaky protest than Labour did .