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Adrian Pepper is managing director of Pepper Media and will be fighting on the same ticket as Daniel Hannan in the European elections in the South East region of England this May. 

That Daniel Hannan should top the ConservativeHome poll for the next European Commissioner is a welcome reminder to the leadership that party activists are every bit as Euro-sceptic as him. They want our party to unite behind a common position on the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU.  We all want the Prime Minister to try to negotiate a Treaty which keeps Britain trading freely with the EU at the same time as giving our Westminster Parliament ultimate supremacy over most other law-making institutions.

If David Cameron wants to make an imaginative appointment which is also acceptable to MPs and activists alike, he has to appoint a Euro-sceptic who has a proven track record of being able to deliver difficult and complicated reforms.  We need a Commissioner who will be ideally placed to get back the Internal Market and Services portfolio which Gordon Brown gave away to the French. Our new Commissioner must be able to educate colleagues in the Commission on the British approach to treaty renegotiation too.  The business of regaining sovereignty will not be easy (as Nigel Farage likes to suggest.) It is not just a question of passing a law. We have to get in place transitional arrangements which enable businesses to trade with each other, people to live and travel in the EU, court rulings to be annulled, and reams of legislation and regulations to be deleted from the statue book.

Hannan is one of the outstanding political talents of his generation.  He has been in the European Parliament for over a decade, and has led public opinion towards the view that we should not remain in the EU on today’s terms of membership.  But he would be wasted serving in the European Commission, where it is nigh on impossible to change the opinions of most Eurocrats.  The next Conservative Government will need to harness his intellect as it negotiates the deal which returns parliamentary sovereignty to Westminster. The 2017 referendum will give Hannan the opportunity to put his talent on display to the nation. He has leadership skills which would better suit him to being our Foreign Secretary or holding a Cabinet post.

So what of the man who came second in the ConHome poll, John Redwood?  He has served in a Conservative Cabinet, and is unlikely to be recalled to frontline UK politics. He has been exposed to the workings of EU bureaucracy, notably through the work he did at the then Department for Trade and Industry and as Welsh Secretary.  He is a Euro-sceptic free marketeer, and like Hannan, he has the intellect to put a strong free market case inside the Commission.  He can win minds, but he does struggle to win hearts. His campaign against John Major for the party leadership in 1996 just didn’t quite press the right buttons to win over instinctively loyal centre-right rank and file MPs.  In Brussels ,you get Eurocrats who are even more slavishly loyal to lost causes – in this case, the European project.

We should take seriously candidates who are proven in the art of taking on bureaucracies and winning. Francis Maude, whose name is being floated for the Commissioner post, has been quietly doing this in Whitehall over the past four years, not only working with the civil service to prepare the ground for a future Conservative Government back in 2009-10 but in the Coalition too, where he has been stripping costs out of central government overheads.  He is liked by the Prime Minister and Chancellor, and he will help behind the scenes in future negotiations, but I am not sure his appointment would reassure those of us looking for big Treaty changes in 2017.  He was, after all, the Europe Minister who signed Britain up to the Maastricht Treaty in 1991.  This was the treaty that massively increased the number of areas where the EU could set policy and which set us on course to the federal Europe of today.

Andrew Lansley, another Cabinet member whose name has been floated, is a former civil servant who could get a handle on the Brussels bureaucracy.  He is a machine politician who ran the Conservative Research Department and who today manages Government business in the Commons.  A former private secretary to Norman Tebbit, he “gets” the Euro-sceptic arguments.   His detractors raise questions about his judgement, in that that he has had to backtrack and send for consultation two bills during his short Cabinet career (one on the NHS and another on lobbying). But stubbornness in politics can also be an attribute.

There is a reservoir of sympathy for the predicament of Andrew Mitchell, but this should not automatically qualify him to be in the running for the Commissioner’s job.  A few months ago, he was a leading contender, but time is running out on him as his travails over Plebgate run on and on.  He is also an unknown quantity: he does not appear to have expressed his personal views on the EU in public.  The obvious portfolio to give him if he went to Brussels would be Development, but this is not the portfolio Britain wants to be allocated.

Not many women’s names have been on the lips of speculators for the job of the next EU Commissioner.  An imaginative appointment might be Theresa Villiers who served several terms as an MEP before going to Westminster.  But she left scant impression as a Treasury spokesperson, as at Transport Minister and now at Northern Ireland. By the same token, Cameron could appoint Ann Mcintosh, who also served as an MEP before becoming and MP.  Malcolm Harbour (who is retiring from the European Parliament) and Tim Yeo (who like Mcintosh is being forced to retire from Parliament) can get things done and both would probably love the job.  But they are seen as federalists, and therefore unacceptable to 95 per cent of party members.

I have been trying to come up with reasons why Cameron shouldn’t appoint Peter Lilley to the job.  The only one I can think of is that, like many of those listed above, his appointment would create a by-election.  But that can be easily mitigated.  If the Prime Minister announces the appointment of Lilley in March or April, he sets the right tone for the European election campaign in May.  Hitchen and Harpenden looks rock solid and UKIP has made no headway there, but in any case a by-election would be just one of many elections taking place that day.

And regardless of the results of those European elections, we would end up with a British Commissioner whose political hero is Charles de Gaulle, whose heroine is Margaret Thatcher, who lives in England and France, who is a strong Euro-sceptic of the non head-banging variety, who has bags of Cabinet experience, who was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when the Single Market was put in place in 1992, who is an expert on free trade and development, and who is sound as a pound.   Prompt his name on the next ConservativeHome poll and I reckon he might come out top of the list – after Daniel Hannan, of course. 

29 comments for: Adrian Pepper: Britain’s next European Commissioner should be Peter Lilley

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