I’ve just spent thirty minutes with William Hague, discussing the EPP issue.

In quick fire form…

  • At 4pm today David Cameron and the leader of the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS) will sign a joint declaration (William Hague is holding the declaration in the photo).  That pledge will have two components: (1) the immediate formation of a new "Movement for European Reform, dedicated to the ideals of a more modern, open, flexible and decentralised European Union"; and (2) "That at the commencement of the next legislature period of the European Parliament, following the elections in 2009, our elected members will establish a new parliamentary group, which other like-minded parties will be invited to join, and whose purpose will be to give leadership and representation to these ideals."
  • William Hague denies that the EPP pledge ever carried a firm timetable although he concedes that he did expect exit to take months – not years.  He told me that George Osborne, as David Cameron’s campaign chief, insists that no concrete guarantees were made.  At a meeting of the parliamentary party this morning David Heathcoat Amory and Philip Davies made it clear that they thought a pledge had been broken.  The reason exit is now going to take years is because the Czech election result was much more complicated than anyone expected and the ODS will not join until 2009 because of the nature of the new coalition government in Prague.
  • I suggested to William Hague that this three year delay in leaving the EPP will undermine voters’ confidence in the ‘bankability’ of David Cameron’s pledges.  Many MPs and MEPs – as well as grassroots Tories – clearly expected exit to have happened by now.  It will be harder for voters to take future pledges on tax, public services and crime seriously. They’ll want to see the small print.  They’ll want to know the circumstances in which a pledge will be delayed or moderated.  David Cameron appears less of a new kind of politician – more of the same kind of thing.  William Hague said he understood my concern but he resisted the idea that David Cameron was not a new kind of politician.  David, he said, is doing exactly what he promised in the leadership campaign.  He is changing the party – recruiting more women candidates, emphasising the environment and promoting a more compassionate conservatism. 
  • All Tory candidates at the next European Election will be required
    to commit to leaving the EPP and joining the new group.  William Hague
    told me that the Tories will leave the EPP at the 2009 elections
    whatever the Czechs do – although he "100% expects" the Czechs to be
    partners in the new group.
  • The Polish Law & Justice Party wanted to form a new group with
    the Conservatives now but they will not be signing today’s joint
    declaration.  William Hague still hopes that they will join the new
    group in 2009 and he insists that the Conservative Party’s relationship
    with the L&JP is strong.  The strong social conservatism of certain
    Law & Justice members appears to have led William Hague to prefer a
    2009 alliance with the ODS over an immediate alliance with the L&JP
    and other much smaller parties.
  • William Hague insisted that the whole EPP row had not exhausted the
    party leadership’s appetite for a strong European policy that will
    prioritise either the repatriation or amendment of the EU social and
    employment legislation that is undermining the European and British