By Tim Montgomerie
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I can't work out if the new group of eighty Eurosceptic Tory MPs is a creature of the leadership or a genuinely independent initiative but I'm probably wasting my time worrying. When the group meets for the first time on Monday it will almost certainly develop a dynamic of its own. It will be a living thing, responding to fast-changing events in the €urozone and to a public that is fast becoming much more Eurosceptic. The group's leading lights certainly give me cause to hope…
- One of its founders Chris Heaton-Harris has been accused of being a government stooge because he moved an amendment on EU bailouts, allegedly at the whips' secret request. Perhaps he did operate in concert with the whips but, when an MEP, Chris was a leading critic of the EU budget process. I have confidence in his true instincts.
- Over recent years George Eustice, another founder of the group, has been both an official and unofficial spokesman for David Cameron. But George was also once a member of UKIP. He now represents a seat from one of Britain's most Eurosceptic regions; Cornwall in the South West. In a Radio 4 interview on Thursday morning he was less than enthusiastic about the Tory leadership's belief that fiscal union is the answer to the €uro's problems. [Janet Daley btw did a great job earlier this week in exposing the danger of the government's position].
- Then there's people like Priti Patel – who signed the letter that launched this new 'Mainstream Euroscepticism'. A former member of the Referendum Party and widely compared to Margaret Thatcher there's nothing half-hearted about the MP for Witham's Euroscepticism.
In today's Express Priti Patel sets out a whole set of reasons why Europe is a problem for Britain. It's a model of how to communicate Euroscepticism. She doesn't dwell on opaque sovereignty clauses but on the practical consequences of our membership:
"On a weekly basis dozens of meetings take place in the corridors of power in Brussels where bureaucrats bound by a unified sense of fanaticism to establish “an ever closer union” in Europe devise new ways for countries to integrate their policies. From taxation to energy and from education to employment, the tentacles of Europe are reaching deeper into our laws."
She mentions the £20 billion cost of renewable energy obligations. A financial transactions tax that would penalise the City of London and cost jobs. A growing EU budget when nearly every UK budget has had to be cut. An inability to control UK borders. She could have added the enormous cost of EU fisheries and agricultural policies or the hugely inefficient aid budget.
Priti concludes that we should hold an In/Out referendum on the EU – something she appears warm to – or repatriation of powers so that Britain builds a relationship with the EU based on "co-operation" rather than "integration".
William Hague seems aware that something is now bubbling up through the ranks of the Conservative Party and that the leadership may struggle to keep a lid on things if it doesn't start to acknowledge it. Up until now he has leant heavily on his referendum lock. This is not an insignificant measure but it does nothing to address the huge losses of sovereignty already suffered. In today's Times (£) the Foreign Secretary says that a Conservative government would have attempted to have been more Eurosceptic than the Coalition:
“I wanted a Conservative government. I would have liked to have pursued some of the things on Europe on which we’ve had to compromise. However, I do find the experience of coalition government is much better than many of us feared. This is a more united Government than the one I served in before, which was purely Conservative.”
Mr Hague goes on to, in The Times' words "[raise] the prospect of Britain standing increasingly apart from the EU core." "“It’s true of the euro, it could be true of more areas in future,” he says. “In fact we may get ahead as a result of being outside.”" By outside he doesn't mean completely outside but it's a big nod towards 'the Redwood Solution'; we consent to other EU nations doing whatever they choose in terms of greater integration as long as we, in return, can choose our own a la carte relationship.