By Tim Montgomerie
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William Hague makes it clear this morning that the Government is not going to budge on the question of a European referendum. 67 Tory MPs may have pledged their support to David Nuttall's backbench motion but the Foreign Secretary thinks this is the wrong time for a debate. This is what he writes in an article for The Telegraph:
"On Monday, the House of Commons will vote on a motion for a referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union. The Government will oppose the motion. Our policy is very clear: we believe that Britain should be in Europe, not run by Europe. We believe that Europe needs fundamental reform. As a Conservative, I want to bring powers back from Europe, as we set out in our election manifesto. But a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, especially at this time of profound economic uncertainty, is not the answer."
Mr Hague's is a perfectly reasonable position but I don't think it will work. For a large number of voters and Tory members there is a suspicion that the current Tory leadership just wants to manage Britain's relations with Europe rather than deliver a fundamental change. We all remember Cameron saying we shouldn't "bang on" about Europe. We remember the weak response to the passage of the Lisbon Treaty. And, last week, Eurosceptics and the Right of the Conservative Party noted the unbalanced nature of David Cameron's reshuffle. They no longer feel properly represented at the top table of the party.
In summary; Mr Hague's words on paper look very reasonable but, to use the PM's words, is there any fight in the dog?
> Yesterday evening's ToryDiary: 67% of voters tell Cameron that they want a vote on Britain's relationship with the EU