By Matthew Barrett
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The vast majority of the Conservative Party is Euro-sceptic. You would be forgiven for thinking this has always been so. There are some Tories who hark back to the years when the Conservatives were more Europhile than Labour, however. Such Tories as Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Chris Patten are reminders of that segment of the Party's history.
But now we have Nucleus, an independent group headed by former Conservative candidates Peter Wilding and Rob Marr, to lead something of a Europhile fightback. Nucleus also includes on its Steering Committee Sarah Chilman, the Secretary/Organiser of the Conservative Europe Group (whose President is one Rt Hon K Clarke MP). The Group also has a Labour presence on its Steering Committee – Kevin Doran, once an adviser to Alan Donnelly, the former European Parliamentary Labour Party leader.
Their mission statement sets out Nucleus' beliefs:
- "By seeking to maximise its influence in Europe, Britain can better defend Europe's single market from protectionism and protect British influence"
- "By promoting areas where Britain's interests coincide with those of France and Germany, Britain can work effectively to achieve these aims within Europe"
- "That the future must be a globally-focused Britain which leads in the places where global policy is made. Without this, Britain will be sidelined by the USA, in the EU and within international institutions. Moreover our US allies and others want Britain to play a full part creating an outward-looking European Union shaping the developing global world order."
The group, which has offices in London and Brussels, provides daily bulletins – written by David Gow, formerly of the Guardian, and David Seymour, formerly of the Daily Mirror, and bulletins for MPs "of all parties". Starting in April, Nucleus will also be providing briefings for MPs, journalists, think-tankers, business figures, and in March, they will start hosting quarterly visits to Brussels.
Yesterday's daily briefing provides a useful example of the type of material sent out, finding a European angle to the Scottish independence debate:
"What is certain is David Cameron's opinion on why it would be better for the Scots to vote No. "We're better when we're together," he said and that is likely to be the slogan during the referendum campaign. The same is true for the UK's relationship with Europe. Though the eurosceptics don't like him saying it, Mr Cameron has been implying it as he and George Osborne have made the case not just for accepting that we can't stand on the sidelines during the current crisis but for the benefit of this country's businesses and economy. It would be good if the Prime Minister – and other party leaders – could make this case as forcefully as they will during the Scottish referendum."
Interestingly, Tobias Ellwood MP, the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Europe Minister, David Lidington, was on the Steering Committee, which he joined prior to being appointed to that position late last year. However, his membership of the Steering Committee is no longer listed on the Nucleus website.
Their website also features a blog offering "opinion pieces following in the footsteps of this country's greatest Euro-realist; no less than Sir Winston Churchill himself." This is a contentious point: Churchill was indeed in favour of a federal United States of Europe (or a version of one) as a strong buffer against Communism, but he did not imagine Britain would be a part of it. It is also fanciful to imagine that Sir Winston would have said something like "By playing desultory football, the Prime Minister has only strengthened those on the extremes in Parliament. Tory Europhobes will now call for powers to be unilaterally repatriated.".
But whatever one's view, this new group of "Euro-realists" could become a new vehicle that enables Conservative Euro-enthusiasts to work their way back into the party mainstream – or try to.