Following our report on Monday that Downing Street was pressuring Conservative MEPs to vote in favour of the Juncker Commission, I gather there’s been some movement. Following a delegation meeting today between MEPs, the group whip and Syed Kamall, the leader of our MEPs, the decision has been taken to disobey Number 10.
The official whipping line will be to abstain – though of course some MEPs may vote in favour or against the Commission if they feel particularly strongly.
This is good news – it would have been inconsistent to vote in favour of the arch-federalist and his team, and wrong to turn loyal MEPs into rebels just for following through on what Cameron himself said only a few months ago.
Syed in particular deserves praise for this decision. It can’t be easy as a recently elected leader to have the Prime Minister instruct you to do something your colleagues dislike, and he should never have been put in that position. It’s to his credit that he has evidently listened to his fellow MEPs, to the voters and grassroots activists who backed an anti-Juncker platform in May, and indeed to this site.
One has to wonder why Downing Street got involved in this at all. The eventual outcome isn’t as damaging as it might have been, had a Yes vote gone ahead as instructed, but the debate itself has still caused tensions among the Conservative delegation. That trouble could have been avoided by allowing them to sort it out for themselves. This was an unnecessarily hard road to what should have been a simple decision.
Underlying the story is a troubling question of judgement. Even if you happen to be among the tiny minority who genuinely supports Juncker – and the Prime Minister has made it very clear that he isn’t – this request to Tory MEPs was never going to produce anything but strife, and never going to generate any upsides for the Government or the UK in return. Hopefully the mistake won’t be repeated.