David Cameron’s eurosceptic containment strategy is failing

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When a new group of Conservative eurosceptic MPs was launched last month amid much fanfare and media coverage, it was clear that the Tory high command were trying to manage the visceral, eurosceptic instincts of their party. But as Conservatives gather for their annual conference in Manchester, the divisive and toxic issue of Europe is firmly back on the Conservative agenda. The containment strategy is failing.

In opposition, the Tories found euroscepticism an easy stick with which to beat the Labour government. Accusations of “selling out to the Brussels Eurocrats” were a rallying cry that resonated with large swathes of public opinion and most of our fiercely anti-European press. Fuelling this fire was convenient in opposition, but since entering Downing Street, David Cameron has struggled to dampen the flames he once fanned.

On Sunday, the prime minister stated “I don’t want Britain to leave the European Union.” And his Foreign Secretary has also suddenly become a cheerleader for our membership. A decade after accusing Tony Blair of turning Britain into a foreign land, William Hague is now positively gushing about the benefits of 27 countries acting together. In Sunday’s Observer, he underlined the importance of EU sanctions against the Syrian government and an EU free trade agreement with South Korea. And these warm words are not just to keep pro European Lib Dems happy, Hague believes what he is saying.

So what seemed like an opportunity in opposition, now becomes a threat in government. Last month, George Eustice called together a group of 120 Tory MPs, largely from the 2010 intake, to discuss European policy. It was a strategic move, orchestrated by the party leadership itself. Perhaps they should have chosen a less obvious leader of the group. After all, Eustice was Cameron’s press officer in opposition. But they needed someone capable, credible and above all loyal, to control the eurosceptic energy which played so well in opposition but is now so dangerous to the government.

The intention of the new group is to shift the parameters of the debate on Europe. Cameron wants to move the party’s euroscepticism away from the perennial and divisive question of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, and put energy and focus into a campaign for the repatriation of powers. He also needs to show his authority by sidelining the older hardline eurosceptic MPs, such as Bill Cash and Richard Shepherd, who John Major called the “men in white coats”. To put the newer, younger Tory MPs in the driving seat albeit with the levers of powers being pulled from Downing Street.

At Conservative party conference, Cameron wants to focus on his economic message. But instead, he has found himself in that familiar position of Tory Party leaders trying to dodge questions about divisions over Europe. The prime minister now faces the prospect of a vote in the Commons on a referendum on our EU membership this autumn.

The government of the day, of whichever political colour, is always pragmatic enough to understand that Britain’s membership of the European Union is in our national interest. Perhaps next time the Tories are in opposition, they will think twice about stoking the fires of euroscepticim which will inevitably come back to haunt them in government.

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Emma Reynolds MP is a shadow Foreign Office minister

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  • RTI

    Don’t think we need bother about this NewLab troll piece too much.

  • NeilMc

    I didn’t recognise the name Emma, but read your article. I had assumes that you were a Conservative back bencher, not entirely supportive of the leadership. When I read your title I was surprised to find that you were so constructive and balanced. Would that all politicians were to be so.

  • NeilMc

    I didn’t recognise the name Emma, but read your article. I had assumes that you were a Conservative back bencher, not entirely supportive of the leadership. When I read your title I was surprised to find that you were so constructive and balanced. Would that all politicians were to be so.

  • Anonymous

    By what stretch of reality can our membership of the EU be described as being, “in our national interest”?

    We have eviscerated our ability to govern ourselves to an unelected cabal in Brussels, for which we (thanks to Tony Blair) now pay handsomely, whilst cutting vital spending at home.

    We have become part of the ruinous Common Fisheries policy, and pay over the odds for food, whilst shutting out 3rd world suppliers.

    It’s a scandal, and we are not even allowed a say in it.

    • http://twitter.com/ukgoldbug Gold Bug

      I was going to comment but read your post and found you’d said it perfectly. Good comment.

    • http://twitter.com/ukgoldbug Gold Bug

      I was going to comment but read your post and found you’d said it perfectly. Good comment.

    • Rog

      Agree entirely.
      Which is why I’m going to vote UKIP for the forseeable.

      • reality check

        But in reality if you vote for UKIP you will be electing the lib dums. This happened all over england in the last election. So grit your teeth and vote tory.

        • Me

          The only way to bring the tories to their senses is to keep costing them seats by voting UKIP.

      • Ratcatcher

        If you want to leave the EU don’t vote for UKIP, join the Conservative party and threaten deselection to any MP that dare defy his constituency party. That is the way to leave the EU,make Cameron fear you like the Republicans fear the Tea Party, not pussyfoot around with UK.

  • Denis Macshane

    Absolutely spot on

  • Georgescoresby

    Perhaps next time we will choose a euro-sceptic as leader. Typical Tory blindness – wait until the last minute, just before the lights go out, to recognise the danger. Boris, please.

    • Anonymous

      Problem with that is that Boris is just as Euro-loony as the rest of the shower in Westminster, and he’s mega pro-immigration to boot! Amnesty for illegals, anyone?

  • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

    A good and sensible look at Europe – a thing which the Tories find it impossible to do. Touched on this issue in yesterday’s column at LabourList here. It’s an area of opportunity for us if we play it intelligently.

  • http://twitter.com/rob_marchant Rob Marchant

    A good and sensible look at Europe – a thing which the Tories find it impossible to do. Touched on this issue in yesterday’s column at LabourList here. It’s an area of opportunity for us if we play it intelligently.

    • Anonymous

      “.. an area of opportunity for us if we play it intelligently.”

      Mmm, not a cat in hell’s chance then, Rob, hey?

    • Anonymous

      Really? rather than use it as a political power bargaining chip, why not just do the right thing by the British people? Oh sorry, labour Party you say, says it all. The party that trashed the economy and ruined millions of peoples lives to pretend they could end boom and bust

  • Guest14567

    “… is always pragmatic enough to understand that Britain’s membership of the European Union is in our national interest.”

    Ah yes – the deafult position of somebody with a comfortable seat on the good old Gravy Train.

  • Guest14567

    “… is always pragmatic enough to understand that Britain’s membership of the European Union is in our national interest.”

    Ah yes – the deafult position of somebody with a comfortable seat on the good old Gravy Train.

  • Fashion_nugget

    One has a right to expect an MP let alone a shadow minister to get their facts right. This article contains factual inaccuracies and misquotes. Did she right this on the hoof and not bother to check her facts? An example “the men in white coats” – that would imply they were the doctors, Major actually said with reference to Dr. Richard Body that when he saw him he heard “the sound of white coats flapping” implying he was a lunatic and medical staff were chasing after him.

    • fashion_nugget

      Apparently I should have checked my own comment. I meant “write” rather than “right”.

  • http://www.smith-epping.com Andrew Smith

    I don’t know where you were at the time but I certainly do not remember any such euroscepticism in opposition. The Tories had an easy stick with which to beat the Labour government and “selling out to the Brussels Eurocrats” would have rallied many of their former of then current supporters; they might even have won the 2010 election!

    Instead Cameron was highly accomodating to the NuLab fetish with the EU. He even went back on a “cast iron promise” to avoid difficulties over the Lisbon Constitutional Treaty.

    A rallying cry would have resonated with large swathes of public opinion and most of our on-the-fence press.

    I think we must have lived in different coutries during those years!

  • Major Bonkers

    ‘The government of the day, of whichever political colour, is always pragmatic enough to understand that Britain’s membership of the European Union is in our national interest. Perhaps next time the Tories are in opposition, they will think twice about stoking the fires of euroscepticim which will inevitably come back to haunt them in government.’

    Yes, quite right: we wouldn’t want anything as vulgar as letting the great unwashed have a say over such agreed ‘pragmatic’ policies.

    The more idiotic, ‘centrist’, politicians refuse to discuss Europe (and immigration), the more they drive voters – remember them? – towards UKIP (on the right) and the BNP (on the left).

  • Masterth

    How is it ‘progressive’ to deny people a vote on the EU? How is it ‘progressive’ to give billions of pounds to an unelected organisation that hasn’t had its accounts cleared in decades? How is it ‘progressive’ for a democratically elected government to give away powers to an unelected super-national institution which then uses those powers to make laws that British citizens have to obey on pain of imprisonment?

    The founders of all the main parties, no to mention your Labour forefathers would be ashamed.

  • Anonymous

    The sooner DC offers the British people an ‘IN/OUT Referendum the better it will be for our country.