Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Tory eurosceptics: less a fresh start, more a stale fart

Today’s big news is (or would have been, were it not for the helicopter crash in London) the publication of a manifesto by the ‘Fresh Start’ group of Tory backbench MPs.

This new eurosceptic faction is demanding “significant revisions” to EU treaties, with a substantial return of powers from the EU to the UK.

Just how, exactly?

The EU comprises 27 member states (soon to be 28 with the accession of Croatia). They proceed by agreement, which means negotiation and compromise. No single state can make unilateral changes to the treaties, not even a United Kingdom represented by politicians with imperial delusions.

It is not that reform of the EU is necessarily undesirable or that change is impossible. But negotiating to get what you want requires mutual respect, patient diplomacy, and the building of friendships and alliances. Instead, the Tories withdrew from the mainstream EPP group of centre-right parties and set up shop with a bunch of “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes”. They now seek to destabilise the EU by making reckless demands they know cannot be met. And they are doing so at a time when Europe’s leaders have more important things on their plates than the internal politics of the Tory party. This is hardly the best way to make friends and influence people.

It is less a fresh start, more a stale fart. The Fresh Start group is simply grandstanding, partly to avert the electoral threat from UKIP and partly to twist David Cameron’s arm before his “long-awaited” keynote speech about Europe, which he will finally make on Friday in the Netherlands.

Cameron’s speech, incidentally, is remarkable for the effects it has had before it has been delivered – and before anyone even knows what it says. It has turned into a diplomatic and public relations shambles before Cameron has uttered a word.

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