The Tories are back - And so is Euroscepticism

The Liberals fail to win the “Europe Compromise”

, by Anonymous

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The Tories are back - And so is Euroscepticism

The United Kingdom has a Hung Parliament. For the first time in over 30 years, no single party has returned a majority to Westminster and the first coalition since the Second World War has been formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It has been an exciting but unusual election for the British who are used to clear majorities and a winner declared by 3am the next morning. It may be the norm in many continental nations to bargain for weeks before coalition agreements are reached, but in Britain, patience was immediately running out. The press didn’t like it and the idea of internal discussions, deals and secrecy didn’t go down well with the public. Congratulations Britain! You have finally joined the rest of Europe. Now you know what democracy is also about.

The Conservatives are the largest party with 306 seats followed by Labour on 258 and a disappointing 57 for the Liberal Democrats. It’s clear that the United Kingdom has voted for change. But that changed did not result in a clear cut victory for David Cameron who fell 20 seats short of an overall majority. Despite the economic recession, despite Labour’s enormous campaign gaffes, despite Gordon Brown’s unpopularity, despite 13 years of successive Labour governments and despite the fact that he was 10 points ahead in the opinion polls, David Cameron failed to win.

The crucial moment was the resignation of Gordon Brown who took full responsibility for Labour’s defeat, and the subsequent offer of electoral reform from the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats made it clear that they would begin negotiations first with the party that won most seats, though in principle nothing would have stopped them from forming a coalition with Labour. The crucial moment was the resignation of Gordon Brown who took full responsibility for Labour’s defeat, and the subsequent offer of electoral reform from the Conservatives. This was the focal issue for the Lib Dems - it runs in the DNA of the party. Any deal had to see a clear commitment of a referendum on some form of proportional representation.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal leader, faced the single most important decision of his political career. If his members and MPs believe he got this wrong, both he, and his party will suffer the consequences. Already there are rumours of Liberal members defecting to the Labour party and unhappy Liberal MPs who cannot believe that their leadership would ever consider forming a full coalition with a party at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Is the offer of being in power with five Cabinet Ministers more tempting and desirable than championing the party’s principles and policies? So it appears. But after all, they have waited a lifetime for this moment.

Europe is one of those thorny issues where the Conservatives and the Liberals just can’t see eye to eye. The compromise on European Union relations is very disappointing and this is one of the policy areas where the Conservatives got their way. This is the agreement:

  1. 1. The British Government will be a positive participant in the European Union.
  2. 2. No further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament.
  3. 3. Limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom
  4. 4. Amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that Treaty – a ‘referendum lock.
  5. 5. Amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that the use of any passerelle would require primary legislation.
  6. 6. Examine the case for a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority remains with Parliament.
  7. 7. Britain will not join or prepare to join the Euro in this Parliament.
  8. 8. Strongly defend the UK’s national interests in the forthcoming EU budget.

Any member of the Liberal Democrat party will be extremely disappointed with this agreement. But the Liberal leadership insists that compromises were inevitable and to retain every single manifesto policy was impossible. Whether some pro European Liberal MPs will abstain or even vote against some of these eurosceptic proposals is yet to be seen.

So what can we expect from David Cameron and his eurosceptic Foreign Minister William Hague during European Council meetings? To answer that question, let’s have a quick glance at Cameron’s record and views on Europe.

He pulled his party out of the largest political grouping in the European Parliament to sit with the far right – therefore isolating himself from mainstream European politics and influential decision making; he viciously opposed the Lisbon Treaty, making back door deals with Europe’s most eurosceptic President; he planned to repatriate policy areas back to Britain (luckily on this point the Liberals did manage to put their foot down); he wants a cap on European migrants entering Britain for all future EU Member States; and he insulted the President of France by calling him a dwarf. It might sound like UKIP’s Nigel Farage, but in fact, we’re talking about the new British Prime Minister – and Europe, is a word he uses purely in the negative.

It might sound like UKIP’s Nigel Farage, but in fact, we’re talking about the new British Prime Minister – and Europe, is a word he uses purely in the negative.

Perhaps he will ask for a separate table, well hidden from Merkel and Sarkozy, or phone President Klaus for tactful advice. One thing is clear – Cameron doesn’t have many friends in Europe. For the moment that might not bother him but when the time comes to bargain, to seek co-operation and to push something on the agenda, the inexperienced and naïve David Cameron will realise that friends are precious. And Vaclav Klaus won’t be there to save him.

All in all, this is an exciting journey for Britain. It is experiencing a different side of democracy – one it may see more often should voting reform become a reality. But the stability of this coalition Government or “civil partnership” as some have described it is uncertain and we are already wondering how soon the cracks will start to appear. The divisive issues are deep and although both leaders are committed to working for the ‘national interest’ it may not be enough to guarantee stability. But one thing is certain: Britain’s relations with the EU are set for a rocky road again. If you thought Blair or Brown were eurosceptic, you’re in for a treat.

Image: Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at the first Cabinet meeting on 13 May 2010, Crown copyright. Creative Commons Copyright: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic Source: Flickr.

Your comments

  • On 30 May 2010 at 07:30, by Charles Replying to: The Tories are back - And so is Euroscepticism

    Well, if it weren’t for the likes of Cameron and Farage, we would have the nightmare Europe of Guy Verhofstadt and his fellow thinkers.

    The great misunderstanding of 1939-45 is not reason enough to forcibly make us one big happy family.

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