ConHome threatens civil war with Cameron over EU

10:05 am - November 2nd 2009

by Sunny Hundal    

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In anticipation of David Cameron’s u-turn on Lisbon, Tim Montgomerie has mounted what could charitably be described as a face-saving operation at ConHome, while trying to extract his own pound of flesh for the support.

He says:

Unless Vaclav Klaus u-turns again, the Lisbon Treaty is about to be ratified. The Conservative leadership will say that, if elected, there’ll be no attempt to ‘unratify’ it via a referendum. Lisbon is not the only problem in our relationship with the EU, goes the argument, and it would be a referendum that cannot undo Lisbon. I’m 99% certain of this position having worked the phones over the last 24 hours.

So far so unexpected. In fact Peter Oborne earlier predicted this with an article in the Observer: ‘Cameron has only himself to blame for this mess on Europe‘.

Tim Montgomerie then proceeds to counter expected criticisms with headers such as:

Again, so far so unexpected.

But David Cameron promised to The Sun in 2007 that:

Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations.

That “cast-iron guarantee” is in tatters. As Cameron himself said in the same article:

Small wonder that so many people don’t believe a word politicians ever say if they break their promises so casually.

But what’s most interesting in Tim Montgomerie’s defence of Cameron’s new position is this:

If Britain’s relationship with the EU is fundamentally the same after five years of Conservative government the internal divisions that ended the last Tory period in government will look like a tea party in comparison.

That sounds rather like a thinly veiled threat to me. Put his favoured MPs David Davis or John Redwood MP or else…

Tim Montgomerie has written a good article but its main purpose seems to be to try and neutralise a Tory grassroots revolt while giving a clear signal to Cameron that a battle is nevertheless looming.

Unfortunately the Eurosceptics may not be as easily neutralised as Montgomerie hopes.

Paul Waugh reports:

Dan Hannan, who has tried his best not to give the leadership difficulties over all of this, was blunt today however about the idea of abandoning the referendum. Speaking on BBC’s Politics Show, he was asked what would happen if Cameron’s “cast-iron pledge” was dumped:

“That’s a question you’d have to put to him. I mean, it’s he who’s given his word, not me.” [my italics]

“My own view remains that there must be a referendum and the case for a British referendum does not depend on what happens in the Czech Republic or Ireland or Poland or anywhere else.”

That’s a pretty stark rejection of the Cameron and Montgomerie position.

Over at the Wall Street Journal Iain Martin is similarly scathing:

David Cameron gave British voters a cast-iron guarantee on a referendum on Lisbon and that guarantee is being broken. That may be because circumstances have changed, but still it’s a pledge that’s being abandoned, discarded or torn-up. As a consequence, the word ‘betrayal’ is going to be bandied about rather a lot.

More importantly, he pours cold water on the strength of the Eurosceptic movement.

Euroscepticism in the UK is in serious trouble. It is said the next Tory intake is overwhelmingly Eurosceptic and perhaps it is, but I suspect that will mean diddly-squat in the long-run. The other two main parties are signed up to the EU consensus. As a movement, Euroscepticism is a mess.

After the sceptics won the battle on a single currency (which had as much to do with Gordon Brown’s opposition as it did with their efforts) the movement effectively decommissioned intellectually. No enduring institutions or think-tanks were built to advance ideas for reform of the EU. Beyond endless calls for a referendum, and the important interventions of a few figures such as Dan Hannan MEP, there was virtually nothing of any value.

Ouch! Let the civil war commence.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Europe ,Foreign affairs ,Humour ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. ken from glos

Dont forget you lied about a referendum.

Before you get over-excited, this euro-obsession is rather one-sided

It is very clear that you cannot have a referendum on a treaty that has already been ratified by all member states and is in force. To promise such a thing would be pointless.

To set out a clear set of principles as to how you will seek to reframe the relationship between the UK and the EU is clear and simple. To seek a mandate for this by making it part of a future manifesto is also clear and simple.

It is far more honest than promising a referendum and then failing to deliver.

This is a pragmatic, honest and practical position to take.

Far more acceptable that making promises that you will never carry out – like Labour has done. Time after Time and Teim.

Or the Lib Dems who also promised a referendum and when presented with a chance to have one – ran away and hid.

Get over yourself on this one. There will be no Tory civil war.

The only civil war is the one that will be fought for the leadership of the Labour Party – and that will be a lot nastier and a lot bloodier than anything we have seen in recent years.

They smell power and will avoid civil war, until after the election anyway.

It’s Labour’s forthcoming civil war which will be far more entertaining…

Two points.

1. Does the author think there should be a referendum on Lisbon or not? If yes, then you’re examining the wrong party – Labour is the governing party and their 2005 manifesto had something about the EU constitution in it, if I remember rightly. If no, then why are you so concerned about pushing the Tories to hold a referendum on a ratified Lisbon?

2. If a referendum on a ratfied Lisbon treaty cannot ‘unratify’ it, as appears to be the case, then what’s the point of holding one? The Tory position will be made clear in their 2010 election manifesto (if it isn’t, they’ll lose millions of votes to UKIP). If you want to know what it is before then, get Obama Beach to call an election.

Oh, no – not ‘renegotiation’ again? wasn’t this Redwood’s code for, at best, ensuring Britain had all the benefits of EU membership but none of the responsibilities/obligations, and at worst, getting the [bleep] out of the EU altogether? And wasn’t the problem the same then as it will be if the Tories win next year: that one/more/all of the other (now 26) EU states will just say ‘No’?

PS: Anyone at LibCon picked up on the BNP’s attempt to put together a far-right EU bloc yet?

Up goes the UKIP vote: yes, I know, I’m a UKIPer but really, this is exactly the sort of thing which will have enough Tories screaming in rage and voting UKIP (as many did at the euros). Enough to deny Cameron some seats although probably not enough to win UKIP many/any.

Ahhh.. the Tories are out in force pushing forward their new pragmatism!

How far can we take the rewriting of history to expunge seriously unwanted events?

Dominique de Villepin, previously a recent prime minister of France when Chirac was President, thinks the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 inadvertently went the wrong way: “And yet this defeat shines with an aura worthy of victory.”

Take a look at this video clip of the extraordinary funeral arrangements in 1936 for the German Ambassador to Britain, Leopold von Hoesch, a career diplomat, who died unexpectedly in post. The British Coldstream Guards marched in a funeral procession along with Nazi troops flying the swastika. Crowds there to view the procession made the Nazi salute:

The funeral arrangements conducted in Germany after the coffin had been transported there were much less impressive:

Leopold von Hoesch was replaced as ambassador by von Ribbentrop who arrived in London during October 1936. Ribbentrop’s conduct in London was symbolised by the notorious Hitler salute when he presented his credentials to King George VI. He left his post as ambassador, on promotion, less than two years later.

Cameron’s exit strategy is obvious if he thinks it through. His goal is to quieten the loony wing of his party and to stop votes leaking to UKIP. Neither group is going to be impressed by whatever fig leaf is being stitched together, because it ignores the fact the Farage and Hannan object not to Lisbon but to the EU. The solution from his perspective is clear and is essentially the one adopted by Wilson to extricate himself from a similar predicament: a straight in/out referendum with his members free to campaign on either side. I think it very unlikely that the electorate would vote to leave. If they do, so be it. If they don’t then the boil has been lanced.

The “Eurosceptics” seem to be doing very well – just to please them we’re stuck with the pound and grotesquely overdone border controls, while the rest of the EU gets a proper currency and the freedom to move about.

But you have to wonder how they see themselves. They do doublethink in a big way. One look at any right wing website will tell you that they are constantly telling each other how they represent the overwhelming majority, yet they’ve accepted the idea that it’s vital to keep tory europhobia quiet until after the election. If the tory party really thinks its hatred of Europe is a major vote winner, why is it so desperate to keep it quiet? Could it be that they know we like it in Europe?

Too right, Jimmy.

But the problem with an In/Out referendum is that it could just go wrong.

I don’t think Cameron wants to go down in history as the man who took the UK (or perhaps just England?) out of the EU, condemning us to perhaps 15 years of economic disadvantage until we have to go begging for readmission on rather less favourable terms. Nor do I think Cameron would want to face the wrath of the CEO’s of all those FTSE100 companies who would immediately demand his guts for garters the moment the results were in.

I don’t believe the Europhobes can win because they comprise two incompatible consituencies. The economic liberals like the four freedoms but not the trappings of federalism, and would one suspects seek to maintain the UK within the EEA. On the other hand, there is a nationalist vote which objects to cheap Polish plasterers, whom the economic liberals would like to keep. The anti-camp is a marriage of convenience which would unravel during a campaign. If they survived the campaign and secured a no vote then they would certainly come to blows during the exit negotiations.

@V.E. Bott – trouble is, the ‘phobes have convinced themselves that we could go on to have the same kind of relationship with the EU that Switzerland or Norway does (it’s always those two they cite – never, for example, Belarus or a Balkan – funny, that).

“phobes have convinced themselves that we could go on to have the same kind of relationship with the EU that Switzerland or Norway”

No doubt they could, but at some point the xenophobes will realise that that relationship does not get rid of the eastern europeans.

Some of us EU-phobes aren’t that bothered about Eastern Europeans, just the accompanying laws and regulation. We are a fairly civilised country with a good track record in services and a handful of manufactured goods. With that in mind, why wouldn’t our relationship with the EU be more like Switzerland and Norway, rather than a dictatorsip like Belarus? Not to mention the fact that our leaving the EU would weaken it as a trade block anyway.

“Some of us EU-phobes aren’t that bothered about Eastern Europeans, just the accompanying laws and regulation.”

No doubt, but my point is that the key word in that sentence is “some”.


Some of us EU-phobes aren’t that bothered about Eastern Europeans, just the accompanying laws and regulation.

Which provides solid concrete evidence that British Europhobes do not understand what they are wishing for.

That law and regulation will still have to be implemented here. Only we won’t get a say in drafting it.

That is a very, very bad bargain indeed for a supposedly first tier economy like Britain.

Europhobes wilfully don’t want to understand that any attempt to de-couple Britain from the EU will immediately relegate Britain to the role of also rans in the league of countries to be listened to.

The EU needn’t care too much about Britain’s negotiating power upon its self-defeating withdrawal – it can ride roughshod over our bombed out economy. We lost a lot of friends in Brussels with our indulgent finger pointing and siren calls for Europe to be “more like us” during the good times.

Interesting point Jimmy makes about the coherence of the anti-EU forces.

The Sceptics really do have to make up their mind if they’re hoping for EEA status (like Norway) or for some arrangement based on a committment to harmonise our legislation with EU rules (the Swiss model) so as not to obstruct the exchange of goods with EU Member States.

The former is described, by Norwegians, as government by fax. Most of the EU legislation simply passes straight into Norwegian law without Norway being given a vote on the topics concerned. The second arrangement is even more onerous, as not only does Switzerland have to shape its legislation to match that in the EU but the relations between Switzerland and the EU are ever in a state of flux, with Switzerland constantly having to worry that the EU will move in a way that leaves it right out in the cold, as happened very recently over the rights and status of fund managers based in Switzerland.

We have grown so used to the benefits of the EU that people have no idea of what life could be like if we were back on the outside. In good times, of course, it might be alright although rather less democratic even than the present unsatisfacory arrangements. In bad times, Britain could find itself totally marginalized, with painful consequences for trade and employment.

Sweitzerland and Norway have very specific reasons for their positions on Europe. Oil and a national identity based on fisheries in the case of Norway, banking secrecy and a terrific commitment to popular democracy via constant referendums in Switzerland’s case. Sovereignty for sovereignty’s sake just isn’t enough of an argument.

It would be interesting to have more detail on trade. If we buy more Germany, Italy and France than they do us, who benefits? If we look at the Common Fisheries Policy and the CAP who benefits? As the BRIC countries grow in power, along with Malaysia and Indonesia, why is trading with our European partners so important over the next 25 years? As the population of Europe ages and much of the GDP is spent on pensions and healthcare for the elderly what will happen to the market? Perhaps we neeed to return to merchant trading past and look to markets outside of Europe.

@Charlie: Its not so much the Trade (though the benefit of a heterogeneous market is self evident, and can’t be overstated), but our bargaining power collectively. Our Merchant Trading past would be wholly impossible today as we have nothing of the Imperial resource pool we once did.

@ V.E. Bott: This is absolutely fundamental argument for staying within Europe. We will inevitably be forced by market pressure to comply with EU regulations if we want to continue trading (adding serious strain to our Parliament in the process; can we really afford to pass hundreds of acts regulating tire pressure and the like?) . If we accept this, surely it is better for us to have a hand in policy formulation? Complaints of a lack of democracy are nothing compared to being wholly unable to influence EU policy in the future.

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