Saturday, 5 February 2011



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Daily Express staff deliver the petition to Downing Street
Saturday February 5,2011

By Patrick O'Flynn

IN THE past, divisions over Europe have been disastrous for the Conservative Party.
They contributed significantly to the ousting of Margaret Thatcher and crippled the administration of John Major. Yet after the downfall of Major the splits all but disappeared. This is because the pro-Brussels brigade was routed. Bar one or two veterans, most notably Kenneth Clarke, the Conservatives became a fully fledged Eurosceptic party.

But now a new division is opening up in Conservative ranks, between two different strands of Euroscepticism. The schism could, for the first time, be clearly seen this week in the wake of this newspaper’s delivery of hundreds of thousands of coupons demanding a referendum on leaving the EU.

Four Tories accompanied us up Downing Street – along with Labour’s patron saint of common sense Kate Hoey – to deliver the petitions. Peter Bone, Philip Hollobone, Philip Davies and Douglas Carswell are the leading Conservative lights of the Better Off Out group. They would leave the EU tomorrow if they could. There are scores of other Tories who have not yet baldly stated their wish to leave the EU but nonetheless support the idea of a referendum. And it is inconceivable that they would campaign on the side of staying in.
ìIn the past, divisions over Europe have been disastrous for the Conservative Partyî
But there is another large group of Euro-sceptic Tories that have nailed their colours to a different mast. These are the MPs who call for repatriation of powers from the EU to the British Parliament. By winning back lost sovereignty, as envisaged in successive Conservative election manifestos, they say that EU membership can once again be allied with the British national interest.

THERE are so many holes in this argument that one barely knows where to start. David Cameron has already shown he is not inclined to be tough with Brussels, nodding through budget increases and contributions to the Irish bailout while getting nothing in return.

When invited by Zac Goldsmith this week to state that Britain will leave the Common Fisheries Policy unless “discard” arrangements that involve dead fish being tipped back into the sea are abolished, the Prime Minister merely pledged to “work to that end”.

Then there is the fact that  Cameron’s Lib Dem coalition partners are pro-Brussels fanatics who will not countenance any attempt to repatriate sovereignty anyway. But most importantly of all there is the attitude of the European elite towards giving powers back to  individual member states. Only under the most extreme coercion would they even consider it. On the contrary, it is their ambition to take even more power from national  parliaments.

It was ever thus. When Margaret Thatcher battled for the British budget rebate a generation ago it was only by threatening to block all EU business that she got a hearing.
In the Commons on Tuesday many Tories supported a call by Bill Cash for “a clear and positive policy to repatriate those laws that are now within the European Union, which are deliberately and willfully destroying the British economy”.
Few would disagree with that ambition but Mr Hollobone told him: “It is like pushing water uphill.

We are not going to get anywhere with Brussels because it will not see sense on these issues... We have given these things away.”

He added: “I do not see the coalition Government repatriating any powers. For many people it has now come to the issue of whether we are in or out. I do not believe that we can be ‘in Europe but not run by  Europe’. That slogan is, I am afraid, no longer valid.”

If the schism between the Better Off Out group and the repatriators gets much wider then the Conservatives will once more be laid low by splits on Europe.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.
For the irony is that the one thing that might persuade Brussels to loosen its grip on the sovereign throat of Britain is if it knew that a referendum of the British people on whether to remain in the EU was on the horizon. If the Prime Minister were to announce there will be such a referendum in, say, two years time then the European Commission would know that it had 24 months to make the British people a  credible offer. It does not wish to lose the UK from the EU, not least because of our enormous budgetary contributions but also because of the precedent a major member  leaving would set.

So the repatriators would suddenly have maximum leverage and the practicality of their mission could be tested. All brands of  sceptics could see what powers Brussels was willing to return under duress and the British people could judge if that was sufficient.

By adopting such a course the Conservatives could maintain party unity on Europe and pursue the British national interest. Otherwise Mr Cameron will make no progress on Europe and may have to prepare for increasingly bitter infighting of the sort that destroyed several of his predecessors.
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