70 Tory MPs set to join new group to fight EU integration
Up to 70 Conservative MPs are to join a new group dedicated to "reversing the process" of closer European Union integration in a move likely to place fresh strain on the coalition.
Dozens will attend a Commons meeting next month to discuss the formation of the Eurosceptic group which aims to provide "helpful advice" to the government.
The move carries echoes of the formation – more than 20 years ago – of the Bruges Group, which took its name from one of Margaret Thatcher's speeches in which she attacked the formation of a European superstate and which became a focus for Eurosceptic Tories in the 1990s.
The new grouping is being put together by three MPs who were all elected for the first time in last year's general election: 3, who was David Cameron's former media chief, Chris Heaton-Harris and Andrea Leadsom.The trio wrote to fellow Tory MPs last month to invite them to a meeting in the Thatcher Room at the Commons on 12 September. Mr Eustice last night said the letter had so far attracted 71 positive replies – around a quarter of the party's MPs.
The letter states: "It has ... become clear that events in the European Union are going to dominate British politics in the coming years across a wide range of policies."We think it might be helpful if we set up an informal group of like-minded MPs who could come together to talk, receive regular quality topical briefings, exchange ideas and, indeed, provide support and helpful advice to the government.
"The political objective of the group would be to reverse the process of ever-closer union."The move risks incurring the wrath, however, of the Tories' Liberal Democrat coalition partners, whose party continues to maintain broad support for Brussels.
Mr Eustice said: "There is a lot of interest in such a group. It aims to be constructive and the ensure that we make the most of the opportunity presented by a Eurosceptic PM and a changing context in Europe."
The new breed of younger Eurosceptic MPs takes a much more pragmatic view of the EU than the veterans of the old ideological battles over the Maastricht treaty that hamstrung John Major's government in the 1990s, some of whom, such as Bill Cash, are still in parliament.
Nevertheless it is estimated that up to half of the 148 Conservatives elected for the first time in 2010 think Britain should quit the EU altogether, with scores more believing the UK's relationship with the EU is ripe for a fundamental overhaul.
As well as the financial crisis gripping the eurozone and the lead-up to the future funding of the EU from 2014, several flashpoints are mentioned by MPs, including moves due to take effect in 2014 that would see the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice have greater say over policing policy in the UK.
"As the fundamental nature of our relationship with the EU changes over the next couple of years, there will be greater pressure for referendums on key issues," one Tory MP predicted.
Plans to do away with all or part of the Human Rights Act will also carry on being a major issue.
"David [Cameron] promised a British Bill of Rights before the election," a Tory MP said. "But he can't deliver it – the Lib Dems won't let him. In extremis that could be a coalition breaker and the PM won't risk it."
Away from Europe, taxation is a thorny issue. Many of the new intake support moves to scrap the 50p top rate of tax on incomes above £150,000 in a bid to boost business – as Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, advocated this weekend.
Like Mr Pickles, and unlike among Lib Dems, there is little or no appetite for replacing it with another form of imposition on the wealthiest.
"I don't want to scrap the 50p tax band and bring in a mansion tax," one Conservative elected last year said. "In any case our main efforts should be focused on helping business and promoting growth."
Even moves to repeal the ban on hunting with dogs, brought in under Labour, and a touchstone for many rural Tory supporters, is likely to be a big problem for Mr Cameron.
Some new Tory MPs, many of them women with urban or suburban seats, favour keeping the ban in place – as do the overwhelming majority of Lib Dem and Labour MPs.
One backbencher confidently predicts there is no way the ban will overturned. "The numbers don't exist. The PM should just get on with it – lose the vote and move on."
An indication of the strength of feeling about the direction of travel the party should take can be seen from the fact that no fewer than three books are scheduled for publication around the time of the forthcoming party conference season in which Conservative MPs will attempt to seize the agenda.
One of them, provisionally entitled After the Coalition, features contributions from Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Elizabeth Truss, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore, all members of the 2010 intake.
David Davis, Mr Cameron's main opponent in 2005 for the party's leadership and the former shadow home secretary, is also overseeing a book with contributions from mainly right-leaning MPs – including new members Steve Baker, Therese Coffey and Richard Drax.
A third tome, snappily-titled Masters of Nothing: The Crash and How It Will Happen Again Unless We Understand Human Nature, is being written by another pair of up-and-coming MPs, Matthew Hancock and Nadhim Zahawi.
Younger MPs are careful to couch their desire for change in terms of support for Mr Cameron and the coalition.
Mr Raab, a former business lawyer who is MP for Esher and Walton, said: "The mood is positive because the coalition is delivering – whether its deficit reduction, welfare reform or raising teaching standards.
"The challenge for us comes from the unforeseen and the unpredictable. The riots inevitably feel like a vindication of David Cameron's diagnosis of the broken society and the importance of family, while the Eurozone crisis has created a crossroads for the EU as a whole."
Tracey Crouch, a former head of public affairs for the insurance company Aviva who is now MP for Chatham and Aylesford, said: "Constituents understand that we've had to prioritise reducing the deficit in our first year of Government, but now they want to see us deliver on the key manifesto promises that they voted me and others into parliament on the back of.
"Every time there is a story in the paper about some ridiculous human rights claim, or outrageous EU spending commitment, I get reminded by constituents of not only what was on my leaflets but what was in the coalition agreement too."
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However I am far more inclined to agree with Richard North in his article which follows - particularly having seen the self interest group that gathered around Dan Hannan, Marc Glendenning, Blob Crow and the other misfits who were disapointed at not being able to Hi Jack The People's Pledge funded by Toby Blackwell and run by James Pryor and Bridget Rowe nor - although they fed in the recycled Democracy Movement names I gather - they were unable to steal and l;ay claim to Nikki Sinclaire's Petition for an EU Referendum Campaign names - well aware that she had topped the 100,000 whilst they were still squabbling!
I am clearly of the opinion that although out manouvered Dan Hannan's relaunch was merely a manipulation by pro EU Labour party senior ranks seeking to embarrass David Cameron over a referendum just as this latest excercise is far more interested in the wishes of The Tory Party than the wishes of the electorate who have made it VERY clear that the majority wish to disassociate themselves from The EU and a huge majority wish to be distanced from it in political law making terms and the plethora of damaging trade regulations the costly scam forces upon us.
The Sunday Failygraph is making a big deal about an old story, one we covered well over a month ago. This is how those mythical creatures, "eurosceptic" Tories, are going to get together to do something or other.
Of course, this has nothing to do with the coming euro-elections, and the Tories wanting to avoid utter humiliation as the voters show they prefer even the dysfunctional UKIP to them. Thus, do we have Myrtle the Judas goat, but now in herds, as the Tory claque collects together their licensed dissidents, a grouping with all the credibility of the people's front for the liberation of Judea. When all is said and done, they are still Tories.
The more substantive point, though, is that euroscepticism is old hat. Given its current travails, there is little chance of the European Union surviving in its present form to the end of the next decade. The better odds are on a complete collapse.
Moreover, as it becomes increasingly apparent that our membership of the EU is a symptom of a greater malaise, and that leaving the EU would not actually solve anything, given the corruption and incompetence of our political élites, the idea of Tory Boys (of both sexes) getting worked up about the EU frankly lacks appeal. In truth, though – as Wittering for Witney points out - they are taking the piss.
Even if we take the initiative at face value, this is a case of generals fighting the last war. We have the advanced guard of the politicals fighting yesterday's battle. One should perhaps be grateful that they can deal with such an advanced concept, but even that has little more than academic interest.
The real battle is elsewhere. This parliament has had its day. It has become little more than a self-interest pressure group.
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