British Tory eurosceptics pose headache for Europe

9th October 2009, Comments 10 comments

Polls put the opposition Conservatives on course to oust Britain’s Labour government in an election to be held by next June but the Tories' opposition to the EU's Lisbon Treaty is causing concern in Brussels.

Manchester -- Eurosceptics in Britain's opposition Conservatives could cause a major headache for the European Union if, as many expect, they take power at the next election, analysts have warned.

Polls put David Cameron's party on course to oust Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour government in an election to be held by next June, but the Tories' opposition to the EU's Lisbon Treaty is causing concern in Brussels.

"I clearly see a potential for crisis with Europe," said Wyn Grant, professor of politics at Warwick University. "The eurosceptics are very strong in the Conservative party, especially among the people likely to be in the next government."

William Hague, who is expected to be the next foreign minister, is "firmly in the eurosceptic camp", he told AFP, while Cameron himself is "under a lot of pressure" to respond to eurosceptics in his party.

In a speech Thursday to his party's conference in Manchester, northwest England, Cameron was expected to reaffirm his commitment to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it has not been ratified by all 27 EU member states and he is elected.

This is despite expectations that the treaty will pass into law by the end of the year. Of the two countries that must still ratify it, Poland is likely to sign within days and the Czech Republic expects to do so by year-end.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, gave Cameron a friendly warning over the Lisbon Treaty in comments published Thursday.

He told the Times newspaper he saw him as a "friend" and wanted him to lead Britain but added: "Once he becomes prime minister, he will need friends in Europe to achieve the things he wants to see...

"If everything goes to plan, hopefully we will have everything in place (over Lisbon) for New Year's Eve -- well before any British elections."

The Conservatives have said that if the treaty is already ratified, "we would not let matters rest there", though have not elaborated on what precisely this would mean, prompting a flurry speculation from leading figures.

Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson has suggested a referendum on individual elements of the treaty, while senior Tory lawmaker David Davis said a separate vote on Britain's ties with Europe could be on the cards.

Daniel Hannan, a eurosceptic Conservative member of the European Parliament, said he expects some kind of action regardless of treaty's status, saying "the priority would be a unilateral repatriation of power" from Brussels to London.

Hannan is on the right-wing of the Conservatives and does not speak for the party's leadership but reports suggest he was instrumental in getting them to pull out of the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament.

While Hannan would like to see Britain leave Europe altogether, Cameron has made clear this is not an option, but wants Britain to take back powers over social and employment issues.

"A British Conservative cabinet would hugely complicate the government of Europe," said Charles Grant, director of pro-European think tank the Centre for European Reform.

"You'll have a government that will probably try to unpick part of the Lisbon Treaty, maybe withhold budget payments, block accession (of new EU member states), who knows? They'll just create problems."

Grant told AFP that Cameron would likely soften his eurosceptic stance if he takes power, but warned this could take some time, saying his first few years in office could be "very disruptive".

Senior Conservatives reject the idea that tensions over their policy and their withdrawal from the European People's Party to form a new anti-federalist bloc in the European Parliament have damaged relations with EU leaders.

Junior foreign affairs spokesman David Lidington said Cameron had met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel "on numerous occasions" and a close working relationship "will develop".

He added: "The reality is that if there is a Conservative government at Westminster, then the governments of the other European countries will know that they have to deal with us, and will want to deal with us."

Alice Ritchie/AFP/Expatica

10 Comments To This Article

  • John Murphy posted:

    on 10th October 2009, 12:36:15 - Reply

    OK no more on this site, I give up
  • John Murphy posted:

    on 10th October 2009, 12:34:23 - Reply

    Can't be that Geoff, notice the comma after WW1. The rest read '
  • Geoff Morris posted:

    on 10th October 2009, 10:25:03 - Reply

    Maybe you can only post everything as one paragraph?
  • John Murphy posted:

    on 10th October 2009, 08:45:49 - Reply

    Can anyone tell me why my comments are being curtailed, so that it appears like an inane statement?
  • John Murphy posted:

    on 10th October 2009, 08:43:45 - Reply

    For some reason most of my comment was lost, so here goes again
    Good old England, rescued Europe twice in the last 100 years, for God's sake read history, the Americans sorted out WW1,
  • John Murphy posted:

    on 10th October 2009, 01:09:44 - Reply

    Good old England, rescued Europe twice in the last 100 years, for God's sake read history, the Americans sorted out WW1,
  • Geoff Morris posted:

    on 9th October 2009, 14:08:55 - Reply

    My only reason to sound patronising is the total ignorant claptrap that most people arguing against the EU spout. Sorry, but I can not help but become exasperated by the plain untruths these people believe.
  • Richard posted:

    on 9th October 2009, 13:03:05 - Reply

    How patronising to state that the British have no clue as to what we are talking about. That's the real problem. We do know - and what we see - we do not like, approve, or accept. If a referendum on membership is never allowed then whether Europeans like it or not - eventually there will bhe conflict. Maybe not in my lifetime but it is a certainty. The British (especially the English) can be very stubborn - history should tell you that and is why we have rescued Europe twice in the last 100 years.
  • Geoff Morris posted:

    on 9th October 2009, 12:30:48 - Reply

    As a British Citizen having spent all my adult life in the Netherlands and France, I can only believe that all the British people who claim to be against the EU have absolutely no clue at all what they are talking about. It makes for depressing reading every time one of these stories comes up in the news...
  • Richard posted:

    on 9th October 2009, 11:51:01 - Reply

    Your report is correct - but the Conservative Party is not yet strong enough in opposition to, not only the Lisbon Treaty, but to the whole concept of the EU. Many Europeans simply do not grasp that the UK has never been asked if we wanted to join a single state, single parlaiment etc. Party politicians and political activists aside, the country is largely against the EU and now wish to withdraw - as most polls show. The nation needs a referendum on this issue - and the EU will have to accept the outcome (unlike Ireland) otherwise the future is dire indeed.