Tory MEPs quit over Cameron’s EU policy

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Two Tory frontbenchers in the European Parliament have announced their resignation from EU positions after Conservative leader David Cameron announced he would drop plans to hold a referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty should he come to power next year.

Daniel Hannan, a prominent Conservative MEP, resigned on Wednesday as Conservative spokesman on constitutional affairs, hours after Cameron’s EU speech. 

In a blog post, Hannan suggested he had felt betrayed by Cameron’s U-turn. “It’s not chiefly about Europe – it’s about democracy. Out of 646 MPs in Westminster, 638 were elected on the promise of a referendum,” Hannan wrote.

Hannan was soon joined by Roger Helmer MEP, who resigned as Tory employment spokesman in Brussels. “Like all Conservative MPs and MEPs, I was elected on an explicit Manifesto Commitment to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty,” Helmer wrote on his website. “Yesterday, David Cameron ejected that commitment and repudiated that policy.”

The Conservatives have dropped the idea of holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which reforms the EU’s decision-making and institutions to increase the bloc’s global clout, because all member states have ratified the document.

But Tory leader Cameron said on Wednesday he would seek the return of some powers from the EU to Britain if, as expected, his party wins a parliamentary election next year (EURACTIV 5/11/09).

Cameron said his party would try to negotiate the return of Britain’s right to opt out of some areas of EU social and employment law, win back powers in the criminal justice area and seek a “complete opt-out” from an EU human rights charter.

He also said he would change British law so that any future transfer of power to Brussels would have to be put to a referendum in Britain.

But for Helmer, such a promise would come too late. “Our new policy is confused. We have said that now that the Lisbon Treaty is EU law, we are not in a position to repudiate it. Yet we have made a series of proposals which repudiate significant parts of it, and run counter to EU law – for example the proposed Sovereignty Bill. But as we all know, the supremacy of EU law is explicit in the Lisbon Treaty. If we accept Lisbon, we accept the supremacy of EU law.”

French, UK ministers deride Conservatives’ EU plan

Meanwhile, British and French government ministers criticised the UK opposition Conservatives’ policy plan for Europe on Thursday, saying it would leave Britain isolated in the European Union.

British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson accused Cameron of pandering to Eurosceptics in his party. 

“I don’t believe that Tory [Conservative] Eurosceptics which are now in the majority in his party are being faced down. I think they are being given fresh red meat in what he said yesterday,” he told reporters in a video link-up with Brussels.

“So if the Tories get into government, we now know what will obsess them – petty fights in Europe and isolating Britain in the EU.”

He said Cameron’s plans would “plunge Britain’s EU relations into semi-permanent crisis”.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters it was “extremely positive” that Cameron had abandoned plans for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and said the treaty contained certain opt-out clauses that applied to Britain.

Conservatives ‘pathetic’ and ‘autistic’

But Pierre Lellouche, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, had harsher words, calling the Conservatives’ attempt at winning back EU powers as “pathetic”. 

Speaking to the Guardian, Pierre Lellouche said the Conservatives EU policy would lead Britain to isolation. “They have one line and they just repeat one line. It is a very bizarre sense of autism.”

“My message is simply to say ‘Please, have mercy! Spare us further institutional debates.’ And I say it with great friendship towards the British people and towards Britain, which we Europeans need,” he said.

Lellouche said that by quitting the mainstream centre-right alliance of legislators in the European Parliament in favour of a more radical, Eurosceptic group, the Conservatives had already diminished their own clout within the EU.

“They are doing what they have done in the European Parliament. They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European Parliament,” Lellouche told the Guardian.

“The isolation of their group means that their influence is infinitely less today than it was in the past, and as a friend of Britain, I say: ‘Please do not isolate yourselves’,” he said.

“Europe is made of daily compromises because we all need one another. Of course it would be easier to go it alone. But in today’s globalised world, whether you’re a big or a small country, the risk of marginalisation weighs on all of us.”

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Conservative leader David Cameron has said he will call a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it is not fully ratified by the time the Tories come to power (EURACTIV 03/11/09). 

But Cameron admitted on Tuesday that Czech President Václav Klaus's signature of the treaty had sunk his hopes of holding a British referendum on the document and announced he would not aim to sabotage the European Union (EURACTIV 05/11/09). 

The shift has angered some on the Eurosceptic right of Cameron's party, who say he must keep his referendum promise.

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