James Forsyth

The Tories’ new line on Europe

The Tories' new line on Europe
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Tim Montgomerie has the scoop that the Tories will not hold a referendum on Lisbon if it has been ratified by the next general election. A vote on Lisbon once it had been ratified would only have had moral force so the Tory policy shift is not a betrayal of Euro-scepticism. However, the party will seek a ‘manifesto mandate’ to begin negotiations to repatriate powers.

The challenge for the Tories is to persuade the other member states to allow Britain to take back powers.  As Tim says, the Tories will need a savvy negotiator with strong Euro-sceptic instincts to take charge of this process. To my mind, Theresa Villiers, a former MEP who knows her way around the European system and is a strong Euro-sceptic, would be ideal for this task. I fear that if the job was handed to someone from the Tory past like John Redwood it would be too easy to caricature the party as ‘banging on about Europe again.’ (Tim is also more forgiving of David Davis than many Euro-sceptics who will not forgive or forget the fact that Davis was a hard-line whip during Maastricht.) Whoever is in charge of renegotiation should sit in Cabinet as a sign of how seriously a Cameron government is taking the process.

There is also an imperative need for think tanks to start preparing the way and the public for renegotiation. The Tories will need expert advice during this process, so the more legal and policy minds working on it now the better.