David Blackburn

Will the coalition fall over Europe?

Will the coalition fall over Europe?
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Well, well. Simon Hughes has just made firm Eurosceptic comments in the Commons. He said:

‘I'm also clear...that we need to revisit some of the decisions like the working time directive where I think we made a mistake, and there have been mistakes in the European Union.

"And my great enthusiasm for the European Union and for better collaboration across Euope doesn't make me blind to things that have not gone well and where we need to do better. And overly prescriptive regulation such as the working time directive is one of those.

"I don't take the view that there's only ever a one-way traffic of power from this parliament and this country [to the EU].”

Hughes is poised to become Lib Dem deputy leader, the grass roots’ attaché to the coalition, so his comments on the working time directive will hearten wary Tories.

Contrary to popular opinion, accord over the coalition’s EU policy is possible; the Lib Dems are not uniformly euro-fanatic. The leadership recognises the need for institutional reform. No wonder: pockets of euroscepticism smudge the yellow benches. Hughes opposes joining the euro and his enthusiasm for EU enlargement is moderate, which corresponds roughly with the Tory position. Also, Hughes was in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and his opponent in the deputy leadership race, Tim Farron, resigned from the frontbench when the party abstained from the referendum vote. Similarly, there are Tories (Clarke and Tyrie for instance) who are pro-EU. Comprise will be constant, but the coalition’s path to Brussels is not necessarily precipitous.