It is always an understatement to say that David Cameron can’t possibly satisfy his party with his Europe speech this week: the reason being that there is no one unified position on the EU within the Conservatives, with different groups calling for different responses to Europe.
Today the Fresh Start Group of Tory MPs publishes its ‘Manifesto for Change’ which will propose a list of powers that Britain should repatriate from Europe. Cameron has already made clear that he will be seeking a new relationship with the EU, and so the Fresh Start MPs will be hoping that he will pick up some of their ideas. For them, it is the renegotiation that is the crucial element of Cameron’s speech. Andrea Leadsom also made clear in her Today interview that it was ‘a bit simple to say we want to return to the Common Market’ as the group believed there were areas where ‘we can co-operate very happily and constructively with the EU’.
But lest they grow too excited about the Prime Minister granting their every wish in two days’ time, Foreign Secretary William Hague says in his foreword to the manifesto:
‘Many of the proposals are already government policy, some could well become future government or Conservative Party policy, and some may require further thought.’
This reminds them that some of these ideas are for long-term discussion, rather than something the PM can grant now.
For now, the group’s manifesto includes a demand for the repatriation of all social and employment law, such as the Working Time Directive. James revealed last week that the latter was one power the Prime Minister was considering as an early candidate for repatriation. But whatever list he produces on Friday of areas ripe for renegotiation, the group already has a plan for responding to a failed renegotiation: using an Act of Parliament to disapply EU social and employment law. They insist it ‘would not be a petulant act, but rather a signal that this is a red line issue for the UK’.
It would be rather difficult to imagine EU leaders not reading such action as petulant, but prior to the negotiations, it could be a useful threat. One trap the Prime Minister could fall into is being so clear that he would campaign to remain in the European Union that other leaders see no incentive to give him what he wants in a revised relationship. A threat like this could focus their minds a little more.