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Theresa May May Just Have Managed To Defuse The European Bomb, But One Day It Is Bound To Go Off

Last Updated: Friday, July 12th, 2013

Over the last few days the European issue has once more threatened to explode in the Government’s face. Tory backbenchers were infuriated that they were being asked to agree to opt in to about 30 crime and justice measures including the European Arrest Warrant.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was given a rough ride by the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers when she attempted to justify the Government’s approach. Tory MPs complained that she was quite unable to provide adequate answers to their questions.

The Home Secretary is in general well-respected, and her stock has risen to new heights since her success in getting Abu Qatada extradited to face trial in Jordan.

But on Tuesday in the Commons Chamber there were cries of “shame” as she delivered her statement on European criminal justice powers.

Among the Tories to challenge her were Bill Cash, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Christopher Chope, Mark Reckless, Dominic Raab and David Nuttall. These MPs and many others feel very deeply on this issue: they have not gained election to the Commons in order to allow sovereignty to be given away to Europe.

Tory backbenchers possess between them a vast technical knowledge of the European Union. Mr Cash, who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, complained: “We have been given neither proper time nor opportunity to consider these matters.”

Mr Rees-Mogg reminded Mrs May of the clause in the Coalition Agreement which says: “We will ensure that there is no further transfer of sovereignty or powers [to Europe] over the course of the next Parliament.” He contended that any crime and justice powers which the Government agrees to opt back in to will come under “the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament and might be subject to qualified majority voting,” and went on: “All those three items are a surrender of sovereignty, and therefore her statement is disappointing to many people.”

The word “disappointing” is in this context a euphemism for “totally unacceptable”. On Thursday, Christopher Howarth of Open Europe wrote a lucid and learned account for ConservativeHome of the issues at stake, in which he explained that hopelessly inept negotiating by David Miliband at the time of the Lisbon Treaty had left the Government in an almost impossible position.

Feeling was running so high on the Tory benches that the Government faced the possibility of defeat when it brought its proposals to the House next Monday, at the hands of a combination of Conservative and Labour MPs demanding, albeit for different reasons, more time for proper parliamentary scrutiny.

So on Thursday night, Mrs May conceded that although there will still be a vote on Monday, the Government will then concede more time for Parliament to look at the proposals, with the three relevant select committees reporting back by 31 October.

As far as one can judge, the Home Secretary has done enough to mollify her backbench critics for the time being. But huge issues of principle are at stake here. If Britain does opt back in to the European Arrest Warrant, we can be pretty certain that at some point in the next few years some presumably innocent British citizen will be languishing in a prison in some other part of the European Union, and the British courts and British Parliament will be quite unable to do anything about it, because ultimate authority over extradition proceedings will have passed to the European Court of Justice.

So sooner or later, the likelihood is that the European issue will explode, and perhaps do so with very little warning. David Cameron naturally wishes to delay this event. The explosion would in all likelihood destroy his coalition with the Liberal Democrats, whose leading members, including Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, are inveterate supporters of the European Union.

But beyond that, the explosion could also destroy Mr Cameron. Most of his own backbenchers do not in the end trust him to defend national sovereignty, and would insist on his removal if he were to find himself on the wrong side of some deeply emotive argument, for example about an innocent Briton languishing in a European dungeon and issuing vain appeals for help to European judges.

So my expectation is that Mr Cameron will, when it comes to it, ensure with his customary agility that he is on the right side of the argument, i.e. the side that his own backbenchers are on. He will do everything he can to defer the explosion, but when it comes he will wrap himself in the Union Jack and stride forth as a  latter-day Margaret Thatcher, determined to defend national sovereignty come what may. For the Conservative party is now so predominantly Eurosceptic that this is the only position from which it will allow itself to be led.

By Andrew Gimson

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Peter Hoskin: From Lord Ashcroft’s research event, an impression emerges: people don’t believe politicians when it comes to immigration “The result would have been rather disconcerting for the Coalition parties. Miliband – yes, Miliband – seemed to come out on top. He was followed by Cameron and then Clegg. What won it for Miliband was his insistence, at least in this clip, that immigrants should be able to speak English. What lost it for Clegg was disbelief, even laughter, at the government achievements he claimed. When he said that the Coalition had cut net migration by a third, you could almost hear a collective “yeah, right” ripple through the audience – even though the Lib Dem leader was speaking the truth. And this response wasn’t just reserved for Tuition Fees Nick. Cameron got some of it, too.” Read more: http://is.gd/FRMesi

Andrew Gimson profiles Danny Alexander, the Coalition pillar who might yet succeed Nick Clegg “Mr Alexander, it emerges, is a man who is good at thinking ahead…So when he claims not to have time to think whether he might one day become leader of the Liberal Democrats, we can be confident that this is utter nonsense. Men and women of much less ability than him have been known to wonder whether they might one day lead their parties. Mr Alexander has already risen within a few years to become one of the pivotal figures in British politics. He was at the heart of the coalition talks in 2010, is now at the heart of government and can be expected to be at the heart of any coalition talks which occur in the immediate aftermath of the next general election. Just as he has worked with the Tories, so he would be quite capable of working with Labour.” Read more: http://is.gd/0wELga

Francis Maude MP: Fixed-tenure Permanent Secretaries – and much more. Our next steps in civil service reform “Transparency, self-criticism and openness are difficult territory for both Ministers and civil servants. But we need to stay outside of the comfort zone. The assessment of our reform programme pulls no punches. That is in not a criticism of the thousands of civil servants dedicated to public service and to supporting the Government of the day. If anything, it is a criticism of their leaders, ministers and senior officials. So our progress report will highlight our successes as well as making clear where we will be redoubling our efforts.

We are also announcing a few additional steps. These changes will further strengthen accountability and ensure ministers have the support they need to deliver policies.” Read more: http://is.gd/N7uSwZ

Paul Goodman: At root, Miliband’s Party problem is our problem too
“It is easy to expose and mock Miliband’s “Buddha-like qualities”, to borrow Tom Watson’s lapidary phrase – and necessary, too.  But Labour’s fundamental problem isn’t that people are being signed up as members without their knowledge.  It’s that so very few want knowingly to join it at all, a condition shared, as the graph at the top of this article reminds us, by the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP (whose membership is a puny 20,000 or so) – in short, by everyone.  To stand a chance of changing this, our Party is going to have to think more deeply and radically than Miliband himself will ever dare.” Read more: http://is.gd/EVve1o

David Skelton: Now is the time to set out how to win more support outside our south-eastern heartland “If the Party can’t overcome these challenges it will find it difficult to win an overall majority in the decades to come, and will have to face spells of opposition interspersed with brief periods of coalition government. For those of us who believe that the country would be better off with a majority Conservative government, that is clearly something that should concern us greatly. That’s why I am launching a new campaign group next week with the express aim of broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party, in order to build a coalition of voters to ensure Tory success for decades to come. MPs from across the party have contributed to an initial paper looking at Conservative challenges and how the party can overcome them.” Read more: http://is.gd/mMMaNU

By Paul Goodman

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