The Tories Just Don’t Get Europe
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th February, 2010
The Conservatives’ Deputy Leader in the House of Lords and Foreign Affairs Spokesman, David Howell, was the guest speaker at the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) this lunchtime at the London office of the European Parliament. Though he asked to be off the record regarding his remarks about his party’s leaving the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP, much of the rest of what he said was both interesting and reportable. In particular, he spoke of the tripod of Britain’s foreign relations: links to Europe, to the United States and to the emerging economies of Asia, not least India. He also picked up the refrain of the Queen in her last C hristmas Day broadcast, in which she described the Commonwealth as ‘the face of the future’. I am myself a strong supporter of Commonwealth ties and I believe we should be friends with the Americans too. But I am astounded that the Conservative Party should see our relationship with the EU as an aspect of foreign policy. David Howell even referred to Europe as ‘our backyard’, underlining the Conservative view that we are somehow outside and separate from (and, the implication is, superior to) our continental European partners, rather than being a committed member of the EU that is determined to see this association of independent member states develop in a positive way. Some Conservative MPs have told me off the record that the party’s public Euro-scepticism is partly to stop its voters switching to UKIP at the general election, and that if a Tory government does come into power, it will be far more accommodating to our European partners — including working closely with Angela Merkal and Nicolas Sarkozy, whose parties remain within the EPP. But I fear this will just mean more of the half-in, half-out strategy pursued by several former British governments — both Conservative and Labour — and that yet again Britain is going to be left behind as the European bus departs.