Mr Cameron did the right thing to veto the Treaty for 27. It was clear there was no wish on the part of our partners in the EU to take our growing frustration with the drift of the EU seriously, no wish to help the UK at all. Our demands were modest. They were for the EU to interfere with us less. They were not demands that cost money or tried to change the way anything works on the continent. Many people in the UK will remember how they treated us, for what comes next. I am glad the extensive lobbying and arguing by the Conservative Parliamentary party before the meeting helped shape the debate and influenced the decision.
We always need to remember no single party won a majority in this Parliament. Recently Conservatives have been very frustrated about the EU issue, making this clear through various rebellions on votes for EU measures, through the vote for a referendum, and through various speeches, articles and questions. The feeling against current EU policy with the backdrop of the Merkel German Europe plan is stronger today than at the time of the referendum rebellion. Recently elected Conservative MPs are being radicalised by events, and pressurised by Conservative members and many non party constituents, into speaking out for UK democracy.
The government can often ignore rebellions as it has a large inbuilt majority. So far it has not mattered if 30,40 or even 81 Conservative MPs defy the whips on the EU, because Labour has always been there to swell the government’s vote, or has abstained, leaving the government with enough votes to do the business.
Mr Miliband finds himself with choices. He can continue his party’s stance of the last fifteen years, to be a federalist party and loyally support the Coalition government on EU matters. EU measures can then pass the House easily.
Alternatively, Mr Miliband can decide that Labour too has had more than enough European integration, and that his party is now going to vote against the Merkel scheme for a German Europe and whatever else the EU has in store for us. If he does this the Coalition is wise to accept they have no majority for any EU measure, unless they have Mr Miliband’s assurance in advance. The numbers of Conservative rebels will doubtless wax and wane, but there is now a hard core of at least 45 who are likely to vote against unsuitable EU measures, meaning the Coalition needs some Labour support or help should they want to put through more EU decisions.
Appeals for party loyalty to get an EU agenda through are unlikely to work. When Conservatives disgree within the party about health reform, or benefit upratings, or tax rates, or railway lines, there can be give and take. Those who are on the losing side may come to accept the view of the leadership or the majority, safe in the knowledge that the decision can be revisited, the issue rejoined, at a later date. You might decide to be loyal today, thinking you might win tomorrow. You might genuinely be swayed by colleagues. The EU issue is altogether more toxic because if you lose something you lose it for a long time. The scheme is a ratchet. It goes to the heart of whether our country, people and Parliament are allowed to make the decisions at all. That is why it does not permit the same kind of compromises or understandings that normal domestic politics thrives on.
It is these points which mean Mr Cameron was very wise to refuse to sign a new Treaty yesterday. It would need a Parliamentary majority to put it through. Conservatives would be most reluctant to help.
Now the UK is confirmed as being out of the room on Euro matters – as it was thanks to Labour’s wise decision to continue with the Euro opt out Conservatives had obtained – the Uk government needs to turn its mind and energy to negotiating a new relationship with the EU. What some thought worked with a grouping of 27 does not work once 17 decide to press on more rapidly towards full political and economic union. It is not Mr Cameron’s decision to veto a Treaty that has created this. It was created by the thoroughly different aims of the Euro countries and the UK. The Euro countries want to press on to a be in a coutnry called the EU. The UK has always said it want to be in a common or single market. It is fast approaching the time to sort out this huge difference.