David Cameron has enjoyed two great successes as Prime Minister.
He led western opinion on the subject of Libya, worked with France to intervene militarily, and presided over a successful military intervention which helped the rebels bring down the dictator. I did not myself think this a good way to spend UK money and risk lives, but I accept that he did it well and his international reputation was enhanced by it. It would be churlish to deny him the credit he is due for the successful action in its own terms.
More importantly, he did refuse to allow the UK’s name to go on a new Treaty for fiscal austerity in the EU, and forced the partners to come up with an intergovernmental Treaty of 25 instead of an EU Treaty. This made him extremely popular with the public, reaching a temporary high of support. Conservative MPs including me were delighted by what he did, and hoped he would go on to develop a new relationship with the EU on the back of it.
Meanwhile, the government he leads has been struggling to assert its authority in a number of areas. The Home Secretary is the most recent to admit that she cannot simply extradite a suspect for trial elsewhere owing to the entanglements of the European Court of Human Rights. The Immigration Minister, battling to implement the Prime Minister’s popular pledge to cut migration numbers susbtantially, cannot assert much control over the UK’s borders with the rest of the EU owing to the loss of powers in this area under the last government.
The Foreign Secretary cannot suddenly lift the sanctions on Burma following political progress there in the way he would like, owing to the EU control of our sanctions policy. The Chancellor finds himself offering large loans to the IMF at a time when his policy intends to clamp domestic public spending, owing to international agreements and understandings. The wide ranging work on benefits reform is hedged around with EU requirements concerning the payments of benefits to non UK EU nationals. Ministers are off to court to try to get a better answer for Britain. Local government Ministers had to go through various legal processes to assert their new planning policies.
The task of government is difficult enough, without Ministers being frustrated by international powers and other forces that seek to prevent or limit what they can do. It seems to me inevitable that in order to be able to govern our country, government has to negotiate a new relationship with the powers that bind us. The public want their government to be able to act in the UK’s interest. In all to many areas the ECJ, the ECHR, the EU and other bodies make that difficult if not impossible.
Some Conservative MPs are pressing again for the UK to have its own Human Rights Bill, to be policed and adjudicated in British courts. Work is also well advanced on a wide range of powers that we want back from the EU. In order to govern well, a government needs to have the powers to make decisions and enforce them, subject just to the checks and balances that come from answering to Parliament, and under the rule of UK law which Parliament itself determines.