Many Conservative MPs want a new relationship with the EU. They fought the last General Election saying they wanted powers back. They value a relationship based on trade and co-operation, but think the EU regulates, taxes and interferes too much. They were pleased that the Coalition Agreement, despite Lib Dem enthusiasm for the EU, said no more transfer of powers.
Since the government started they have seen a continuing high volume of EU regulation which affects and some thinks damages the UK economy. They have seen the government opt in to new powers in Criminal Justice and go along with the increasing ambitions of the EU in foreign affairs. They have seen the Lib Dems get their referendum on voting systems. Many now want the Conservative vote on the EU that was Conservative policy pre Lisbon but ceased to be on ratification.
There are various EU initiatives being undertaken by a variety of Conservative MPs. Bill Cash has tabled a Bill to seek to sort out the growing legal and sovereignty difficulties. Bill through the European Foundation keeps up a stream of informed comments on the evolution of the EU. As Chairman of the EU Scrutiny Committee he and his colleagues daily seek less or better rules and regulations, and try to strengthen the government’s hand in negotiations about the new measures.
Peter Bone has proposed a Bill to repatriate our fisheries. The way our fishing industry has been affected by EU policy is a long running sore. The Conservative party has often argued for UK control of UK waters. Peter Bone is a leading light of the Backbench Business Committee, the body which can choose Parliamentary business for the days the government allows backbenchers to select what happens. He is a doughty fighter for less EU in the UK. He is backing the approach of selective repatriation of powers, the approach set out in the last Conservative manifesto.
From the new intake is the independent and tough minded campaigner, David Nuttall. He has tabled the motion for a three way referendum which will now fall for debate and vote on Monday. Many Conservative MPs have apparently told him they want to vote for his motion. Now there is some suggestion of a three line whip against we will have to see how many show resolve to do so if and when advised not to. The Chairman of the 1922 Committee and other senior MPs are advising a free or less heavily whipped vote
George Eustice set up another body to study the problem of the EU and come up with proposals for alleviating the obvious extremes and tensions for the UK. So far his initiative seems to have been overtaken by events, though he would say it will in due course come up with practical proposals that may command majority support. It will be interesting to see how he votes on Monday. I note his name is not yet on the motion.
There is a growing sense of impatience over the whole EU issue in the Conservative Parliamentary party. The gathering Euro crisis and the likely substantial strengthening of EU central powers worries people. The way the UK is being dragged into paying some of the bills of the folly of the Euro is a growing concern. The avalanche of new regulations which could make the UK more uncompetitive angers many Conservatives. Most feel the government should draw up a list of the things the UK needs to grow faster and create more jobs, and then negotiate a position for the UK on the back of the constitutional Euro crisis which allows the UK to carry them through, whether the EU wants to as well or not.
Most Conservative MPs are focused on the need for faster growth and more jobs at home. They do not take kindly to the EU if it gets in the way of achieving just that. The current situation is pushing more to the radical view that the UK will have to leave the EU, as they do not see progress being made with an approach based on sceptical engagement with the project of European Union. Most still hope the UK will negotiate a better relationship and would like the government to try. This of course remains a federalist Parliament, as there is no Conservative majority, and the other main parties are fully committed to EU government. Only a handful of MPs would currently vote to pull out unilaterally and rapidly. In the words of Monday’s motion, there is probably overwhelming majority support amongst Conservatives in an unwhipped vote for a new relationship based on trade and co-operation.