Tory Manifesto on Europe

Tory Party Manifesto Very Thin On Europe


Denis MacShane



We still don’t know what exactly David Cameron wants from the rest of Europe in order to campaign vigorously in favour of Britain staying in the EU in the promised 2107 referendum if he is returned to Downing Street as Prime Minister.

There were hopes that the Conservative election manifesto drafted by Joe Johnson MP, the erudite former FT correspondent in India and less Eurosceptic younger brother of the ebullient London Mayor Boris Johnson might provide some clues.

But it looks as if voters in Britain, and negotiators in 27 EU member states as well as experts at the European Commission and Council, will have wait to find out that David Cameron wants and hopes to get to satisfy his ambition of a major reform of Britain’s status in Europe.

There is no ambiguity about the pledge of the In-Out or Brexit plebiscite by the end of 2017. Sensibly given that is the year of elections in Germany (September) and France (May) no month is specified. Indeed the wording allows a possible referendum before 2017.

By that year Mr Cameron will have been PM for seven years and close to his announced departure. Voters who are bored or angry with him may be tempted to give him the “order of the boot” as Churchill called it by way of voting against him in a referendum.

Otherwise the short page on Europe is banal to the point of being of no interest. It repeat the long-standing demand for removal of the words “ever-closer union” but that will not happen unless there is a major new Treaty and the manifesto does not mention any new Treaty at all.

There is not even the Europe Minister David Lidington’s language of “Treaty change” or Foreign Secretary’s Philip Hammond’s calls for “concreteand irreversible” changes in Britain’s relationship with Europe.

No new Treaty will please the EU but if there us no new Treaty why do we need a referendum?

There is a reprise of the very old demand, going back to Labour years, that national parliaments being “able to work together to block unwanted EU legislation.”

The sounds fine save that Mr Cameron has stopped working together with fellow centre-right parties in the EU by quitting the European federation of conservative parties in order to set up an alliance with smaller, more nationalist parties.

In fact, nothing stops the House of Commons today or in recent years from seeking to forge alliances with other national parliaments to influence or indeed block unwanted EU laws. EU Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans has long urged this but Dutch diplomats report they cannot get anyone in London to work to achieve this desirable aim.

The Tory manifesto pledges to “expand the single market breaking down barriers to trade and ensuring new sectors are opened up to British firms.” Again this is old, old policy but the problem is that to break down trade barriers requires more EU legislation, a more powerful Commission and the erosion of sovereign rights of states to control their own trade and markets.

If Mr Cameron wants more single market, he needs more Europe.

Although there is a promise to repeal the existing UK Human Rights Act there is no manifesto pledge to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights so the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights can breathe easy and British citizens will still be able to appeal to it.

And, eh, that’s it in the manifesto section on Europe.  There is far more meat about Europe in the section on immigration with the claim the UK “will negotiate new rules with the EU” which will deny to any Irish, French other EU citizen the right to top-up tax credits for low pay jobs for four years.

The European Court of Justice in an important ruling last month said EU citizens had the right to free movement and to work in an EU state but not the right to welfare benefits if they have not contributed to national social security systems.

The working tax credit in Britain (based on the US Earned Income Tax Credit, a form of negative income tax) is actually a subsidy to low-pay employers to hire people at sub-living wage rates with the tax-payer paying a subsidy through the pay-roll.

It is not clear that it can be legal under EU anti-discrimination rules for a government to treat identical workers doing the same job differently on grounds of nationality.  It will be interesting to see how the Irish government as well as other EU governments react to this clear discrimination against their citizens who will be expected to work alongside British citizens in identical jobs but receive lower pay.

The four year wait seems arbitrary. If it is legal under EU law why not five or ten years? There is a similar wait of four years before being allowed to apply for a council home. But since most waiting lists for the very small number of council homes that become available stretch to several years it is hard to see what impact this measure can have.

There is a demand aimed at Turkey or Ukraine or Western Balkan states who harbour future ambitions of EU membership. The UK will not allow Turks ro whoever to work in Britain until the economies of “new member states have converged” with the rest of Europe.

For years the Tories have said they support Turkey’s (now dwindling) EU aspirations but the manifesto has binned these which is sad given the Turkish ancestry of the Johnson dynasty

The manifesto says that any EU citizen who has not found a job within six months may face deportation. If the same policy were applied to British citizens on the Spanish costas the tabloid headlines in the UK would be a joy to read.

The same might be applied to the manifesto call that “every public sector worker – (transport, social care and so forth) operating in a customer-friendly role must speak fluent English.”

Presumably this does not apply to Parliamentarians as some might argue “fluent” English is a challenge now and then for John Prescott and Eric Pickles.

And that’s it.  Joe Johnson has reduced to the barest of bare minima the demands on Europe placed by his more Eurosceptic colleagues. The manifesto has nothing to assuage UKIP or Daniel Hannam-cum-Bill Cash ambitions let alone meet the demands of the Dailies Mail and Telegraph.

The rest of Europe will have to wait to see if Mr Cameron returns to No 10 as this manifesto gives hardly any clues to what his demands will be when or if he gets his Brexit plebiscite up and running in a few weeks time.

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