Revealed - the future British Conservative government's 'hardline' Eurosceptic view towards Europe - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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Revealed - the future British Conservative government's 'hardline' Eurosceptic view towards Europe

Sunday, 9 May 2010
It is no secret that the United Kingdom’s potential next Prime Minister David Cameron is hardly pro-European. Last year he instructed his MEPs to leave the EPP centre-right majority grouping and creating a new European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group on the sidelines of the European Parliament.

David Cameron (Photo: Guardian)Throughout the election campaign, he and his party have promoted an anti-Europe ticket yet maintained a facade towards Europe and the EU in which they courted it and pledge cooperation yet vow never to join the Euro single currency.

But now, thanks to a leaked top-secret letter published in full in today’s Observer from Mr Cameron and William Hague the would-be Conservative Foreign Secretary, to the rest of his party, the picture has become clearer about the future British government position towards Europe when indeed the Conservatives are asked to form a government (either as a minority power or in a coalition).

In the letter, which was reportedly compiled by civil servants but written in the first person, outlines the hardline Eurosceptic stance Cameron and Hague planned to adopt in government.

The letter, also penned a week before the election result was known, the Conservative party assumed an outright victory and spelt out how its Foreign Secretary designate Hague intended to adopt a very tough approach to Europe:

Hague tells Cameron how his message would be that "the British relationship with the EU has changed with our election" to one firmly against any further integration.

William HagueHe says he would demand the right to repatriate powers over criminal justice as well as social and employment policy during the first term of a Tory government – demands many EU leaders say they would resist.

In addition, if that wasn’t enough, Hague, left, planned to tell his EU counterparts: "Rest assured that we seek engagement, not confrontation. But our aim is to achieve these commitments during this parliament." He would also tell them that "we will never join the Euro" and conclude that "you will find us firm but fair, playing a leading role, fighting our corner, practical and straight-talking."

This leaked-letter will undoubtedly undermine David Cameron's hopes of quickly forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats as it exposes the massive gulf between the two parties on Europe, particularly since the Lib Dems are the only party up-front in its support of the EU.

The letter in full:

"How to promote our national interest in an open and democratic Europe

We have discussed the approach I plan to take at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on Monday when I will have the first opportunity to explain to EU opposite numbers and publicly how the new government under your leadership will implement our manifesto commitments on Europe. It will be important to send an early signal to EU partners and the British people on the broad outlines of our approach. We will need an early collective discussion on a detailed strategy to implement our commitments. As our approach will change British policy across the full range of different Council formations, I am copying the letter to all Cabinet colleagues so that we can all take the same approach.

Our overall strategy has four main elements:

– UK legislation – the referendum lock, sovereignty bill, and ratchet clauses.
– Return of powers on criminal justice, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and social/employment issues from the EU to the UK level.
– Positive agenda of areas where we will engage constructively in the EU.
– Promoting and vigorously defending the national interest through ongoing EU business.

We have agreed that the first should be done as rapidly as possible to demonstrate to the British people and beyond that the UK's relationship with Europe has really changed. On the second, you have given us the full first term to deliver - we need to manage expectations and explore with partners how to implement our commitment.

The third and fourth will be ongoing.

Reflecting these four strands, I propose the following core script:

"We will be positive members of the EU. We want to work with you to boost global economic growth, fight global poverty, build energy security and combat global climate change. We support the aims of the EU 2020 strategy, for an open, competitive and entrepreneurial Europe, with less bureaucracy and regulation. We are also committed to free trade, open markets, the single market, and European action to boost innovation and competitiveness.

"We are firm supporters of enlargement, and want to see a more muscular EU approach in Bosnia. We want an effective EU response to the top strategic challenges like preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, searching for peace in the Middle East, and engaging with the big powers around the world. We favour an outward-looking Europe, so will want the External Action Service to be a success, working in partnership with national diplomatic services to deliver those objectives we have all agreed, and Cathy Ashton has our support.

"But the British relationship with the EU has changed with our election. We will never join the euro. We will introduce legislation early [I won't pre-empt the Queen's Speech with detail] to implement our commitments: any Treaty change transferring competence or powers would require a referendum; the sovereignty bill; and increased parliamentary controls on any use of ratchet clauses.

"These changes are similar to the position in several other member states – Germany on sovereignty, Ireland and Denmark on reuiring a referendum for major Treaty changes, and Germany again on ratchet clauses. So our partners should not doubt our commitment to the EU.

"Third, we are committed to returning powers from the European level to the UK in three key areas – the Charter of Fundamental Rights, criminal justice, and social and employment legislation. My colleagues and I will explore with partners how to implement these commitments, since we want and will need agreement of our 27 partners.

"Rest assured that we seek engagement not confrontation. But our aim is to achieve these commitments during this parliament.

"Finally on current business, the EU agenda is full with some tough crunch points ahead, particularly on economic, social and justice issues.

"The toughest issue is the economic turbulence in the eurozone. This is a matter for the countries in the euro to tackle, and I am glad that they are doing so. The UK's national economic interest is best served by a stable euro. As the UK is not in the euro, I have no intention of offering a running commentary on the issue.

"Like others, we will fight our corner to protect our national interests through engagement and influence. Britain's interests are best served by membership of an EU that is an association of sovereign Member States, not a federal Europe. You will find us firm but fair, playing a leading role, fighting our corner, practical and straight talking."

I am planning bilateral meetings with my key opposite numbers during my visit to Brussels, to be followed by early visits to Warsaw, Berlin and Paris, plus contacts between Mark Francois and his opposite numbers. We will repeat these messages during those discussions. You have already taken this line in your early discussions with [Sarkozy, Merkel, Zapatero, Barroso and Van Rompuy].

We should hold a very early meeting of Ministers under [your/my] chairmanship to inaugurate the new EU committee, agree our strategy in more detail and look ahead to the key decisions coming up in sectoral Councils and the June European Council. In particular we need to:

– Reach a common view across Government on our overall EU strategy, including how and when to seek to implement our commitments on the three repatriations, and how this fits with the rest of the agenda.

– Decide how and when to communicate this to the British people and to our European partners.

– Agree how to tackle the trickiest issues due to arise in May and June, including: Greece/eurozone and its consequences, the financial issues coming to ECOFIN including the Hedge Funds Directive and Financial Supervision, the first opt-in decisions on Justice and Home Affairs, preparation for the June European Council including national targets for the EU2020 strategy, the EU role on climate change, and Iceland.

I am copying this letter to all Cabinet colleagues.

The Conservative Party have since told the Observer they have no knowledge of the letter...

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