Coffee House

Ken Clarke: We don’t need treaty change to reform Europe, and my eurosceptic colleagues are eccentric

17 March 2014

4:44 PM

17 March 2014

4:44 PM

Tory europhiles don’t often come out in the daylight: they normally give the impression they’re frightened that their associations will get grumpy, or that their fellow MPs will try to shout them down. But today the pro-EU group European Mainstream launched their new pamphlet, In Our Interest: Britain with Europe, which takes a stance that is quite unusual in the Conservative party: it agrees with the Prime Minister’s Europe strategy. The 62 MPs on the group – who include Ken Clarke, Damian Green, Richard Benyon and Caroline Spelman – didn’t seem at all shifty or nervous when they gathered in Westminster Hall this afternoon to launch the pamphlet and make a positive case for Britain in Europe.

The European Mainstream bunch like to joke that they’re constantly underestimated as a group, though they represent around a fifth of the party. But from today’s presentation, they’re not so far in their own beliefs from the Fresh Start Project Conservatives, who are similarly optimistic about the prospects for reform in Europe, albeit with a readiness to vote ‘out’ in a referendum. The Mainstream MPs are very much ‘in’, even if they don’t get the reforms that the Prime Minister wants. And those attending the launch frequently emphasised the need to persuade fellow Europeans of the need for reform rather than insulting them. Richard Benyon told the room that ‘we have got to be bolder and more upbeat about how many friends we do have in Europe’.

Clarke was particularly optimistic, telling the launch that the Prime Minister would be able to secure big reforms without treaty change. He said:

‘If you can, it’s obviously preferable to do so because you deliver it quickly. You’ve got a set 2017 date apart from anything else and you’ve got to get 28 member states to agree to whatever reform process you’re engaged in, but what I’m saying is concentrate on the substance of the reforms, which again I feel very strongly should essentially be those that are designed to make Europe and all its member states more competitive and more able to earn their living in the modern world, with regards the interests of trade, but also political links as well and if you need an IGC, you need an IGC, if you need treaty change, you need treaty change, but the idea that you start off by saying well we’ve got to find something that requires an IGC and a treaty change is not where we are and would be a somewhat foolish way of going about it particularly because IGCs are usually quite a nightmare to handle…

‘We managed to get the Lisbon Treaty which I personally spoke and voted in favour of, but it took us about seven years and it didn’t actually change very much when we got there, so I think if you have to have an IGC you have to have an IGC, but it’s the substance of the reforms that we need to concentrate on…’


He was then asked whether reforming outside a treaty would leave the Prime Minister in a similar situation to Harold Wilson, with minimal changes and reforms. Clarke replied:

‘Harold didn’t get any changes, it was a complete myth… What he said he’d altered was financial contribution… I was campaigning in the referendum which had nothing to do with Harold’s renegotiations, nobody but Harold understand what they were. It was all about the sovereignty of Parliament and that was the big argument, the other was our relationships with the Commonwealth and how the Commonwealth was an alternative to European political links and the other thing was what it would then do to New Zealand and how we were going to ruin British farmers.’

He listed certain areas where he thought there could be agreement on reform in Europe, including energy, construction and digital industries. But one of the points conspicuous by its absence in this discussion was how these reforms are going to be achieved. Is there going to be a negotiator, as suggested by John Major, who will be working on these reforms? There are Conservative MPs from the Fresh Start Project visiting European capitals to make the case to parliamentarians in those countries, but they cannot secure meetings at the highest level. If there is to be a negotiator, then they probably need appointing reasonably soon.

Clarke and other members of the group also attacked their eurosceptic colleagues, with the Minister Without Portfolio describing them as ‘some of my more strident, and dare I say, even occasionally eccentric colleagues who I’ve seen over the years become household names for a year or two, whilst they last an then others take over and succeed them’. Laura Sandys, who organised the launch, added that ‘it is those people who’ve got a loud voice on the sidelines that seem to gain traction’. And Ben Wallace (Clarke’s PPS) ridiculed the idea that Conservative associations are quite so aggressive on this issue as some of his colleagues might think, arguing that those who made the loudest noises about Europe tended to find that their constituencies contained a strong swell of support for Ukip (this is a chicken and egg argument that Conservatives could doubtless occupy themselves with for some time to come).

Sandys also accused her colleagues of having a ‘romantic’ idea of what leaving the European Union would mean for Britain, saying:

‘It is fascinating, isn’t it, that there is a proposition out there that this dastardly relationship that we have to have with these dreadful Europeans is going to be replaced by this unbelievably harmonious romantic relationship with the rest of the world. One relationship between a husband and wife is difficult enough, 27 is difficult, but the point is we’re not walking away from the difficulties, we’re walking to them, in Britain’s national interest. It is extremely easy for us to walk out of the door.’

It’s fair, then, to say that Conservative europhiles aren’t prepared to be the shy and retiring bunch that they’ve sometimes appeared to be in recent years. They’ve pitched their rhetoric at the same level as their eurosceptic rivals in the party. Doubtless there will be a similarly robust response from that camp to today’s launch.

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Show comments
  • speedofdark

    So, what do we all think about EU intentions to allow only those political parties that share EU Values(undefined as yet) to enter candidates for election to the EU Parroliament? Democratic? Controlling? Dictatorial?

  • beenzrgud

    On the one hand even staunch europhiles admit that reform is needed in the EU, and on the other hand everytime someone says things need to change a senior EU representative pops up and states that reform will be “difficult”. I think serious reform will eventually get put on the table when it is absolutely unavoidable and the writing is on the wall. Politicians like to consolidate power to themselves, the problem is they are too happy to then do nothing and simply maintain the status quo.

  • brossen99

    EU 10% bio-fuel for transport directive destroying the Amazon rainforests via Shell, Corporate Ethnic Cleansing of the indigenous people ( see links ) and all on the back of the Co2 Scam !

    • global city

      When the full effects of signing the Lisbon treaty start hitting home this Autumn, the coverage our brave MSM will give this will swing the sentiment massively against the EU……..!

      There is something wrong with the above statement, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

  • Bob Thomas

    One sometimes struggles to find words suitable to describe the credulous hacks that write this tripe:

    “… which takes a stance that is quite unusual in the Conservative party: it agrees with the Prime Minister’s Europe strategy.”


    Such an “unusual” position that everyone in the parliamentary party from Clarke and Heseltine to Hannan, Carswell and Redwood publicly support it.

    Is there are single MP who has said publicly that Cameron’s “reform and renegotiation” fantasy is a calculated lie that he knows full well he will never have to fulfill?

  • the viceroy’s gin

    I suspect UKIP would like nothing better than to see these troughers front-and-center in the EUSSR debate. UKIP would probably pay them to do so, in fact.

    And I doubt the troughers are bright enough to understand why that’s so.

  • global city

    When discussing the EU it is vital that British members of the political class explain exactly who this ‘We’ is when it comes to being ‘in there, shaping Europe’.

    The truth is that in order to give Whitehall mandarins a place around the big table the rest of us have to cede most of our democratic rights.

    We are in effect going to pay a massive price in order to maintain the sort of progression route for career development of mandarins they had when we had an Empire… that is, something higher than the UK administration to move on toward. This is a vital issue to consider. The vast salaries and perks offered in the EU to bureaucrats are specifically crafted in order to ensure that the national administrators see personal benefit in maintaining their country’s membership of the ‘club’.


    I’ve just been watching Norman Lamont on The Daily Politics being pinned into a corner on the issue of why the Tories are so ‘divided’ on ‘Europe’. To answer that properly the deception that took us into the project must be admitted and analysed… but to do that would necessitate damning the party itself. Even the most radial eurosceptic Tory is loathe to highlight that fundamental betrayal, so it is continually washed over.

  • Bob Thomas

    Commentators who wish to be taken seriously really need to abandon this childish tendency of referring to the EU as Europe. No one would ever refer to NAFTA as North America. Give it up.

  • DWWolds

    Clarke is my constituency MP. I just wish he would go. I also wish he would stop insulting me for my EU-realistic views

  • Frank

    Love the idea that bringing out a pamphlet will suddenly alter our impression of these MPs, or their views.

  • Conway

    As Clarke said “there is nothing wrong with the euro”, I think we can dismiss anything he says as being unacquainted with reality.

  • Redrose82

    They represent one fifth of the Conservative parliamentary party which tells you that they are a small minority in the party and by and large the Conservative party is eurosceptic. It also tells you that getting a Conservative majority government is the only possible way for us to get a referendum that might see us get out of this corrupt and costly federation. If it is your desire to see an independent Britain then voting for anyone other than the Conservative party is self defeating.

    • Conway

      by and large the Conservative party is eurosceptic” That would be why the Conservatives were the ones who took us in (Heath), signed the Single European Act (Thatcher), signed Maastricht (Major) and whipped their MPs to vote against giving us a referendum in 2011 (Cameron), then. Sounds very eurosceptic to me .

    • Denis_Cooper

      It’s an extraordinary idea that if you want to get out us of the EU you should vote for a party whose leaders are determined to keep us in the EU. There is an alternative, a party which under its constitution is committed to getting us out of the EU, and common sense says that if you want us to leave the EU then you should vote for that party which shares your belief and that it would be foolish and self-defeating to vote for the Conservative party.

  • JoshuaCzajkowski

    Time to sack the EU in and form a ‘CANZUK alliance’. I can’t believe we betrayed the commonwealth for a bunch of communist bureaucrats.

    Any system in which the unelected body has the sole right to produce legislation is undemocratic. Power should rise from the people not down from the state.

  • misomiso

    None of them talk about what really matters, which is structural reform. They need some hard objectives.

    1) Fair apportionment in the European parliament, and a cut in numbers. The parliament is bloated and it takes ten times as many UK citizens to vote for an MEP than it does a Luxembourg citizen. 600 MEPs allocated to by population would be a very good result.

    2) The Commission drawn from the parliament. They could cap it at 21 and they would have a very democratic institution, as the Nation States will never (rightly) accept a directly elected President of Commission.
    3) Reform of ECJ so its not so blatantly federalist, and so not every country gets a judge.

    guess its quite federalist though. easier to just leave…

    • Daniel Maris

      1. You could say the say and more about Vermont and California.

      • Wessex Man

        my how clever! In case you haven’t noticed they are both states of one country and thankfully the EU is coming apart at the seams before they can realise their dream for one Communist European from the shores of Portugel to the borders of China and Russia!

        could I recommend an excellent book by the way “The Tragedy of The European Union” by George Soros.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        You could say it if you were an ignorant and poorly educated socialist nutter.

  • The Commentator

    I wonder why they haven’t won an election since 1992 and aren’t about to win one in the future…?

  • Pip

    Arrogant, venal and incompetent, that sums up this Bilderberger and Traitor.

  • Tom

    The list of traitors, those missing are to scared to show their true colours.

    : The list of declared members is:

    Laura Sandys

    Margot James

    Robert Buckland

    Caroline Spelman

    Richard Ottaway

    Ben Wallace

    Neil Carmichael

    Bob Walter


    Ben Gummer

    Stephen Dorrell

    Tim Yeo

    And those named as having “co-ordinated” the letter are:

    Laura Sandys

    Margot James

    Stephen Dorrell

    Ben Gummer

    Ben Wallace

    Richard Ottoway

    Bob Walter

    Robert Buckland

    Neil Carmichael

    Caroline Spelman

    Nicholas Soames

    Peter Luff

    Jane Ellison

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind

    Kris Hopkins.

  • Smithersjones2013

    The 62 MPs on the group – who include Ken Clarke, Damian Green, Richard Benyon and Caroline Spelman

    62 reasons why people should not vote Tory. These Vichy Tories are amongst the most deranged and worthless individuals in their party. As for Clarke he is the poster boy for everything that is wrong with politicians today ~ arrogant, elitist, ignorant, and abusive of those who oppose him. He is a liability to all he is associated with!

    • southerner

      He’s not even that good.

    • Wessex Man

      The Poster boy what, as in the terms of in a pair of speedos running across the beach with Dianne Abbott?

      • Conway

        EEEuwww! What a picture! I feel the need to wash my imagination out with soap and water!

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …it may require lye soap.

      • ArchiePonsonby

        Mind bleach. Now….please!

  • MirthaTidville

    Just the usual suspects, but still allowing themselves to be de facto led by Ken Clarke, destroys their credibility. Clarke is a buffoon and always has been. He`s the latter day Quentin Hogg. Anyways I think a lot of `Joe Public` for whatever reason are fed up of the EU and regard this lot as wind and water!!

  • Lady Magdalene

    It was all about the Sovereignty of Parliament in 1975 and it will still about the Sovereignty of Parliament in 2017,
    MPs are not voted into Parliament to transfer our Sovereignty to another, foreign, organisation.
    Governments are elected to govern the UK for a period of up to 5 years (now fixed). They temporarily have control of British Sovereignty. At the end of that time they should return the Sovereignty to the British people to elect a new Government.
    The transfer of OUR Sovereignty to the EU is an act of treason.

    • southerner


      The late Tony Benn was the polar opposite to me politically. But who (apart the Euro loving liblabcon) could argue with his assertion during the Maastricht debate?

      “If democracy is destroyed in Britain it will be not the communists, Trotskyists or subversives but this House which threw it away. The rights that are entrusted to us are not for us to give away. Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights.”

    • Wessex Man

      and hasbeen committed by every PM since Wilson, including Maggie Thatcher!

      • global city

        Yes. Laura Sandys was on TV claiming Thatcher for the Europile camp.

        For most of Thatcher’s term in No10 Sandys is correct. All Thatcher was worried about was the money. She supported the greater ideals of the project……. until it was too late.

    • global city

      Yes. That is why Farage must park the immigration angle. Everyone understands that issue now and the fat that is is merely a symptom, or consequence of the fundamental issue you explain.

      We have had months and months now where debate about the EU has been reduced to an issue of migrants and the dole…. a completely irrelevant issue, but one that Farage has allowed to be hijacked and made the core issue. He has been played like a rum one.

      If he does manage to park the issue the Europhiles will resort to the next false flag….. ‘Jobs’!

      The real issues may not even get a brief airing.

  • colliemum

    Did any of the hacks present at that launch asked these europhiles what they thought about the disastrous interference of the EU in the Ukraine?
    Or what they thought about the ridiculous ‘sanctions’ imposed by the EU on a handful of Russian politicians?
    Perhaps someone asked about the new financial burdens coming to all of us because of the EU interference in the Ukraine? Or who had given the green light for those € 11 billion, and where they’ll come from?

    I bet not – it’s so much chummier to warble about how great the EU really is and how stupid those are who oppose an ever closer union …

    • Wessex Man

      course not, then we have the Yanks screaming about those wicked old Russians, if Russia had tried to pull the same stunts thart the EU and the Yanks have been pulling in Eastern Europe in say Canada, the Yanks would already be up to the Artic Circle and Call me Dave and Hooky would be saying well done, old chap.

      • Denis_Cooper

        Compare and contrast with Cuba, the closest we came to a nuclear war. And that originated from the US putting missiles pointing at the USSR in Turkey, and also Italy, and ended with the US quietly agreeing to remove them in exchange for the Soviets agreeing to remove theirs from Cuba.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Kennedy also showed his weakness in attacking Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, but not following through. If he had eschewed military attack or pushed it through to success, either would not have had the weakening effect his ultimate failed attack had. The Sovs were encouraged to place offensive missiles in Cuba because of that weakness.

          It’s a good lesson today. Better to do nothing than to broadcast your weakness, as Barraco Barner and the EUSSR have done. Scary.

          • Wessex Man

            love it!

  • Denis_Cooper

    Cameron yesterday:

    “And dealing properly with the concept of “ever closer union”, enshrined in the treaty, to which every EU country now has to sign up. It may appeal to some countries. But it is not right for Britain, and we must ensure we are no longer subject to it.”

    Reported again today:

    “The principle of ‘ever closer union’ among EU member states, enshrined in the European treaties, should be abolished because it is ‘not right for Britain’, he said.”

    Now square that with Clarke saying there may not be any need for treaty change.

    • Pip

      One is lying in a desperate attempt to hold onto power and the other is doing what he has been told to do by his Masters, you can make your own assumptions which is which or maybe it refers to both of them.

  • ButcombeMan

    Ken Clarke did not have the intellectual equipment to enable him to see the utter folly of the Euro.

    There is no reason to pay attention to anything he says about Europe now.

    • global city

      and he admitted that he didn’t bother to read the Lisbon treaty… as he believes in all that project building stuff as an article of faith, ideology and ideal.

      The likes of Clarke would be happy to promote ever closer union no matter the consequences. Clarke has actually openly said he is eager for the day when Westminster is consigned to the level and accountability of a local council, with all powers moved up to the Commission….

      That’s what we like in our MP’s, no desire to do the job we elect them to do. I think that if we cut an MP’s salary by the same percentage of power that they have transferred from Westminster to Brussels (with the same for Whitehall mandarins) then we may see some of those europhile tendencies undergo a swift volte face?

  • Denis_Cooper

    Duncan Sandys was a eurofederalist, so is his daughter.

    • Smithersjones2013

      He wasn’t just a Eurofederalist he was one of the EU federalists who began the EU movement in the UK and was leader of the first British delegation to the EU commission under Ted Heath.

      Sandys junior has been dripping in EU gravy virtually since she was born. How ironic her seat is the one where UKIP is most likely to succeed and how Eurofederalist for her to give up and run away at the first sign of opposition (she is standing down in 2015).

      • Denis_Cooper


  • Denis_Cooper

    “We managed to get the Lisbon Treaty”

    Just about sums the arrogance of his attitude, he and his kind “managed to get the Lisbon Treaty” by refusing to ask the British people whether they wanted it.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    It’s a damned lie and Clarke knows it. He is a dissembling bag of lard.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Lard is useful, sack of $#!t perhaps? 🙂

    • Brimstone52

      I suspect that Clarke actually believes what he says about the EU. He is one of the EU’s useful idiots.

  • James Strong

    And we are not eurosceptics, we are EUsceptics.

    • beat_the_bush


      • global city

        That implies an irrational fear of something benign!

        Being concerned about the EU is as irrational as worrying about the hungry bear you have just happened upon in the woods.

        • beat_the_bush

          Irrationality has something to do with ignorance and inflexibility, a long with double standard ,often illogical, arguments. Whilst I’m sure in some vestige of this country there is a Eurosceptic who is rational, I’ve spent far too long encountering people who claim to know about the EU and still can’t work out the difference between the Council of the EU, the European Council, and the separate Council of Europe – and that’s just for a start.

          • global city

            Uncritical support of the EU is gormless.. and by support I mean accepting of the fundamental principles and rationale of the structures.

            Most avid supporters I have met have usually been woollyheaded dipshits or who have had an unhealthy love of authority.

            • beat_the_bush

              Very few pro-Europeans are supporters of it in its current form. Europhobes just don’t seem to get this. All black and white, in and out for them.

              • global city

                You may be right, but the current set up is more than undesirable, but Europhiles are so obsessed with the principle that they would never consider the option of leaving, no matter how much the current drive continues.

                There has to be a point where you say ‘No More’. It is not just that the Europhiles delude themselves that they wlil get change or ‘reform’ that never comes.

                You hit the nail on the head, but fail to concede that your wish for reform has never happened, or even shifted toward change in the slightest…. it steam on.

                So, please answer my question… when is enough enough?

  • Hello

    “It is fascinating, isn’t it, that there is a proposition out there that this dastardly relationship that we have to have with these dreadful Europeans is going to be replaced by this unbelievably harmonious romantic relationship with the rest of the world”

    Sandys does realise that while that might sound jolly enlightened and garner a little teehee in a press conference, the only implication that can be drawn is that she thinks of the UK as an irrelevant and diminished little country, right? Is this supposed to be a rallying call? At best she is going to depress the voters she wants to win, at worst she is going to annoy them.

    The mainstream group seem to continually say things that are designed to get under the skin of eurosceptics, that’s just going to split the right if they get their way in the referendum. It’s certainly not going to convince anyone of the merits of federalisation if that’s what they’re after. It would be best if they just closed down and left it to Fresh Start.

  • James Strong

    As members of the EU to what extent are we able to remove from office those who govern us?
    That’s the question that, for me , carries most weight and the answer to that question is clear; what matters is how happy or unhappy you are with that answer.
    I am very unhappy with it.
    I would like to ask Clarke, and all the other EUphiles why they are content with it.

    • Bert3000

      If you want to take part in the government of the EU vote in the elections in May, preferably for a candidate who’s going to turn up.

      • James Strong

        But what’s the line of accountability from me to my MEP to the EU Commission and individual Commissioners? Where in this line do Barrosso and Van Rumpuy stand?
        Does the line exist?
        Can votes in EU elections get rid of any of the office holders? Which ones?
        Now, answer my original question, and these additional ones.

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        An election where the media discuss the issue only in terms of UK party rivalries, in which no EP party presents a manifesto in the UK. In which party lists determine who is elected and in which no elected representative makes a ha’porth of difference to an executive which can ignore its own laws with impunity and will if required replace national ministers with no recourse. That is not democracy, and it isn’t meant to be.

      • Wessex Man

        oh you are a bitter little man.

    • Pip

      For that answer one would have to follow to money.

    • global city

      The EU is a natural extension of the mindset of the governing class, so politicians and bureaucrats will always fight for the state having more and more control.

      The era of big government is what has undermined the UK (remote power wielded by unrepresentative elites). The big difference between the UK structures and the EU is democratic accountability.

      The solution for the UK is devo-max for all ‘member’ areas (cities included) and withdrawal from the profoundly anti democratic ‘European project’. Such a federal structure would ensure that central power is limited to what is needed at that level.

      To do this will not only give the people democratic control, but would also give the statists a good kick in the teeth. The EU has way too much power, but then so does Whitehall… we need to cobble both… kill one off and greatly curtail the other.

      The main point about the EU is that ALL of those areas that transcend what we can do as an independent entity also transcends the limits of the EU itself. The EU is a bloated middle man.

      95% of issues that go beyond the UK are international. Power in the EU only makes sense if you believe in building a United States of Europe. This is a fair enough ambition to have, but Europhiles must be forced to make their case with this ideal out in the open. They must be exposed and mocked every time that they try to hide their europhile ambitions behind patriotic and even nationalistic words.

    • beat_the_bush

      The EU parliament can remove the Commission from office. It essentially did in 1999 when the Santer Commission resigned rather than face the embarrassment of a vote.

      • global city

        The unuseable nuclear option!

        You do not agree with EU1996/54 on the standardisation of eye colour, so you have to bring the who;e edifice down.

        ALL of the hecks and balances in the EU structures are like this…. designed to be unused, so therefore ineffective. In other words, they are a sham, designed to give a veneer of accountability whilst not actually affecting the CORE principle of incontestable rule by technocrats.

        THAT is what you are defending.

        • beat_the_bush

          You are the sort of person who would think that the EU would legislate on eye colour.

          I think we all know you have invented a fictional EU bogeyman to slay in your pathetic dreams, like most Europhobes.

          Also, what was your point?

          If a piece of legislation that parliament doesn’t like is proposed, it can be voted down in plenary. It seems once again, you proved you don’t understand how the EU works.

          • global city

            Your silly little ad hominem warble will not divert from the point that I made. The only thing that you have right is that, of course, EVERYONE WILL know that the eye colour directive was not a serious one… an obvious little work of fiction from my fevered brain.

            What legislative proposals have been struck down? The last point of my previous post i more pertinent than the one you have just made.

            By the way, you did not answer my relevant question….. why not?

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    So speaks the man who boasted of not reading the Maastricht Treaty.

  • AnotherDave

    In what sense was the Lisbon Treaty a good thing?