It did not take David Cameron long to realise that there were three parties in his
coalition. A few months into government, the Prime Minister worked out that only half of the policies he was enacting came from the shared agenda drawn up when the Tories and LibDems got together.
The other half comes from the EU. Or, more specifically, the Civil Service machine, which is busy implementing various EU Directives, often passed many years ago. Cameron is trying to put the
brakes on this process.
As I say in my News of the World column, this has led to much frustration in Whitehall. And dismay: the Civil Service remembers how easily Labour waved through EU regulation and the piles of fat
that Whitehall likes to pile on top of the EU regulation. Labour would claim that the EU rules were actually its idea, so as not to lose face. Only in government is it clear how far power has
slipped; Cameron wants to claw it back.
Oliver Letwin has been tasked with stopping Whitehall from being a breeding ground for new regulations. Cameron jokingly refers to Letwin as a ‘contraceptive’, because it’s his
job to stop these regulations being conceived – usually after a little European foreplay. It’s a huge task. The problem is that you have the entire British Civil Service playing
Barry White CDs and making eyes at Brussels; the two of them make out on the small print sofa and breed regulations like rabbits.
Cameron knows he can restructure government and minimise these needless regulations, but it will always be a battle.
And, one has to wonder, why fight that battle? In our only referendum on Europe, 1975, Britain signed up to a free trade deal: a common market, not the Euro wannabe-superstate that we have now. For
a long time, the argument has been bogged down in Bill Cash’s territory: dull procedural debates and constitutional outrage. Europe was easier to characterise as a fringe issue, not so now.
The prisoner votes is about the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (rather than the Commission) but it’s a fundamental issue of sovereignty. Cameron thought he’d have to play
along, even though it made him “physically sick”. But in perhaps the most useful thing the House of Commons has done for two decades, it decided otherwise last week in a free vote. And
what are the judges of Strasbourg going to do? Invade?
A healthy precedent was established last week. Britain has rejected that old argument that we have no choice. We do. Parliament is sovereign. We can reject as many Euro laws as we like: from
Brussels, Strasbourg or both. Sure, they may threaten to throw us out – but would they do that to their fourth-largest (and most gullible) paymaster? The national game of the EU is hardball. And
it’s time Britain started to play a little.
Let’s consider public opinion. The British public do not trust the EU, not do they really see the supposed benefits of membership. I refer to a poll: not by UKIP but by the European
Commission itself. Its 2010 Eurobarometer poll (of all member states, the largest of its kind in the world) showed that Britain is – by some margin – the most reluctant member of this increasingly
assertive union. Here are two snapshots of how Britain compares to the EU.
And yet our EU contributions are trebling, despite public opinion. And what do we get in return? An avalanche of regulations, the extent of which Labour never fully admitted. The system will not
do. Half of the elected Prime Minister’s job is to implement the diktats of Brussels; even Danny Alexander, a former Europe spokesman, was shocked when he wanted to lift fuel prices for his
Highland constituents, but found he can only do so with the permission of all other member states. It simply won’t do.
So, what might happen next? As James Forsyth says in the Mail on Sunday today, things are taking a decisive turn when even Letwin is turning Eurosceptic. But the
LibDems would not allow any frank discussion of Europe by ministers – so, as with the prisoners voting, it may fall to parliament to act. There are intriguing whispers in the Commons of Labour
championing a LibDem proposal – that is, the in-or-out referendum. It might pass the Commons with Tory votes. Just an idea right now; but having found out last week that they can defy Strasbourg,
the British legislature may again assert itself independently of the executive. And when the relevance and stature of that legislature is being threatened, there’s all the more reason to
David Cameron was right to describe the Lisbon Treaty as unacceptable. When it passed, Britain’s relationship with the EU now operates on a basis that has no democratic legitimacy. That is
unconscionable. Meanwhile, Cameron – who has enough real reform of his own – has to waste his time battling Euro-junk. And not always effectively: the Treasury is struggling to resist the EU power
grab over the City, which must now be regarded as a grave economic threat.
No contraceptive is 100 per cent effective: not even if it’s called Oliver Letwin. For that degree of assurance, you need the snip. That is to say: an end to Brussels diktats once and for
all. Either out of the EU; or inside it, operating under the original 1975 free trade deal alone. That, I suspect, will be the end result. A crunch is coming. The only question is how long we have