When it came to the passage in his speech on Europe, William Hague was clearly building up to a crescendo. He thundered out the lines ‘which will require the fresh consent of the British people’, and then paused for what he expected to be a rapturous round of applause from a Tory audience thrilled to have received more red meat on Europe. The applause certainly came, but it wasn’t exactly full of enthusiasm; more a perfunctory round of clapping.
The first thing holding back the cheers was that everyone in the hall had already heard this line. The promise had been that there would be more details at autumn conference about how the Conservative leadership wants to shape Britain’s relationship with Europe. Instead delegates heard a line that the Prime Minister used as far back as July.
The second was that Hague didn’t exactly bring the roof down with his raging eurosceptic views in his speech. When talking about his vision for a relationship with Europe which will advance the British national interest, he said:
‘Unlike some of the federalists, I have never believed that judgements about Europe have to be a matter of everything or nothing. We should aim for what we have always wanted: being part of the Single Market that has done so much for our prosperity, using the collective weight of European nations to advance our common interests, in free trade, open markets and co-operation on climate change and other great issues facing us.’
It is striking that the Foreign Secretary included climate change in his list of areas where he still wants European involvement. This isn’t stripping Europe back to its bare necessities by any means. There will be many in his party who feel that his view no longer represents the sort of euroscepticism found on the backbenches and among the grassroots.