Resignation adds to Tory woes

Wardle's departure opens `second front' for the Eurosceptics
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Government's troubles over Europe widened at the weekend with the resignation of Charles Wardle, a junior trade minister, to warn that Britain's controls on immigration from Europe were at risk.

With some Tory Eurosceptics expected to vote in the Commons today with the Liberal Democrats to demand a referendum on a single currency, Mr Wardle opened another front for them to demand action from John Major, despite his assurance that the Government had "no intention" of surrendering such controls.

MPs were surprised by the resignation of Mr Wardle, the Home Office minister resposible for immigration until the last reshuffle. But Eurosceptic Tories such as Bill Cash and Christopher Gill seized on it to declare he was "compeletely right" in his assertion that Britain's existing informal derogation from a Europe without internal frontiers was "not worth the paper it was written on".

The general declaration signed by heads of government in 1985 would not stand up in the European court if challenged, Mr Wardle said, and the lack of passport controls would mean "an influx of economic migrants" could walk freely into the UK placing "an intolerable strain on housing, social security education, health at the taxpayers' expense". The Government's renewed interest in national identity cards, he said, would only convince our European partners that Britain would eventually relent on existing controls, and Britain had to put the issue on the agenda of next year's Inter-Governmental Conference to obtain a legally watertight derogation.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, who made a fervently anti-federalist speech at the weekend's Young Conservative conference without formally stepping outside the Cabinet line on Europe, insisted "we have absolutely no intention of dismantling our frontier controls".

But David Hunt, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said of the existing agreement: "I recognise the Commission have said that it is not as valid as we say it is. But it is there, it is very clear and it is very specific."

Mr Wardle's view that the agreement is unenforceable is backed by Kenneth Baker, a former home secretary, who in his memoirs, The Turbulent Years, says he was shocked to find the declaration was "worthless", adding he was sure Baroness Thatcher would not have signed the Single European Act if she had known it meant "signing away control over Britain's immigration policy". He wanted to wait and see how the European Court ruled "and then be prepared to wave two fingers, rather than abandon border controls in anticipation of defeat".

Mr Baker predicted then that Britain was on a collision course with the EU over frontier controls, "and when this collision occurs it will be the ultimate test of `Who governs?', the national or the supranational state".

Mr Wardle, a pro-European from the party's centre left, said he had first raised the issue fifteen months ago with the Prime Minister, and had resigned only after repeated correspondence, a meeting with Mr Major and a meeting with Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary. It involved a far more concrete issue of sovereignty than the discussion of a single currency, he said.

He had resigned now because he had until June to ensure the Government put the issue on the IGC agenda.

Just before resigning, Mr Wardle had a meeting with Conservative Party members in his Bexhill and Battle constituency - they gave him a standing ovation when he explained his reasons for his decision.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hanley, the party chairman, conceded Cabinet differences over whether Britain should join a single currency after 1997. There were, he said, "no differences between any Cabinet ministers" over joining in 1996 or 1997. "Where there are differences is on matters of opinion as to how the world might pan out some time down the road."