Charles Kennedy has been dealt a fresh blow to his authority as Liberal Democrat leader by his party's 12 MEPs, who angrily protested at his failure to consult them over the party's proposals for radical reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).
In a letter to the Liberal Democrat leader which was leaked to The Independent, Chris Davies, leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the European Parliament, threatens publicly to disown the document, which is due to be published in a fortnight by the party's environment and rural affairs spokesman, Norman Baker.
The open revolt by the MEPs is certain to reopen speculation about efforts to force Mr Kennedy to stand down in the new year. The spectacle of Mr Kennedy having a public squabble with his MEPs is damaging, but the angry tone of the letter shows little respect for his leadership.
"I must state unequivocally that your MEPs do not regard themselves as in any way bound by this position paper and insist upon their right... to determine their own approach towards CAP reform and to express their views publicly,'' said Mr Davies.
"This is an unfortunate situation and obviously it would be best on matters of such common interest to have both parliamentary parties in agreement."
Mr Davies warns that "risks are clear" from the split. He reminded Mr Kennedy that it was the second time the Liberal Democrat leader had run into a row with his MEPs, who caused a furore at the party annual conference in Blackpool over proposals for cuts in the CAP, which they claimed were pandering to Eurosceptics. Mr Davies warns Mr Kennedy that the party must "avoid any tendency towards arrogant disregard for the opinions of parliamentary colleagues elsewhere''.
Calling for a review of procedures, Mr Davies says that there has been no dialogue between Liberal Democrat MPs and MEPs. Last night Mr Baker confirmed that he was planning to publish the radical reforms to the CAP, but rejected the allegations by Mr Davies that the MEPs had not been properly consulted.
"It's obviously an important issue for Lib Dems as we occupy so many agricultural seats. The paper was subject to significant consultation with all our people before it was finalised, including the shadow cabinet, the parliamentary party, and our MEPs, including Chris Davies. He was sent the information and if he didn't reply in time, that's not my problem," said Mr Baker.
The paper will propose that subsidies in the form of single farm payments should continue but other direct subsidies would be converted to rural development support. Mr Davies said the savings from this "might prove modest".
He says that a proposed 36 per cent cut in European Union sugar subsidies "risks driving Caribbean countries into greater poverty while encouraging Brazilians to cut down rainforests to grow more sugar cane".Reuse content