New 'Iron Lady' orders Cameron to win back powers from Brussels
Incoming head of Tory Eurosceptics has drawn up 'shopping list' for PM
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Thursday 05 January 2012
Eurosceptic Conservative MPs are to demand that David Cameron overrules Nick Clegg and ensures the Government grabs back some powers from Brussels before the next election.
The Fresh Start group, which has the support of 120 Tory MPs, is drawing up a "shopping list" of functions that should be handed back to the UK by the European Union.
They could include control of employment laws; health and safety measures; farming and fishing; justice and crime; and structural funds for poor areas. The group's demands will be set out in an alternative "White Paper" in July. The move shows that Tory MPs, while welcoming Mr Cameron's decision to veto a new EU treaty designed to rescue the euro, will press him to go further – even though that would increase tensions with the Liberal Democrats and Britain's UK partners.
Andrea Leadsom, co-chairman of the group, told The Independent yesterday: "The eurozone crisis is going to be a catalyst for change and a chance to ensure a better relationship for Britain within the EU."
She said the Liberal Democrats could not have a veto on repatriating powers, pointing out that the Coalition Agreement says the Government "will examine the balance of the EU's existing competences". She said: "We must seize the opportunity now; we must get on with it. Some Lib Dems might not like David Cameron's use of the veto but the Coalition is not going to break up over this."
Top of her shopping list is a new EU rule allowing member states to opt out of Brussels directives whenever they have a change of government. That would allow the Coalition to end the maximum 48-hour week under the EU's working time directive, agreed when Labour was in power.
Brussels would regard such a "Europe à la carte" as a recipe for chaos which undermined the EU's basic principles.
But Ms Leadsom insisted that it would put elected governments back in the driving seat. "The massive problem with the EU is that it still holds to directives and measures signed 40 years ago. It is ludicrous to say you can change national governments every five years but that you can never change anything that comes out of Europe," she said.
"You can go from a right-wing government to a left-wing government but you cannot change anything from the EU even though it accounts for about half of the laws of the land."
She insisted that the vast majority of Tory MPs want to remain in the EU rather than pull out. She heads a group of pragmatic Eurosceptics which, with William Hague's support, is being advised by Foreign Office officials on which powers might be returned to the UK.
"We are looking in a very detailed way on what could be done differently," she said. "The Government is keen on that. There is no wedge between the Government and [Tory] backbenchers on this."
Ms Leadsom's other priority is to defend the City of London from future EU regulation amid concern that the EU has an "anti-London" agenda aimed at boosting the rival financial centres of Paris and Frankfurt. She is a rare political animal in that she held senior posts in the City during a 23-year career in banking and finance before becoming MP for South Northamptonshire in 2010. Her experience has led to her being tipped for ministerial office.
Described as the Tories' "Iron Lady of banking", Ms Leadsom likened the UK's financial services sector to Germany's car industry as she rejected calls by Germany and France for a financial transaction or "Robin Hood" tax. "If we proposed a tax on every car produced to bail out Europe, that would destroy Germany's automotive industry," she said. Ms Leadsom backed the Prime Minister's controversial use of the veto at last month's Brussels summit and denied it would make it harder to persuade EU nations to return powers to the UK.
"People now realise we are serious – that we are not going to be rolled over," she said.
Film premiere: Thatcher's old boys turn on 'ghoulish' biopic
Meryl Streep may be the bookies' favourite to win an Oscar for her portrayal of Baroness Thatcher, but several of the former Prime Minister's cabinet colleagues have given The Iron Lady a raspberry.
The former Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd is the latest to criticise the film, describing as "ghoulish" the depiction of Lady Thatcher in old age.
He told the Evening Standard: "The flashback scenes show a woman suffering a form of dementia, but that lady is very much alive. That should have given them pause to wait."
Lord Tebbit, former chairman of the Conservative party, said she was never "the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep". Sir Bernard Ingham, a long-term adviser to Lady Thatcher, said he had "serious reservations" about the film, and Lord Heseltine, who left her cabinet in 1986, said it was "extremely distasteful" to depict her "problems of advanced old age".
The stars, including Streep and Jim Broadbent, who played Denis Thatcher, trod the red carpet last night as The Iron Lady premiered at the British Film Institute. Lady Thatcher's family turned down an invitation to see the film. Its director, Phyllida Lloyd, told the BBC: "I quite understand them not wanting to see it in the public gaze, so we're not sure whether they have seen it or not."
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