Editorial: An EU rebellion that warns of trouble ahead

The Tory parliamentary party is more Eurosceptic now than ever before

Share
Related Topics

Wednesday night in the House of Commons looked too much like a return to the dark days of the Major years for comfort. Goaded by a passionate dislike of the EU, more than 50 Tory rebels lined up to vote against their Government, aided and abetted by a hypocritical Labour opposition.

The flashpoint is the next European budget, which runs from 2014 to 2020 and is to be thrashed out at a summit in Brussels later this month. The Commission's starting point is for a ceiling of €826bn, a 5 per cent rise on current levels. David Cameron intends to push for a real-terms freeze, that is a budget that will increase in line with inflation only. The Eurosceptics and their Labour confederates say only a cut will do – and between them they defeated the Government by 307 to 294.

As regards the Prime Minister's negotiating position, the immediate impact is limited. The vote is a non-binding one, and Mr Cameron may proceed in Brussels as planned. But the political damage is real enough, adding to the growing sense of a leader struggling to control his party. The longer-term implications are more disquieting still. Although this week's rebellion is mere game-playing by comparison with the serial revolts over the Maastricht Treaty in the early 1990s, the current Conservative parliamentary party is far more Eurosceptic than its predecessor. Now, the Tory benches are almost wholly opposed to Europe, the only real debate being one of degree. And the rebels' willingness to proceed, backed by an opposition they knew to be trying to embarrass Mr Cameron, gives an indication of how little any other considerations weigh. Such a dynamic would be troubling at any time; with Europe in crisis, it is even more so.

Labour's behaviour is not much more encouraging. The Tory leadership has had a trying few weeks, rocked by the Chief Whip's "plebgate" resignation and a growing fiasco over energy policy. With Labour's plan to paint their opponents as "out of touch" at full tilt, the EU budget vote was, apparently, too tempting to resist. Shame on them. For a pro-Europe party to enter the voting lobbies alongside Tory Eurosceptics who would have Britain pull out altogether is the height of cynicism.

So much for the politics. What of the substance? It is rare for this newspaper to support Mr Cameron on the subject of Europe. In this instance, however, his approach is the right one – now that he has replaced bullish talk of Britain's veto with a more emollient tone. There is a case for reviewing the EU's ever-growing budget; and deep domestic spending cuts are not an auspicious background against which to agree multi-billion pound transfers abroad (even ones that, indirectly, more than pay for themselves). But a freeze is all that we can realistically expect. Indeed, Mr Cameron faces no little trouble drumming up support even for that. Moreover, a bolshy British veto would cost us more, thanks to an automatic reversion to more expensive one-year budgets.

More important still is the larger picture of which the budget spat is a microcosm. The more that Eurosceptics dig their heels in, talk up the repatriation of powers and hint of referendums to come, the weaker our voice in shaping the Europe that will emerge from the euro crisis and determine much of Britain's economic and political future regardless of our formal place in it.

In such a context, Maastricht-style ructions in the House of Commons would be catastrophic. This week's rebellion was just a warm-up. The make-or-break moment will be the vote on whatever deal the Prime Minister brings back from Brussels, which will most likely take place next year. The auguries could hardly be less promising, or the consequences more profound.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering