Leading article: A cynical response to the rebellion

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The Independent Online

Adrian Beecroft's proposal that the notion of "unfair dismissal" be scratched from Britain's employment laws could not have come at a better time for David Cameron.

It is perhaps not surprising that a venture capitalist commissioned to look for ways to boost job creation might recommend a watering down of employee rights. That the existence of such proposals leaked out just days after the Conservative Party's biggest ever backbench rebellion over Europe is a stroke of considerable good fortune for the Prime Minister.

Mood music designed to calm the ire of the Eurosceptic dissidents started almost immediately after the political debacle over an in-out referendum on Europe at the start of this week. In the aftermath of the vote, the Education Secretary immediately started wooing the fractious with strong talk about Britain "winning back powers" from Brussels as soon as this very Parliament. Not only did Michael Gove explicitly tout Britain's exemption from EU employment protection laws, ever a bugbear of the Tory right. His comments were then backed up by hints from Downing Street that Mr Cameron's price in any treaty renegotiations arising from the euro crisis would be an opt-out from the EU Working Time Directive.

Mr Beecroft's report chimes beautifully, albeit in a slightly different key. No matter that he concludes that there is nothing in European law that militates against his suggestion that employers be able to sack unproductive staff with a pay-off but no explanation. It is enough for the Tory leadership that the report's existence adds to the sense that employment rules may be back on the table.

Mercifully, the overt opposition of the Conservatives' Liberal Democrat coalition partners renders both Mr Beecroft's proposals and the wholesale rejection of EU employment rules politically unlikely. Even so, the Tories' internal dialogue is worthy of note for the unflattering light it casts on the party and its leadership alike. Mr Cameron was deservedly criticised for his mishandling of the EU referendum debate. The subsequent descent into dog-whistle politics is no more edifying a spectacle.