29 Sep 2013

Tory Conference: red lines, Europe and the ECHR

The Tories are expected to signal here in Manchester that they want a line drawn in the sand on European integration for those outside the Euro.

It comes on top of the prime minister saying to the Telegraph that he might well, in a future Tory government, withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

These two are intimately linked because they are emerging as the two main prongs of the Tory leadership strategy on Europe.

Power tussle with Brussels

The repatriation of powers agenda that got talked about a lot when David Cameron gave his speech in January promising a “renegotiation” followed by an in/out referendum, has come up against a brick wall, senior Cabinet ministers argue.

David Cameron doesn’t think EU partners will engage with the idea of UK-specific repatriations. There could be an EU-wide repatriation on some areas but that’s a tall order and instead the PM is looking to get a “line in the sand” declaration, an end to “ever closer union” for those countries that want it.

Effectively, Britain would have a veto on further powers going to Brussels and that goes further than the Referendum Act passed in this parliament because it would apply to regulations and not just treaty changes.

Red line on human rights

The top Tories in the government have decided that much of the real anger about Europe centres on the European Court of Human Rights. David Cameron is letting it be known that he’d like to shake up the way the court polices the European Convention on Human Rights but if radical reform isn’t forthcoming he’s ready to walk out.

That’s a red line in any future coalition negotiations for the Lib Dems so though they might find it easier to deal with a “renegotiation” that wasn’t a “repatriation” agenda, the ECHR policy presents massive problems for them.

Overall, the whole approach will pose problems with some in the Tory Party who’d like more red meat on Europe and will think this dish a little vegetarian. The ceasefire in internal Tory hostilities on Europe might be about to be breached.

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