Tory split over Europe: now Ken Clarke enters the arena
As 95 Tories demand the right to veto EU rules, Clarke says immigrants make Britain 'healthier'
THE Tory rift over Europe could lead to a challenge to David Cameron’s leadership, Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, warned this morning after 95 Tory MPs were slapped down for a second time by Foreign Secretary William Hague for demanding a British veto over EU laws.
The Tory backbenchers, led by arch-eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin, had signed a letter to the Prime Minister demanding that Parliament be given the power to veto every aspect of EU law. As the Daily Telegraph reports, this would enable Westminster to "reverse the spread of human rights law, relieve businesses of red tape from Brussels and regain control over immigration".
Hague infuriated the 95 signatories yesterday when he told Sky News their demands were unrealistic. This morning he repeated that line on Radio 4's Today programme.
"[What] you cannot have in any system that relies on some commons rules – even in a free trade area – is each of the Parliaments being able… unilaterally to say we are not applying this or that purely on our own decision," Hague said. "Clearly a single market arrangement would not work on that basis."
The eurosceptics feel betrayed by Hague because they counted him as “one of us”. Back in the late 90s, when Hague was Tory leader, he was a confirmed eurosceptic who ran a general election campaign to “save the pound”. Disgruntled Tory MPs are now complaining Hague “has gone native” at the Foreign Office.
Nick Robinson said on the Today programme a “gulf exists” between the Tory leadership and the rank-and-file MPs. If the Tories do badly in the European elections this May, Robinson added, "You can imagine there will be a little bit of a Tory panic, maybe even about the leadership of their own party at that stage…"
Robinson warned that, like Major, Cameron may find his party ungovernable. "If you have 100 Tory MPs [who] regard their leadership as completely out of touch with them on the EU, you need a pretty big majority if you are David Cameron after the next election to have any hope of getting your way," he said.
Cameron had hoped he could reunite the Conservative party – and head off the threat from Ukip – by offering an in-out EU referendum if the Tories win the 2015 general election. But Labour and the Liberal Democrats now appear determined to block the referendum paving bill in the House of Lords.
The PM's hopes of peace were further shattered this morning by Ken Clarke, arch europhile and minister without portfolio, who blundered into the row by rejecting claims by Cameron that EU rules have let to “vast migrations” of foreigners.
Clarke used an interview with the Financial Times to describe the immigration debate as “right-wing, nationalist escapism” adding that immigrants make Britain a "far more exciting and healthier" society.
“I just don’t think it’s true that the European Union is responsible for unacceptable waves of migration," Clarke said.
What was it Cameron boasted when he won the party leadership? That he was going to stop the Tories “banging on about Europe”?
The fact is the eurosceptics are banging the drum just as loudly as they did when John Major was leader, due in part to the threat that Ukip represents to their seats.
Jenkin, the leader of the group of 95, warned in the Mail on Sunday that the Tories could lose 50 seats if they fail to match Ukip policies. “On present trends we are going to lose 50 seats — and most of them don’t even realise it.
“It has got to the ridiculous position where Nigel Farage is telling us what our policy on immigration should be — and he is right.”