Quoted on the Foreign Office website, Foreign Secretary William Hague makes it clear that the Government intends to be ‘active and activist, positive and energetic’ when it comes to Europe.
The Tory Europe Minister, David Lidington, is even more fulsome in his praise for the EU. In his recent speech in Vienna, he refers to the European Union as, “ . . the truly historic achievement of establishing a model for a community of nations governing relations among themselves according to the rule of law.”
And recently, in an interview with Al Jazeera, even David Cameron made – for him – a very clear statement specifically regarding any referendum on EU membership. Setting the cat amongst the eurosceptic pigeons, Cameron totally rejected the idea of an in/out referendum on EU membership, and said he wanted the UK to remain a full member.
So far, so (relatively) clear. The independent observer would suggest that the Tories are a firmly pro-European party with a commitment to Britain’s membership of the EU.
And yet . . . the Tories continue to keep strange and undesirable company in the European Parliament, preferring to be in a political group, not of the mainstream centre right parties of Merkel and Sarkozy, but made up, in Nick Clegg’s words, of “nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes.”
And their votes, on issues ranging from human trafficking to rights for same-sex couples and the treatment of the victims of the Equitable Life scandal, continue to suggest that the Tory brand is still pretty toxic.
The truth is that – whatever his own real views – Cameron has to play both ends against the middle. Within his own party, the eurosceptic right is strong. He can keep them at bay by pointing to the pro-European demands made upon him by his LibDem Coalition partners. Of course, he then says much the same thing – in reverse – when accused of being anti-European by Clegg and the small number of Tory pro-Europeans.
I blogged last year that the much-vaunted EU Bill going through the Westminster Parliament at the time was much ado about nothing and I’m sure we can look forward to more such non-events as Cameron continues to try to ride his two European horses!