13 November 2015

Why has the Conservative Party U-turned on promises to repatriate powers from the EU?


It may have escaped your notice, but the Conservative Party has talked about the European Union and how the UK’s relationship with it should change rather a lot in the past 25 years.

Let’s start with a few extracts from the 1997 General Election Manifesto:

We will retain Britain’s veto and oppose further extension of qualified majority voting

We will defend the rights of national parliaments and oppose more powers being given to the European Parliament at the expense of national parliaments

We will resist attempts to change the inter-governmental nature of co-operation in justice and home affairs. We will not accept the development of new legal rights that extend the concept of European citizenship

We will insist at the Intergovernmental Conference in Amsterdam that our opt-out is honoured and that Britain is exempted from the Working Time Directive

Obviously QMV was extended at Amsterdam – there were 24 lost veto areas – and the UK did go into the Working Time Directive.  Furthermore, the European Court of Justice has continued to develop and extend the concept of European citizenship, whilst the powers of the European Parliament have been extended — e.g. in the Lisbon Treaty.

After the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) many Conservatives objected to the establishment of a common criminal justice space and an increased role for EU defence forces in peacekeeping and in closer links with the Western European Union.

None of the above things Conservatives objected to at the time or voted against afterwards features on David Cameron’s list of demands to the EU in his letter to Donald Tusk of November 10th.

The following is an extract from the Conservatives’ 2001 General Election Manifesto:

We will not ratify the Nice Treaty but will renegotiate it so that Britain does not lose its veto.

The Nice Treaty involved 46 additional lost veto areas.  The Lisbon Treaty involved a further 63.  (By way of reference, the Single European Act involved 12 lost veto areas and the Maastricht Treaty 30.)

David Cameron’s list of demands to the EU in his letter to Donald Tusk of November 10th does not include requesting the return of a single veto lost at Nice or indeed Lisbon.

What about the 2005 General Election Manifesto?  “Surely that didn’t promise to restore any lost vetoes or repatriate any powers?” I hear you ask.  Let’s see.

We will settle our relationship with the European Union by bringing powers back from Brussels to Britain.

A Conservative Government will negotiate to restore our opt-out from the European Social Chapter

[B]ecause fisheries would be better administered at the national level, we will negotiate to restore national and local control over British fishing grounds. We are determined to ensure national control in this area.

David Cameron’s list of demands to the EU in his letter to Donald Tusk of November 10th does not include requesting the return of the UK’s opt-out from the Social Chapter or the restoration of UK control over British fishing grounds.

But none of these was the Conservative Party led by David Cameron himself.  Surely he never promised to repatriate any powers he hasn’t asked for?  Here’s the 2010 General Election Manifesto:

A Conservative government will negotiate for three specific guarantees – on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, on criminal justice, and on social and employment legislation – with our  European partners to return powers that we believe should reside with the UK, not the EU.

None of these three repatriations is included in David Cameron’s list of demands in his letter to Donald Tusk of November 10th.

There are those that claim that Cameron will eventually ask for more things and more significant things.  But as matters stand, in his formal public statement of his demands he has not asked for any of the things the Conservatives undertook to deliver, regarding the EU, in their 1997, 2001, 2005 or 2010 General Election manifestos.  And despite the Conservative Party objecting to the Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon Treaties, in its formal list of demands submitted to the EU the Conservative government is not asking to repatriate any powers given up in these Treaties.

The natural question, therefore, is: Did the Conservative Party never intend to deliver upon any of its repatriation promises in its 2001, 2005, and 2010 General Election Manifestos?  Or does it think something has changed?  If so, what?

Andrew Lilico is a political and economic commentator.