Saturday, 28 June 2014

Go On Dave, Be More Maggie On Europe

I saw a very recent article on the Conservative Home website, headed Cameron chooses to be the heir to Thatcher not the heir to Wilson.

I know some of my readers may be too young to remember former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. So here is a picture:

Thatcher is the lady on the right.

She is, of course, campaigning in the June 1975 referendum on the United Kingdom remaining in the European Communities following re-negotiations by the then Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. If there was a "Wilsonian pretence", then Thatcher is clearly going along with it.

Now, of course, you could argue that Thatcher would not have agreed to ideas such as "ever closer union". This phrase did not originate in Lisbon, or even in Maastricht. The opening paragraph of the Treaty of Rome states:

DETERMINED to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe,

It's not buried away in the small print, or in a paragraph laden with Eurojargon. Even someone with the attention span of a goldfish would have no difficulty reading that far.

If we turn to the actions of the Thatcher Government, then there is a major piece of legislation known as the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986, which brings the Single European Act into law.

This includes:

2. In Article 7, second paragraph of the EEC Treaty the terms after consulting the Assembly shall be replaced by in co-operation with the European Parliament.

3. In Article 49 of the EEC Treaty the terms the Council shall, acting on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the Economic and Social Committee shall be replaced by the Council shall acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission, in co-operation with the European Parliament and after consulting the Economic and Social Committee.

These were significant changes. The era of all votes in the European Council and the Council of Ministers being unanimous had gone, to be replaced by Qualified Majority Voting. A quid pro quo was the enhancement of the European Parliament's powers.

It was the Thatcher Government that signed away the national veto, accepting that from then on, European law could be imposed on us against our will. But that meant neither could other countries veto. Sometimes there are those who consider themselves Thatcherites who argue that she didn't understand what she was agreeing to, or that faceless mandarins in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office misled her. This is Thatcher, the scholarship girl who always ensured she was on top of her homework, we are talking about.

As Peter Riddell notes on the Institute for Government website, one thing to learn from Thatcher is:

Pick your fights. Lady Thatcher never lacked courage but she could be cautious. She deferred a battle over pit closures in early 1981 when coal stocks were low but was far better prepared in 1984 when the NUM triggered a strike without a ballot, which not only divided their own members but occurred when the Government was in a stronger position.

Remember, this is a Prime Minister who resigned when she knew that being re-elected as Conservative leader was a battle she could not win. She would compromise rather than fight a losing battle.

I really have to question whether - if she had been Prime Minister yesterday - she would have fought the losing battle to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker becoming Commission President-Nominate. Having established a reputation for toughness, she never took the approach of "Coo-ey! It's me, over here, being tough. Look at how tough I'm being" that certain later politicians feel the need for. Would her approach yesterday have been more "Now, Jean-Claude, you'll need to appoint a Commissioner for the Internal Market...."?

Yesterday was no victory for the United Kingdom. All Prime Minister David Cameron got was keeping the Bone-Carswell section of the Conservative parliamentary party on his side for a few more weeks. It was the triumph of teenage politics - self-destructive, and an eagerness not to lose face in front of mates who are egging you on. I think we can forget about a British politician taking a senior post in the 2014-19 European Commission.

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