Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Slaughter of the sacred cow

As a monument to the revered Margaret Thatcher, the Single Market has hitherto been treated with a degree of respect that has prevented all but the most extreme Tory Eurosceptic from arguing against it. Even the avowedly Eurosceptic Bill Cash will hear nothing against this sacred construct.

But that has now changed. The sacred cow is being loaded on the lorry, its final destination one of the very few abattoirs left after the depredations of – you guessed it – the Single Market.

That is the true significance of John Redwood’s pronouncements to The Financial Times yesterday, when he said that a Conservative government may have to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU's single market to roll back excessive regulation of the UK economy.

Read quickly, it does not immediately strike home, but focus on those words "Single Market" and what we are seeing is a major shift in Conservative policy, a shift of monumental proportions. Never before has a senior Conservative politician ever challenged the sanctity of this construct.

Clearly, as Redwood says, this means that the Conservatives are preparing a "renegotiation package" to reverse 30 years of European integration and it is sweet music to hear Redwood proclaim that the Conservatives not only rejected the new constitution but wanted Britain to return to a relationship with the EU that was "more closely modelled to what we originally joined" (in 1973).

Pity that the Financial Times then had to trot out the dreary dogma that "Mr Redwood's return to the political front line has been widely interpreted as a lurch to the right for the Tories", as if returning the government of this country was a matter of right-wing politics. But the paper is probably right to suggest that Michael Howard is "preparing to bow to pressure from Eurosceptic colleagues to take a harder line on Europe to forestall the advance of the anti-EU UKIP."

As readers of this Blog will already know, the Tories are already committed to repatriating control of fishing and international development policy from Brussels, but what Redwood is suggesting is that they are preparing to go much further and reconsider the entire legal basis of British membership.

This is seen by former science and technology minister, Ian Taylor, a Tory "moderniser" (what used to be called a "wet") and chairman of the Tory Europe Network, as Redwood "attempting to throw his weight around", expressing the hope that this major shift in policy "was not authorised by the leadership".

However, one cannot imagine a situation where Redwood would take on the job of tackling regulation without also obtaining an undertaking from Howard that he could sort out EU regulation, and one also cannot imagine a situation where a senior member of Howard's shadow cabinet could announce such an important policy change with, at the very least, the tacit approval of his boss.

And you just know the policy has "wings" – a flying cow, perhaps – when Europe minister, Denis MacShame, attacks it. He claims that the Tories are now adopting "UKIP style policies". Poor Mr McShame. Since when has UKIP had policies?

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