Thursday, March 31, 2005

Watching anxiously

A headline in today's Financial Times puts John Redwood on the spot, claiming: "Tories plan European Union renegotiation".

If that is not pointed enough, the paper then starts its report with: "A senior Tory has refused to rule out a British withdrawal from the European Union should its vow to repatriate large swaths of policy face implacable opposition from Brussels."

The comments, by John Redwood, the shadow deregulation secretary, it says, "highlight the dilemma facing the party as it seeks to convince voters that it could renegotiate crucial European agreements while avoiding a damaging internal row over the UK's future relationship with the rest of the EU."

A Conservative government would go to Brussels with a "renegotiation package" as soon as it had secured a "no" vote in a referendum on the constitution, Redwood says. This would include withdrawal from the common fisheries policy; more control for the UK on social chapter and employment measures; "whatever powers are required" to allow the UK to control immigration over its borders; and other unspecified regulations.

According to the FT, Redwood insisted that such a sweeping renegotiation was feasible, but admitted he had "no idea" how long it might take. He added that the Tories were "not envisaging” Britain leaving the EU" and insisted it was "a Labour lie" to suggest the Tory policy was tantamount to pulling out of Europe.

However, then came the crunch. When Redwood was asked if Britain would stay in the EU, no matter what, he responded by saying: "I'm saying that we will negotiate a better deal for Britain." Then asked if that deal would be within the EU framework, Redwood replied: "I've said what I want to say. We will negotiate the best deal for Britain."

From this, the paper adduces that Redwood has refused to rule out withdrawal from the EU, an omission which may get him into trouble with the Party hierarchy, after the Howard Flight controversy.

We can certainly expect other journalists to pick up on this, in an attempt to make mischief but, if action is taken by the Party, it will bring into high profile the opposition of Europhile MP David Curry to repatriating the CFP.

Any action against Redwood will inevitably be judged in the context of continuing inaction against Curry, to say nothing of the toleration of Ken Clarke's support for the EU constitution.

A lot is at stake here and many party workers will be watching anxiously to see what, if anything, happens.

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