Will Clegg fight against a Fresh Start on the EU?

Alex Hern reports on the Fresh Start group’s upcoming white paper, and asks what the Liberal Democrat reaction to it will be.


The Fresh Start group of eurosceptic Conservative MPs has issued demands that David Cameron ensures that the government repatriates some powers from the EU before the next election.

The Independent reports that the group:

Is drawing up a “shopping list” of functions that should be handed back to the UK by the European Union.

They could include control of employment laws; health and safety measures; farming and fishing; justice and crime; and structural funds for poor areas.

The group’s demands will be set out in an alternative “White Paper” in July.

They spoke co-chairman of the group, Andrea Leadsom, who said:

“We must seize the opportunity now; we must get on with it. Some Lib Dems might not like David Cameron’s use of the veto but the coalition is not going to break up over this.”

The paper adds:

Top of her shopping list is a new EU rule allowing member states to opt out of Brussels directives whenever they have a change of government. That would allow the coalition to end the maximum 48-hour week under the EU’s working time directive, agreed when Labour was in power.

Leadsom’s belief that the coalition would not break up over such a policy appears well founded.

As we wrote in December, after Cameron’s ‘veto’, it seems like the Lib Dems are in a position where they must compromise on even their most heartfelt issues:

Throughout this eurozone crisis, we’ve heard a lot about David Cameron’s ‘red lines‘ on Europe – the measures he absolutely will not agree to, no matter what the result. But what we have heard little of are the ‘yellow lines’; those areas which the junior partner in the coalition will not compromise on.

If you had asked grassroots Liberal Democrats twelve hours ago, they may well have told you that Britain’s role in the centre, rather than the periphery, of the EU was one of those lines.

The question on the lips of Liberal Democrats today must be: Are there any areas on which Nick Clegg will not compromise? It appears that the only lines Lib Dems won’t cross are the ones which Tories don’t want them to.

As Leadsom points out, the coalition agreement says that the government “will examine the balance of the EU’s existing competences”, but for many Lib Dem supporters, switching to an ‘á la carte’ Europe, in which individual countries could opt-out of directives as they see fit, would be a step further than that clause implies.

The question for the Lib Dem leadership is whether they can afford to push a confrontation with the Conservatives to please their members. Past experience suggests they believe they can’t.

See also:

Must the left give up on the EU?Ben Mitchell, December 17th 2011

Public support for Cameron’s EU walkout already unravellingWill Straw, December 13th 2011

What exactly did Cameron get from the EU summit?Shamik Das, December 13th 2011

What are Clegg’s yellow lines?Alex Hern, December 9th 2011

Cameron didn’t sign EU deal because it’s not in the interests of the one per centShamik Das, December 9th 2011

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