Cameron's European backlash begins

David Cameron's European policy announcement could alienate his party in Europe
David Cameron's European policy announcement could alienate his party in Europe

By Alex Stevenson

David Cameron faces a barrage of criticism after unveiling his "pathetic" new European policy yesterday, with Conservative MEPs joining attacks from France's Europe minister.

East Midlands MEPs Roger Helmer and Daniel Hannan quit their frontbench roles overnight. Mr Helmer said his leader's new stance on the European Union following the ratification of the Lisbon treaty was "cosmetic".

And Mr Hannan called on fellow Tories to help him build a "movement" within the party that would push for referendums and the other "paraphernalia of direct democracy".


Disquiet among Conservatives in Brussels comes amid scathing criticism from France's Europe minister Pierre Louche. His comments are the first indication the policy will alienate politicians on the continent.

Mr Lellouche told the Guardian Britain was "disappearing from the radar map" because of Mr Cameron's new stance and said the Tories were repeating their mistake in the European parliament of having "essentially castrated your UK influence".

The Tories abandoned the main centre-right coalition in the European parliament and joined a smaller grouping of right-wing parties earlier this year.

Following the final ratification of the Lisbon treaty Mr Cameron abandoned his "cast-iron" guarantee that his party would hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

Instead he outlined a series of policies towards Europe which he pledged would remain in place until the end of the next parliament.

Under a Conservative government Britain will seek to negotiate an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, re-establish control over areas of social and employment legislation and attempt to stop the "legal drift" of increasing European judicial influence in British law.

Mr Cameron's policy of a "referendum lock" to ensure that the British people will "never again" have such significant changes imposed on them without them being consulted received particular attention.

"They have one line and they just repeat one line. It is a very bizarre sense of autism," Mr Lellouche added.

"It's pathetic. It's just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just cutting itself out from the rest."

The Conservatives have rushed to insist Mr Lellouche's views do not reflect those of other European leaders.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "I don't think you will find that's representative of the reaction in Paris or other European capitals."

But the Tory leadership faces a growing problem from its own ranks after the swift resignations of Mr Helmer and Mr Hannan.

"What we have is an essentially cosmetic policy," Mr Helmer wrote on the ConservativeHome website.

"We are installing a largely ineffective burglar alarm when the family silver has already been stolen. But the British people don't want vague promises. They want the family silver back in good order."

Mr Hannan made clear in his Telegraph blog he thought Mr Cameron would be "a million times better than Gordon Brown as prime minister".

But he made clear his commitment to "lots and lots of referendums" meant he had returned to the backbenches to campaign for "full-on Helvetic people power".

"This Conservative is for a referendum: a proper, deep-cleansing referendum that will settle whether our country remains subordinate, or becomes self-governing," he wrote.

"Now who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?"

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