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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: The rights and wrongs of the EU rebels and of Cameron

Every wise Tory should acknowledge that there are lessons to be learned from Monday's events. Here are eight.

1) The PM and his business managers made a mistake. There was no need to take the Debate so seriously. It - and all similar future events - should be be regarded as a half-holiday for backbenchers, allowing them to relax in the knowledge that the proceedings do not form part of the legislative curriculum. So in future, no whipping.

2) Today, in the aftermath of tactical misjudgment, Messrs Cameron and Gove struck exactly the right tone. They accepted that good men and women were driven to rebellion by the dictates of conscience. As young backbenchers, they might have done the same themselves. So no proscriptions. In victory - if that is the right word - magnanimity.

3) The rebels ought to be equally magnanimous. Above all, they ought to realise that David Cameron is right. We are in a crisis, and there is no easy solution. If the Euro disintegrated, a double dip would be almost inevitable. It may be that this is bound to happen, and that we had better brace ourselves for the crash. But Messrs Cameron and Osborne are trying to do everything in their power to avert a breakdown. If anyone doubts that they are acting in the national interest, I refer them to President Sarkozy.

4) At this perilous juncture, it would be insane to hold a referendum on British membership. I am certain that many of those who voted for one allowed themselves that luxurious self-indulgence because they knew that it would not happen.

5) But this is a postponement, not a surrender. As soon as there is a Tory government with an overall majority, it is inevitable that there will be a re-negotiation of British membership. It is not certain that the outcome would be continued membership. The option of withdrawal would strengthen the British negotiators' hands. At the end of the process, there might well be a referendum. The Euro's threatened implosion has fundamentally and irrevocably altered Britain's relationship with the EU. Euroscepticism has triumphed.

6) That said, this is not the moment to rejoice. There is too much work to be done. Although all the polls suggest that the country is broadly with us, most voters have other priorities. They want to be reassured that the Tories' plans for Europe are not a distracting obsession: that they are part of a clear strategy for national recovery. They want to be reassured about the government's moral seriousness.

7) On that, there is a problem. Apropos of self-indulgence, not all the rebels were good men and women. Since he failed to be Leader - thank God - David Davis has been a dagger in search of a shoulder-blade. But Mr Davis is a serious figure, unlike Bernard Jenkin. For the past two decades, Bernard has had a strong claim to being the silliest Tory MP. He is clearly nostalgic for the great days 0f 1992-1997, that glorious period in Tory history, when he helped to wreck the Major government, which cost the UK its opt-out from the social chapter. If Tony Blair had possessed one-tenth of Margaret Thatcher's political courage, the ineffable Bernard might have helped to deliver Britain into the single currency. As it is, his antics merely contributed to the loss of half the party's seats. Since then, he has had occasional interludes on the Front Bench. He always had to be eased out, for he was no good. Now, he is back to what he does best. Today, he was questioning the Prime Minister's good faith. One ought to take no notice. What sensible person would have any interest in Bernard's twittering inanity? All the same; it is exasperating. 

8) Right, fellow eurosceptics: no more time for self-indulgence: there is an agenda to be crafted and hardened. This should include the ECHR, as great a threat to Britain as the ECJ. Dominic Grieve has been reported as saying that there is no question of repudiating the Strasbourg court. If he does think that, he has another thing coming. Euroscepticism must now muster its forces for a poltical, intellectual and moral advance, on all fronts.


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