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A thumbs-up from the Telegraph, but the Mail is scathing: a mixed response from Fleet Street to the new Tory European policy

Here's how Fleet Street has reacted to David Cameron's announcement of new Conservative policy on Europe yesterday...

The Daily Telegraph is extremely supportive of the measures announced by the Tory leader:

"David Cameron has had plenty of time to formulate a fall-back plan should the Lisbon Treaty be ratified before he could call a referendum, and he has used it well. The strategy he unveiled yesterday was both coherent and credible, robustly Eurosceptic in tone while wholly realistic in ambition. It may not assuage hardliners, but it is probably enough to placate the wider party."

The paper's chief political commentator, Benedict Brogan, says that the change of course over the Lisbon Treaty referendum was a painful and necessary part of the return of honesty in politics:

"Mr Cameron took a difficult but necessary step to restore our trust not in politics but politicians, by promising no more than he can deliver. To have gone further – including any sort of promise of a post-election referendum to strengthen his hand in negotiations with Europe – would have invited ridicule. Instead, we had a thought-through, realistic scheme for stopping the drift to ever greater European integration. And those holding out hope for a broader referendum over our relations with Europe will have noted his explicit desire to put them on a "more permanent footing". This policy will not satisfy everyone. But it has the merit of being genuinely Eurosceptic and – for once – achievable."

But the Daily Mail editorial is scathing, concluding that yesterday was "a very sad day for Britain, democracy and the Tory Party":

"The implications of David Cameron's retreat over Europe are as simple and devastating as that. The fact that he has behaved as cynically as New Labour on one of the great issues of today is a bitter disappointment to his admirers, including the Mail... Yesterday, the Tory leader's 'cast-iron guarantee' melted away like wax... Mr Cameron pledges only to put any future treaties to referendums, while saying he will introduce a 'Sovereignty Bill' to ensure the supremacy of UK laws. With our system of government at stake, this is pretty sorry stuff."

The paper's columnist Stephen Glover is equally critical:

"For all his Eurosceptic talk of the ever encroaching powers of the EU, he emerges from this decision as a depressingly conventional and timid politician, perhaps touched by that traditional Tory curse of defeatism, who shirks the kind of battle with our partners that Margaret Thatcher was sometimes prepared to undertake."

In their analysis for The Times, David Charter and Francis Elliott note a "vague" response to the way in which Brussels has grabbed power over social and employment law:

"The only specific policy mentioned by the Conservatives was the working time directive, from which Britain has already negotiated an opt-out. What was missing from Mr Cameron’s proposal was a blanket pledge to restore social and employment powers, a recognition that the social chapter to the Treaty of Maastricht, which John Major refused to sign but was agreed by Tony Blair, has now become a part of the treaties of the EU and binding on Britain."

The Express editorial states that David Cameron will face "understandable anger from voters who have been cheated of the referendum they were promised", but concludes that his prospectus is better than Labour's:

"Nobody should forget that  Mr Cameron is not to blame for this latest theft of British sovereignty. Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and their co-conspirators in Brussels and among other European governments are the guilty men... This newspaper shares the bitter disappointment of many readers at what has transpired. Yet we do not doubt for a moment that an administration led by Mr Cameron will be a vastly superior custodian of what remains of our sovereignty than one led by Mr Brown or another Labour figure."

The Guardian editorial takes the view that the policy could have been more alarming than it was in the event, but that it represents "a Europe crisis postponed, not averted for good":

"Mr Cameron's tone was intentionally emollient, not Churchillian. He does not want to fight. His party, for the moment, seem prepared to tolerate this. Europeans have good cause to be relieved. The slow, awkward unveiling of the new Tory policy on Europe has been pitiful. It has been clear for weeks that Lisbon would be ratified. Conservatives have squirmed like intransigent teenagers in the face of an obvious truth: that if they enter government next year, they will have to work with the EU running under new rules, with no possibility of reverting to the old ones, however much British Eurosceptics might squeal. The Tory leadership's handling of the issue has not been mature, even if, in terms of internal party management, it has worked. But Mr Cameron has spoken at last and what he said, while not welcome, was much less alarming than it might have been."

And the equally pro-European Independent expresses regret that David Cameron "finds it politic to speak of Europe with forked tongue":

"The ability to execute an elegant U-turn is an essential part of the politician's repertoire. And David Cameron was masterly in explaining why he was now going back on what many had believed was his firm promise to submit the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum... Mr Cameron said, rightly, that there was no point in a "phoney" referendum that could have no effect... In so saying, Mr Cameron may have bought himself a modicum of pre-electoral peace, but at the price of new hostages to fortune."

The staunchly pro-European FT believes it was right for the party to reject a Lisbon referendum, but believes that the party is not at ease on Europe:

"The overwhelmingly Eurosceptic tone of the Tories is a real political problem for David Cameron, party leader. He knows the UK must play a serious and pragmatic EU role. Yet instead of asserting his authority and facing down this strand of Conservative opinion, he has chosen a policy and rhetoric that play to popular distrust about UK relations within the EU."

There is no Sun editorial on the issue today, although David Cameron has written for the paper today, explaining his new policy. Yesterday's the paper made clear that it did not regard David Cameron as having broken his referendum promise given the change in circumstances, laying the blame for a lack of a referendum at the door of Gordon Brown and Labour.

Jonathan Isaby


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