Will the Tory right revolt over Lisbon?

Can Cameron avoid another civil war over Europe?

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" So ran John Maynard Keynes's celebrated riposte. It is essentially this defence that David Cameron will employ when he breaks his pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

He will argue that his promise was made at a time when the treaty was unratified. He will point out that he never promised a retrospective referendum. But it was still foolish of him to use the formulation "cast-iron guarantee" when promising a referendum to Sun readers back in 2007.

The arch-Eurosceptic Bill Cash articulated the thoughts of many on the right of the party when he said:

We need a full referendum on Lisbon as we were promised and as we voted in the House of Commons. No ifs or buts. This is about the government of the United Kingdom operating in line with the democratic wishes of the electorate.

Cameron should be able to ride out grass-roots discontent over Lisbon provided it doesn't spread to the shadow cabinet. In a fascinating column on Sunday, Peter Oborne identified William Hague as the man most likely to take on the Tory leader over Europe. He wrote:

Intellectually formidable, he is a very live alternative prime minister. More dangerously still, he no longer yearns for power and was only persuaded to return to front-line politics with difficulty. There is very little to stop Hague from resigning and, were he to do so, he could scarcely avoid becoming a very powerful focus of resistance to a Cameron premiership.

I would be surprised to see anything but resolute discipline before the next election; the Conservatives can't wait to get their hands back on those red boxes. But should Cameron fail to repatriate economic and social powers once in office, we could see another civil war over Europe.

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie writes: "If Britain's relationship with the EU is fundamentally the same after five years of Conservative government, the internal divisions that ended the last Tory period in government will look like a tea party in comparison."

This may look like a piece of dispassionate analysis but it is also a clear threat. Those such as Montgomerie who favour EU withdrawal will maintain their pragmatic support for Cameron's stance only for so long.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era