The eurosceptic backlash spreads to the cabinet

Duncan Smith raises concerns over failure of Cameron's "veto".

I wrote this morning that to maintain momentum, the latest Tory revolt over Europe needed a frontbencher, most likely Iain Duncan Smith or Owen Paterson, to speak out. Since then, it's emerged that both of them did just that at today's cabinet meeting. According to the Prime Minister's official spokesman, Duncan Smith raised legal concerns over the use of EU institutions by the EU 25, while Paterson asked about trade and "more generally about the debate on the eurozone".

It's not hard to see why Duncan Smith, in particular, is troubled by Cameron's willingness to allow the eurozone countries to use EU-wide institutions to enforce their new "fiscal compact". Just look at what he told Andrew Marr on Sunday:

ANDREW MARR:

And didn't want the EU structures to be part of this, but we've now ...

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:

(over) Well he's vetoed, but he's vetoed.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) ... it now looks as if the EU structures are going to be part of it.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:

I wouldn't let speculation go too far. The fact is the Prime Minister vetoed them using the institutions, and he's always said that veto was because we had no guarantees that what they were proposing would not damage the single market or, for that matter, would actually cause problems to the financial sector. And we don't know what they're coming forward with yet. They still haven't completed their treaty and they aren't anywhere near signing it, and we don't know that everybody will go down that road with them. So best to wait until we get there to figure out what it is that they're actually coming forward with.

But the truth, as IDS will now be painfully aware, is that Cameron's "veto" didn't prevent the EU 25 from using the European Commission and the European Court of Justice to police the new treaty. Nick Clegg, meanwhile, having previously described Cameron's actions as "bad for Britain", reportedly "agreed" with his approach at yesterday's summit.

With the cabinet's leading europhile in agreement and its leading eurosceptic in dissent, Tory MPs will only feel empowered to continue their rebellion.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn bids for the NHS to rescue Labour

Ahead of tomorrow's by-elections, Corbyn damned Theresa May for putting the service in a "state of emergency".

Whenever Labour leaders are in trouble, they seek political refuge in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn, whose party faces potential defeat in tomorrow’s Copeland and Stoke by-elections, upheld this iron law today. In the case of the former, Labour has already warned that “babies will die” as a result of the downgrading of the hospital. It is crude but it may yet prove effective (it worked for No to AV, after all).

In the chamber, Corbyn assailed May for cutting the number of hospital beds, worsening waiting times, under-funding social care and abolishing nursing bursaries. The Labour leader rose to a crescendo, damning the Prime Minister for putting the service in a “a state of emergency”. But his scattergun attack was too unfocused to much trouble May.

The Prime Minister came armed with attack lines, brandishing a quote from former health secretary Andy Burnham on cutting hospital beds and reminding Corbyn that Labour promised to spend less on the NHS at the last election (only Nixon can go to China). May was able to boast that the Tories were providing “more money” for the service (this is not, of course, the same as “enough”). Just as Corbyn echoed his predecessors, so the Prime Minister sounded like David Cameron circa 2013, declaring that she would not “take lessons” from the party that presided over the Mid-Staffs scandal and warning that Labour would “borrow and bankrupt” the economy.

It was a dubious charge from the party that has racked up ever-higher debt but a reliably potent one. Labour, however, will be satisfied that May was more comfortable debating the economy or attacking the Brown government, than she was defending the state of the NHS. In Copeland and Stoke, where Corbyn’s party has held power since 1935 and 1950, Labour must hope that the electorate are as respectful of tradition as its leader.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.