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:


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


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


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


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.

Show Hide image

Lord Geoffrey Howe dies, age 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.