Does crisis bring opportunity? This is the question that is dividing the Conservative Party on Europe. On one side, there are those who see the slow implosion of Greece and the turmoil across the Channel as a heaven-sent chance to achieve a grand renegotiation of Britain’s membership. On the other, are those for whom the crisis is, above all, a threat to our economy that needs to be managed. For them, the idea that in any circumstance – let alone the present mess – the EU would contemplate indulging British fantasies of partial withdrawal is laughable.The truth is that reorganizing the EU would be so difficult and complicated that it is probably not worth attempting, especially, as its aim is a long way from what most Conservatives think it is.
The debate is potentially explosive, as it pits David Cameron against a new breed of hard-headed Tory MP, most of whom are members of the vast new intake that poured into Parliament last year. Yet few will have noticed that this discussion is under way, so desperate is the party to avoid being discovered having an argument over Europe. Indeed, one of the features of the Tories in coalition has been their silence on a matter that once defined them. A brave few, veterans of past battles, carry the standard of defiance against the relentless advance of European rule, but they are marginalised, derided by the leadership as barmy and shunned by their newer colleagues who want nothing to do with the toxic arguments of previous generations of parliamentarians.
It is my experience, acquired over many years of discussions and debates, both public and private, with Conservatives that the overwhelming majority of them (say, 98 per cent) have absolutlely no understanding of how the European Union is structured, how it legislates and how that legislation and regulations are implemented in the member states. They, therefore, produce all sorts of comments along the lines quoted by Mr Brogan, all of which have just one aim: the presentation of the Conservative Party as the one and only truly eurosceptic political organization in this country, for which all "true" eurosceptics should vote. Sadly, ever more people find this notion ludicrous but not hacks on the Telegraph, including the great Mr Brogan (and, dare I say it, the great Mr Hannan.
Let me add, in case, I have not made my opinions on the subject crystal clear, that, in my view and in the view of many real opponents of the European Union, the same notion is the real purpose of the two (so far) campaigns for an In/Out referendum. By fudging the two ideas, withdrawal and a referendum, the campaigns will, it is hoped by various supporters, convince potential voters that they should rally round the "eurosceptic" politicians in the main parties, most of whom just happen to be in the Conservative one though one or two are Labour.
Which brings me to this hint-hint-nudge-nudge piece in the Express (a firm supporter of that referendum) that tells us on the basis of another wink-wink-know-what-I-mean-know-what-I-mean piece in the Spectator, that there are Cabinet members who end all discussions allegedly in the manner of Cato the Elder, with the words "well, the only solution is to leave the EU".
Well, now, how convenient. Of course, we do not know whether this is true or, even if true, serious and not a half-hearted joke. But it does show, does it not, that the only way real eurosceptics can achieve their aims is by supporting the Tories. And if you believe that, I have a bridge you might be interested in buying.