I have followed some of the debates in the House of Commons on the Lisbon Treaty and I continue to be amazed at the disarray of the Tories.
I am told that over half the Conservative speaking time on this has been accounted for by just two MPs - Bill Cash and David Heathcoat-Amory. That the Conservatives allow these two extremely anti-Europe members dominate their contribution to this extent shows how far they have shifted in a Europhobic direction. These two denounce every aspect of the EU as the devil incarnate.
William Hague, by contrast, is now pursuing a different line. He says we don't need a new treaty reforming the EU because, in his words, "the EU is working perfectly well". Not a position Bill Cash would agree with!
The debate on the effect of the treaty on tackling climate change was a further illustration of Conservative incoherence. Two contrasting amendments were tabled by the Conservatives: one which stated that "the Treaty of Lisbon is effectively irrelevant to the vital issue of climate change" - (implying that the EU should be given more powers in tackling climate change), and another, which my regional colleague Hugh Bayley drew attention to, tabled by a number of senior Conservatives, including former leader Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood, stating that the EU should have no role at all on climate change! Although this amendment was disowned by the Conservative front-bench team it offers another illustration of the Tories' divisions on Europe.
The reality is that we cannot effectively tackle climate change and raise environmental standards without being engaged with the EU - a point emphasised by John Gummer, one of the few moderate Conservatives on Europe, who said that "it is not possible to have an anti-European position and have any kind of environmental policy".
Climate change policy is one of the policy areas where collective rather than individual action is most effective. The unlikely deal reached at the Bali summit on climate change was an example of the clout of the EU when we have a united position. Already committed to unilateral emissions cuts of 20% by 2020, European countries were able to speak with authority and a common voice. Unwittingly, the Tory amendment, in describing the provisions on climate change as "institutional tinkering" revealed the shallow opportunism of their demands for a referendum. The point is that the Lisbon Treaty is about institutional tinkering rather than giving the EU new powers. Therefore, if the Tories accept that the treaty is about "institutional tinkering" then why do they want a referendum?
This is not to say that the Conservatives are all climate change deniers. Indeed, Nick Hurd, Greg Barker, Peter Ainsworth and John Gummer all made speeches emphasising the importance of the EU in tackling climate change. However, their approach in the European Parliament is summed up by their choice of Roger Helmer (who believes that climate change is "a journalistic fiction") as the Conservative member of the temporary committee on climate change.
David Cameron talks a good game on the environment, but Wednesday's debate offered ample demonstration of how the Tories are all over the place. In the words of Caroline Jackson, the only Conservative woman MEP: "from the point of view of the Conservative Party, pursuing the green line is all talk and no action".
Labels: Conservatives, environment, House of Commons, reform treaty