Tories vow to claw back powers from Europe after shock revolt
Published 26/10/2011 | 05:00
ROCKED by a Tory revolt, a British cabinet minister last night said London would try to claw back powers from Brussels.
The pledge came after a parliamentary rebellion by members of David Cameron's party who want a referendum on quitting the European Union.
"I think we should take powers back over employment law. I think we should take powers back that affect our capacity to grow," Education Secretary Michael Gove, a close Cameron ally, said yesterday when asked how leaders would respond to Monday's anti-government vote by about 80 Conservatives.
"There are some specific regulations that govern who we can hire and how we can hire and how long they work for, which actually hold us back," Mr Gove said.
It is unclear how or when such a move could take place, notably given Mr Cameron's dependence on a coalition with the pro-EU Liberal Democrats. But the scale of the revolt, recalling infighting over Europe that tormented the last Conservative government in the 1990s, prompted a response from party leaders.
More than one in four Conservative members of parliament defied Mr Cameron by voting for the motion, which called for a referendum on Britain leaving the EU.
Though resistant to adding to EU powers, Mr Cameron argues that pulling out completely would hurt British trade with the EU. The motion on a referendum was easily defeated with votes from other parties but Conservative eurosceptic lawmakers took heart.
"This is a clear message to the government that they need to change their policy on Europe and in particular on the referendum," one of them said.
Mr Cameron, aware of the dangers of a deepening rift in his party, held out an olive branch to the rebels. "On my part there is no bad blood, no rancour, no bitterness," he said.
Conservative eurosceptics, jubilant over the extent of the rebellion, seized their advantage by demanding Mr Cameron be more specific about his aspiration to "repatriate" some powers over employment and social legislation to London from Brussels.
He has said previously that Britain would demand the return of some powers in return for agreeing to any new EU treaty that arose from efforts to shore up the eurozone -- but he has been vague about what they would be.
Mr Cameron's coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats contains no commitment to repatriate powers from Brussels and the Liberal Democrat have made clear they would resist any attempt to renegotiate the terms of Britain's membership of the EU.
Mr Cameron calls himself a "practical eurosceptic" but believes it is in Britain's interest to remain in the EU's single market, the destination for half of Britain's exports.