An interview with Lib Dem cabinet minister Ed Davey in the New Statesman this week has provoked an astonishing reaction. He comments on the experience in government of dealing with the EU and with the other member state governments within it:
“In due course this government might well turn out to be seen to have been more constructive, more engaged and indeed more pro-European than its Labour predeces. It’s not just Liberal Democrat ministers but Conservative ministers who are really engaged with their European counterparts. Some of the relationships that he [Cameron] is building are very important. What the coalition government is showing time and again is that by engaging with Europe you actually look after Britain’s national interest more effectively.”
The two points he makes here will be familiar to regulars on this website: that engaging in the EU makes more sense than standing outside it; and that the last Labour government’s pro-Europeanism fell far short in practice of what it promised in theory. So far, so uncontroversial.
But if we turn from the New Statesman to its weekly, right of centre rival, the Spectator, we find it reported that Conservative ministers in the coalition government are angry. They want William Hague to slap him down. But why?
It is a reality that government ministers have to engage with their European counterparts (they would have to do so, even if Britain were not a member of the European Union). The upset can only be that they don’t like this being pointed out. They are appealing for votes from that portion of the British public who don’t like the EU and would rather comfort those voters in their delusion that Britain can do without it than confront them with the truth. It has been pointed out before that for the Tories to chase after UKIP voters is a dead-end, but the message has evidently not yet got through.