Some have called Phillip Hammond the “most Eurosceptic Foreign Secretary since the war”. This may be true but, considering the parade of Europhiles who have filled the office over past decades, this is not exactly a hard record to beat.
Excitement about earlier Eurosceptic comments made by Hammond was stoked by his interview on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. He said, “If there is no change at all in the way Europe is governed… that is not a Europe that can work for Britain in the Future”. These words have been widely interpreted as a sign of new Eurosceptic fervour in the Cabinet.
It is an optimistic thought, but clearly deserves closer scrutiny. Rather than declaring a heartfelt and sincere desire to Get Britain Out, Hammond, like so many politicians elevated to the top table in the past, has merely bought himself ample wriggle-room ahead of the Referendum. It is worth remembering the Conservatives, along with our European allies, have succeeded in achieving minor, cosmetic reforms of the EU like the ones he mentions – and nothing much has changed.
The Prime Minister was proud to announce last year, for instance, the Conservative party had been part of a European group which secured a £27 billion cut in the EU budget from 2014 onwards. The Conservatives in Brussels have likewise secured change in the ways the controversial Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy are managed. While these small steps are welcome, they are hardly the sweeping and radical reform most Britons want to see. We still have no concrete idea what reforms Cameron is going to propose. The concern now is they only need piecemeal changes for Cameron and his cronies to attempt to convince us they have offered us real reform.
It seems the Great British Public still have very little confidence in Cast-Iron Dave’s promises. Today’s Lord Ashcroft National Poll conducted over the past weekend shows Labour’s lead widening to 8 points. Conservatives are on 27%, Labour on 35%, Lib Dems on 7% and UKIP must be pleased on 17%. Cameron’s recent reshuffle, supposed to placate the Eurosceptics, has evidently failed to lead to even a temporary poll bump, such as those he enjoyed when voting against Juncker or vetoing the 2011 EU Treaty.
It may be cynical to suggest that Europe will change enough – and only just enough – to give thinly-veiled Europhile politicians the chance to mislead us in a referendum again. But the assertion Hammond would only work to Get Britain Out in the case of “no change at all” created a technicality too big to ignore. Britain does not need this old-fashioned institution and the quicker Cameron, Hammond and the EU realise Britons want Out the better.