|Hammond: Will he win back UKIP voters to the Conservatives?|
Following the surprise resignation of William Hague as Foreign Secretary last night and the appointment this morning of Philip Hammond as his replacement, the Conservatives’ Europe policy is once again in the spotlight. We now have a Foreign Secretary who has said that he would vote to leave the EU if it does not reform (he came out in support of Michael Gove who came out with similar comments). Last year, Hammond said:
“If the choice is between a European Union written exactly as it is today and not being a part of that then I have to say that I’m on the side of the argument that Michael Gove has put forward. I believe that we have to negotiate a better solution that works better for Britain if we are going to stay in.”
“I believe that we have to negotiate a better solution that works better for Britain if we are going to stay in and play a part in the European Union in the future, but let me be absolutely clear: I think it is defeatist to sort of say we want to leave the European Union.”
“We should say no, this is a club that we are members of, and before we talk about leaving it, first of all we’re going to try and change the rules and change the way it works and change the objectives that it has in order to make it something that works for Britain.”
Is this a big deal? Well the logic of the Conservative position has always been that advocating an ‘in’ vote is dependant on achieving reform. Therefore stating the opposite – that no reform might lead to an ‘out’ is not that much of a revelation – Cameron himself has said a UK exit would be “imaginable”. However, the key question is the threshold – how much needs to change for a Tory to vote Yes (In)? And Hammond definitely has a higher threshold than Hague.
Pointing out the obvious may have its advantages. If EU reform is to happen to the extent needed to persuade the British people to stay in the EU, other EU leaders need to understand that it cannot be tokenistic. In that sense, Hammond’s appointment sends a clear message both at home and abroad – reform is not just desirable but fundamental to the UK’s EU membership.
It will also have political benefits for the Conservatives. Hammond will now see the Conservative’s EU policy through to the 2015 election and, assuming they win, attempt to force the actual reform agenda through before taking a leading role in the referendum. Having a figure who has said that reform must be substantial for him to back an ‘in’ will add credibility to their election campaign and help win back voters who have left to vote for UKIP.
But we think it’s fair to say that Hammond is the most eurosceptic Tory Foreign Secretary since Viscount Halifax in 1939.