THE Conservative Party is obviously planning a major drive to get expatriate votes for both UK and European parliamentary elections. However, those wanting to vote in the European Parliament elections in June will have some difficulty in knowing what policies the party intends to follow. Last week William Hague visited Strasbourg to inform the officers of the centrist European Peoples' Party (EPP) that the UK Conservatives intended to withdraw from the group before the election. Both David Cameron and William Hague have long believed that the EPP's policies are too federalist in character and out of line with many UK Conservative policies.

The EPP is the largest grouping in the Parliament and controls 37 per cent of its votes. Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP are the main pillars of the group but there are representatives of conservatism from all 27 member states. Britain's Conservatives are therefore cutting themselves off from the most powerful force in the European Parliament without, apparently, having forged new alliances -- although parties in the Czech Republic and Poland have been mentioned.

Clearly Mr Cameron's decision will be a blow to those sitting Conservative MEPs who have supported membership of the EPP but will now find themselves cut adrift just before an election. And those Westminster Conservatives who are pro-Europe - Charles Clarke, for instance - will surely recognise that their party has just moved even farther away from any serious commitment to Europe. it is a gesture of isolation with profound implications.