DAVID Cameron's relatively smooth progress as leader of the Conservative Party suffered a nasty jolt yesterday when he had to backtrack on the only European policy he has ever committed himself to. During the leadership campaign against David Davis last year, Mr Cameron pledged that he would take Conservative MEPs out of the main centre-right group in European Parliament, the European People's Party (EPP); he was responding to pressure from several, but not all, MEPs who felt that the EPP is too committed to the European Union project for UK Conservative tastes. The problem, which Mr Cameron obviously did not see coming, was that withdrawal from the EPP would leave Conservative MEPs as an ineffective stand-alone party unless they allied themsleves with extreme right-wing fringe groups. William Hague has been trying for six months to find a solution without success and Mr Cameron had to concede defeat this week when the Czech Civic Democratic Party pulled out of a possible alternative coalition. The Conservatives will therefore remain in the EPP for the time being.
The MEPs to whom Mr Cameron pledged a change are angry and their mood will not have been improved by his warning that any MEP who defies the new party line would be severely disciplined and face deselection at the next European election. That seems a bit rich coming from a leader who caused the problem by failing to understand just how the European Union functions.
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