Lib Dems look to marginalise Tory EU 'extremists'

Lib Dem backbenchers looking to move on from this week's EU tensions
Lib Dem backbenchers looking to move on from this week's EU tensions

By Alex Stevenson

Liberal Democrat backbenchers could try to marginalise "extreme" Tory eurosceptics by reaching out to Conservative 'moderates', politics.co.uk understands.

The party's foreign affairs backbench committee met with Europe minister David Lidington yesterday to vent their frustrations with the outcome of last week's summit, which many Lib Dems fear will be a diplomatic and economic disaster for Britain.

After voicing their concerns with the outcome of the summit, backbench Lib Dem MPs and peers are thought to have put forward proposals towards building a fresh coalition approach to the new two-tier Europe.


This could push Conservative hardliners to the fringes of the ongoing debate within the coalition about Europe.

"There is an extreme eurosceptic fringe of the Tory party who are prepared to do almost anything, including risk Britain's economic future, in pursuit of their agenda," Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson Martin Horwood told politics.co.uk.

"They have been particularly triumphalist in trying to present this as a victory for Britain, that we've been outvoted 26 to one. I don't think that's the mainstream Conservative position."

He argued that there was much "common ground" between the two parties on safeguarding competitiveness and reforming the EU's budget processes which could be pursued as a way out of the present tensions.

"If we focus on that kind of reform agenda, that bridges the divide very naturally between the Conservatives and the Liberals in the coalition," Mr Horwood added.

"If it seeks to re-engage us in Europe as well, that's something Liberal Democrats will be very happy with."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg warned last week's summit was "bad for Britain" at the weekend, before absenting himself from the Commons for David Cameron's statement on the Brussels talks on Monday.

The party's MPs abstained from a Commons vote on Tuesday praising the prime minister for his negotiating strategy, underlining their deep dissatisfaction with Mr Cameron's performance.

Efforts to build bridges with Tory eurosceptics could be thwarted by the Lib Dems' repeated warnings about the risks of Britain being isolated within Europe.

Mr Horwood said businesses would fear the UK being presented with a "fait accompli" on matters affecting the single market.

"That's a dangerous position for business, for the City, and for anyone who wants to have a united, competitive and vibrant European economy on which we depend as much as anyone else," he said.

Lib Dems hope business minister Ed Davey, the party's former shadow foreign affairs spokesman, could influence a new approach to Europe by the government.

He may pursue a coalition of like-minded countries including Ireland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and other eastern European countries seeking to secure growth in the EU, it has been suggested.

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