Europe ‘schism’ hangs over Tories

By Alex Stevenson

An incoming Conservative government would struggle to cope with the need for cooperation on defence issues, Paddy Ashdown has warned.

The former Liberal Democrat leader made the comments as his commission on national security, which he co-chaired, published its final report in central London.

The IPPR thinktank’s report says the Nato alliance will diminish in significance and that “permanent structured defence cooperation among a pioneer group of European Union countries” is needed to address this.

“The Conservative position on this just bewilders me,” Lord Ashdown said at the report’s launch.

He said the “sheer realities” of government if the Tories came to power would, for a famously anti-European party, pose major problems for party unity.

“I don’t know how they square that,” he added.

“My guess is they’re going to have to find a way, elegant or inelegant, of getting out of the hole they’ve got themselves into on Europe.”

A member of the commission, Tory MP Ian Taylor, said he was a “closet” pro-European who wanted to send a message to the Conservative party.

“If the Conservative party is elected to government next year, there will be some realities that will need to be responded to by that incoming government,” he said.

“Our report is there to flag up some of the difficult issues faced by our political classes.”

The IPPR’s commission on national security also calls for deeper collaboration in the European defence industry. It says more “pooling of resources” is required – but makes clear its opposition to creating what it describes as a ‘European army’.