EU Referendum

PETER OBORNE: So much for principles! The PM accuses Boris of self-interest. But what of the top Tories who once flaunted their anti-EU views but now put their careers first?

Mr Gove is accused of abandoning his friends. Meanwhile, in a bruising assault masterminded personally by David Cameron and his unscrupulous Downing Street attack machine, Boris Johnson is accused of selling out his principles.

Probably some of these charges are justified. I have no doubt at all that personal ambition helps to explain Boris Johnson’s decision.

Scroll down for videos 

William Hague made his reputation exposing the expansionism of the European Union, which he now supports, while Home Secretary Theresa May is 'an empty politician without beliefs', writes Peter Oborne

 Boris Johnson denies Tory split over the EU referendum

 Equally Michael Gove, to his credit, found it personally very hard to break from the Prime Minister, almost his oldest friend in politics.

But the minor treacheries of Johnson or Gove pale into insignificance compared to the serial, scheming, unprincipled betrayals by the majority of the Cameron Cabinet.

Almost without exception, Mr Cameron and his ministers crawled their way up the greasy poll by pretending to be Eurosceptic.

This was certainly the case with the Prime Minister himself. When he stood for the nomination in his safe seat at Witney 15 years ago, he courted, and was helped by, the Eurosceptics.

Whenever asked about Europe, he highlighted his doubts and alarm about the direction it was taking. Were those doubts genuine? Or was Mr Cameron simply swinging in the political breeze in order to advance his career?

One thing is certain. The Prime Minister was displaying grotesque hypocrisy when he brutally laid into Boris Johnson in Parliament on Monday, suggesting it was ambition rather than principle that motivated him. Cameron’s own lack of principle on the subject should not be forgotten.

The Prime Minister promised ‘fundamental reform’ to Britain’s relationship with Europe.

Then, after four months of fake negotiation, he delivered nothing more than a handful of cosmetic changes.

Last year, Sajid Javid said ‘Leaving Europe isn’t something I’d be afraid of'
Last year, Sajid Javid said ‘Leaving Europe isn’t something I’d be afraid of’

His Cabinet ministers are worse.

Let’s deal first with Home Secretary Theresa May. We are talking here of an empty politician without beliefs. Perhaps I should rephrase that. She does hold beliefs. But they change regularly according to political convenience.

In the Nineties, hunting for a safe seat, she claimed to share many of Margaret Thatcher’s doubts about the direction of the EU.

A decade later and the modernisers, who despised Mrs Thatcher, were in charge of the party. At that point, Mrs May turned her back on her supporters and marched to the political centre, from where at the Party conference in 2002 she shamelessly attacked her former allies for being too narrow-minded and making the Tories the ‘nasty party’.

Once in power it was time for another reinvention.

Mrs May converted herself back into the voice of the Conservative Right, making a series of pledges to bring net migration into Britain down to just tens of thousands a year.

When she failed, she unhesitatingly blamed Europe. This is what she told the Tory Party conference last year: ‘When it was first enshrined, free movement meant the freedom to move to a job, not the freedom to cross borders to look for work or claim benefits.

‘Yet last year, four out of ten EU migrants — 63,000 people — came here with no definite job whatsoever. We must take some big decisions, face down powerful interests . . . the numbers coming from Europe are unsustainable and the rules have to change.’

The rules have not changed in any meaningful way as a result of David Cameron’s negotiations. No big decisions have been made, while not a single one of Mrs May’s powerful interests has been faced down.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants will continue to enter Britain if, as expected, existing trends continue. Yet amazingly Mrs May wants to stay in! By expressing support for the European Union now, she is surely revealing that her ‘heartfelt’ speech at the Tory conference last year was actually synthetic — something she did not believe in. If she meant what she said she would be in the Leave camp.

I have news for Mrs May. There were people who listened to what she said in the conference hall who believed she meant what she said, and now feel baffled and betrayed. They are right to feel that way.

Oliver Letwin, Minister for Government Policy, and Robert Halfon, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, have both taken Oborne by surprise on their current EU stance

Oliver Letwin, Minister for Government Policy, and Robert Halfon, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, have both taken Oborne by surprise on their current EU stance

 Furious Cameron jokes about Boris’ marriage in EU analogy

They placed their trust in the Home Secretary. They now realise that was a mistake.

I wonder if Mrs May has the intellect to grasp how dangerous her conduct has become. There is a giant deficit of trust at the heart of British public life, and it is precisely because of politicians like her.

The British people are sick and tired of those in power who say one thing and do another, and whose decisions are based around their personal advancement not principle. They are fed up with politicians who don’t mind if they lie and cheat because it’s all part of some Westminster game.

Mrs May has, however, done something even more contemptible over the past few weeks.

Desperate to cover up her serial failure over immigration, the Home Secretary has been thrashing around for an excuse for her unprincipled decision to back the EU.

Security is the reason, so she says, for backing Britain to stay in Europe.

Her reasoning has already been destroyed by Iain Duncan Smith from the Leave camp. He points out that the lack of control of our borders as a result of EU membership means fanatics can slip into this country unseen, which makes us more at risk of terror attacks.

This former soldier, who has always stuck by what he believes, is a genuine man of principle.

Sadly there are too few politicians like Mr Duncan Smith in David Cameron’s Cabinet — and far too many like Mrs May.

Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary, once signalled Eurosceptic sympathies, but is nowhere to be seen

Let’s turn to the case of Business Secretary Sajid Javid, another politician whose meteoric rise has been greatly helped by anti-EU views.

Here’s Sajid Javid late last year: ‘Leaving Europe isn’t something I’d be afraid of . . . currently costs outweigh benefits. Unless we get major reform, nothing’s off the table.’

Mr Javid, like so many senior Tories, has long been an ostentatious Brussels basher. Indeed, when it was just words, he was as Eurosceptic as you like.

But when it came to the whiff of grapeshot, Sajid Javid was nowhere to be seen.

The same applies, I say with regret, to Robert Halfon, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. I genuinely thought that Mr Halfon a man of principle, but he too has shown himself to be a straw man.

Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary, falls into the same category. Throughout his long, unnoticed ascent through the Tory Party ranks, he signalled Eurosceptic sympathies. Now that he’s in power, deference to power has taken over.

The list of ministers goes on. Where Oliver Letwin, Minister for Government Policy is concerned, I cannot begin to explain what has happened.

I know him well and have always considered him one of the most honourable men in politics. He has been averse to the European Union ever since I came across him in the Eighties.

And take William Hague, the former Tory leader who made his reputation exposing the expansionism of the European Union, which he now, in a simply astonishing volte face, supports.

'The stench of hypocrisy is insufferable. That is why, for all their faults, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are so admirable,' writes Oborne

In doing so he’s turned into a cleverer version of Neil Kinnock: windy and meaningless.

Both men have become members of a political class which has done very well indeed out of selling their principles down the river.

There’s a collective failure here, and it tells us something ugly about the people who conduct politics in this country.

Tory Eurosceptics such as May and Hammond scored easy political points by attacking the European Union in the past.

But they’re either running scared now the battle has begun, or they actually supported the unelected bureaucrats of the EU all along.

The stench of hypocrisy is insufferable. That is why, for all their faults, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are so admirable.

As a young British journalist in Brussels 25 years ago, Mr Johnson won a reputation by exposing EU corruption.

He regularly attended meetings of the Thatcherite Bruges Group, where he made plain that he supported Mrs Thatcher’s vision of a Europe of nation states.

Michael Gove, with formidable intellectual integrity, has been equally consistent.

No wonder they are hated by their cowardly Cabinet colleagues, who have put their worthless careers before their country.

Leave a Reply

Help put the World to rights and leave a Comment

Notify of
Powered by: Wordpress
%d bloggers like this: