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The EPP: Cameron delivers

Thursday, 12th March 2009

Yesterday, at a meeting of the UK Conservative delegation in Straz, William Hague and Mark Francois, fresh from a meeting with EPP Group President Joseph Daul, announced that they had given formal notice to the EPP that Conservative MEPs would leave the EPP group at the end of this parliamentary term, in three months' time. This should not be news at all, since David Cameron and William have repeatedly confirmed the intention, but none-the-less it was good to hear that the formal process was in place.

Labour have a Leader who (inter alia) promised an end to boom'n'bust, and a referendum on the European Constitution. He did not deliver. We have a leader who promised to take us out of the EPP, and despite delays, he is now delivering. I voted for Cameron in our Conservative leadership election mainly because of his commitment on the EPP, and I am delighted to see it fulfilled.

I had just tumbled off an overnight flight from New York via London, and hadn't even had time to change, so I attended the meeting dishevelled, tie-less and unshaven, but I relished the occasion none-the-less.

This news on the EPP is surely of no interest -- meaningless indeed -- to the great majority of voters, who know nothing of the EPP and care even less. Yet to political anoraks and activists, and to Brussels insiders, it is momentous news. It is a touchstone issue. As I have been asked a hundred times: how can you pretend to be a eurosceptic Party when you sit with the Group that calls itself "the motor of European integration"? This is a story that has run for at least ten years -- the whole of my parliamentary career. When I was first elected in 1999, the Party announced a new, arm's length relationship with the EPP ("merely sharing an administrative umbrella"), and I thought in my na´vetÚ that we had won the battle.

So you can imagine my rage and disappointment at our first delegation meeting in July 1999 when our then Leader Edward McMillan Scott announced (as near as I can remember): "Well that's all sorted out then -- back to business as usual". That precipitated a row that ran on and off for years until Cameron lanced the boil.

Of course people are now asking "So who's in your new group, then?". The answer is that these are sensitive political issues for all the parties involved, and our new partners will want to time their own announcements to suit their own domestic political agendas. It would be quite improper for us to jump the gun. So watch this space. We will be forming a new, centre-right, non-federalist Party in the new parliament, and I look forward very much to joining it.