Tom Richmond: David Cameron must stand firm as splits loom on Europe

Guy Smith said he was surprised by the number of EU 'out' voters he met at Yorkshire Agricultural Machinery Show.
Guy Smith said he was surprised by the number of EU 'out' voters he met at Yorkshire Agricultural Machinery Show.
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I AGREE with Michael Heseltine – the Prime Minister will become the “laughing stock” of international diplomacy if he allows Cabinet ministers to take opposing sides in the upcoming referendum on Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union.

The one-time Deputy Prime Minister spoke out after Owen Paterson and Liam Fox, two ex-Cabinet ministers and prominent Eurosceptics who fell by the wayside in David Cameron’s first term, argued that their former colleagues should not lose their jobs if they wished to campaign for Britain to leave the EU.

The Tories can’t have it both ways. Having exploited Labour’s splits over Syria airstrikes, and how Jeremy Corbyn’s views were totally at odds with those of his foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn who made a passionate and compelling argument in favour of intervention in the political speech of 2015, they cannot expect to do likewise over Europe without being held up to ridicule.

What do Ministers want? The best of both worlds? The ability to make their case, without losing their perks and privileges, safe in the knowledge that they will keep their job and status irrespective of the verdict of the British electorate?

I’m afraid these machinations are what happen when Prime Ministers marginalise their Cabinet colleagues to such an extent that they forget the once sacrosanct notion of collective responsibility.

If there were more robust exchanges in the Cabinet on a range of policies, whether it be Europe or the handling of the economy, sceptical Ministers might be more confident of receiving a fair hearing. Yet, because such meetings have become little more than a rubber-stamping exercise, the Tory party is at odds on how to handle an issue central to this country’s place in the world.

Leaving aside the debate about whether Mr Cameron has been too timid with his reform demands, there should be a two-day debate in the Cabinet once the PM has finalised his deal before a two-day debate on the floor of the Commons.

Once MPs have endorsed the Government’s position, Ministers should decide whether to resign or not. But they need to remember two points. They should not expect to walk straight back into their job after their vote and, second, they should concentrate on the job in hand which is the next phase of Britain’s economic renewal.

In the meantime, Mr Cameron needs to consider how best to keep his Cabinet onside so it does not become undermined by the splits and tensions which tormented the Thatcher and Major administrations over Europe.

IT would be remiss not to highlight three broken promises this Christmas. The first is so-called entertainer Paul 
O’Grady, who promised to leave the country if the Tories won the election. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much evidence of this.

The second is Labour’s Yvette Cooper after the Pontefract and Castleford MP said she would welcome refugees from Syria into her family home as she made an impassioned plea for Britain to step up its response to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. She seems to have gone very quiet on this.

The third is Paddy Ashdown after the former Lib Dem leader said, unwisely, he would eat his hat if the election night exit polls were accurate. They were spot on.

I hope such cheap talk is discouraged in 2016.

I HAD to smile when I learned that Leeds was to become a clean air zone, with high-polluting vehicles to be charged £12 for the privilege of driving through the city centre.

It is, after all, Leeds City Council which has actually made pollution much worse in Horsforth since traffic lights were installed on the ring road roundabout.

Rather than improving the flow of traffic, delays have become markedly worse with local residents complaining about the harmful emissions being pumped out by slow-moving traffic.

I know it’s not on council chief executive Tom Riordan’s route back to North Yorkshire residence each night, but perhaps he could make a detour and see how his authority’s hot air is actually making matters worse.

TALKING of traffic, there has been much gnashing over teeth over hospital parking charges after the revelation that Sheffield University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust raked in more than £3.1m from such fees. Labour MPs, and the Patients Association, were in full cry and described it as a “tax on sick people”.

Yet, blame should not be apportioned against the hospitals concerned, the NHS or the Government. It rests with those thoughtless drivers who would abuse these hospital car parks if the charges were minimal – or non-existent.

If they could be trusted not to use these car parks while working at nearby offices, hospitals would not have to waste so much time on enforcement.

THE sports broadcaster John Inverdale may have his critics, but he was the perfect man to interview eight-year-old Bailey Matthews after the inspirational Doncaster youngster, who suffers from cerebral palsy, won the Helen Rollason award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year celebration.

He allowed Bailey – who won the accolade for his courage in completing a triathlon at Castle Howard earlier this year – to express himself, with respect, and without interruption.

It was the radio at its very best. Mr Inverdale also had the foresight to ask his interviewee “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Bailey’s reply? “Me”. It offered proof, if any was needed, about the power of sport – and its ability to inspire. If only those who have so 
tainted football, cycling and athletics would take note.