Coalition message to the world: it’s Europe, Europe, Europe!
There is a great deal on Europe in the agreement reached by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, suggesting that Europe still has the power to work a toxic effect on the Tories. And what the coalition agreement says is pretty much a Conservative walkover. Joining the Euro in this Parliament is ruled out in the document not once, but twice. And most of the rest is about refusing to let more powers be transferred to Europe, although there is no reference to repatriation of powers, which may be the one bit of ‘old liberalism’ in the Europe section.
But there is a bizarre commitment to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the UK, which is presumably mere window dressing – any reduction in what we have now (which is no more than the Directive demands) would almost certainly leave the Government open to infraction proceedings for failing to implement the Directive sufficiently. The only provision that exceeds the irreducible legal minimum is Labour’s extension of annual leave from the 4 weeks in the Directive to 5.6 weeks so that anyone who has to work bank holidays can take other days off in lieu. It would be illiberal in the extreme (and very unpopular with ordinary people) to take that extra annual leave away – so is that really what they mean?
The commitment to support the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is welcome, but again, no surprise – and the decision to replace Trident with a value-for-money nuclear alternative doesn’t suggest that the swords will be beaten into ploughshares any time soon!
And in foreign affairs terms, that’s about it. Nothing about the UN, flashpoints like Afghanistan or Pakistan, the Commonwealth or any of the other work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The document is simply silent on a vast swathe of what Government does!
On international development, the only commitment is to increase the aid budget to 0.7% of GNI, which is welcome, but no more than what all three parties promised in their manifestoes. There’s no commitment to legislate for it, as they also all promised, and nothing else on international development. Along with the delay in announcing a Secretary of State (the only Cabinet member on the new National Security Council not to be announced before it met for the first time today), this doesn’t suggest that international development will be a big issue for the coalition.
Meanwhile Robin Hood Tax supporters will be keen to make the most of the commitment to a banking levy, but the scale of the resources it will raise is nowhere near what a Financial Transactions Tax would raise – so the question must still be: where is the money (eg for combating climate change, and poverty home and abroad) going to come from?
On immigration, it is deeply disappointing that the Liberal Democrats have let the Conservatives steamroll over their more ‘liberal’ approach. But it means the coalition will be on a collision course with business over the cap on non-EU migration, and possibly with reality about the so-called illegal immigrants who were being promised an amnesty by the Liberal Democrats (although in practice it’s likely the coalition will continue with the Labour Government line – whilst saying there is no amnesty, in practice not taking the incredibly costly steps needed to identify, locate and deport).