As Andrew Mitchell begins to emerge from the shadows of the “plebgate” row, talk has turned to whether he could be brought back into the cabinet, or perhaps be given another plum government job.
The latest talk is that the former chief whip is one of two candidates (alongside Peter Lilley) under consideration to become the UK’s next EU commissioner when Cathy Ashton steps down next year.
Mitchell has not said anything in public about whether he would want to take the job. But his comment piece in this morning’s FT gives us some idea about what kind of agenda he would pursue if he was selected.
Some of what he says is the traditional British line in Europe: we want freer markets and more liberalised economies.
But some of the methods he proposes to achieve such goals are likely to ruffle a few feathers. Branding the French “almost implacably hostile” to Britain, Mitchell suggests the UK forms new alliances to counter the Franco-German pact:
In France, the governing Socialist party is almost implacably hostile to Britain despite the good Franco-British co-operation in Libya and Mali. Leading figures in Poland have gone from seeing Britain as a dear friend to an obstacle. In Spain, one often hears that it has been years since a British leader paid an official visit. Even in Germany, despite Mr Cameron’s relationship-building with Chancellor Angela Merkel, many perceive the UK as unhelpful.
If Britain is to succeed in changing Europe it has to build multilayered links with these nations – not just at a diplomatic level but between politicians, academics and opinion-formers. Our diplomats need to think less about persuading other foreign ministries and look for ways to generate public debates.
Britain should emulate the US International Visitor Leadership Program, which brings rising stars in various fields to America. We must also find ways to replicate elements of the Franco-German co-operation with other states. For example, we could organise a joint sitting of the UK and Polish parliaments and a joint UK-Dutch cabinet meeting.
There are some home truths there for Cameron – his European policy has left other countries feeling isolated. But there is also a bold remedy – forget prioritising relations with the major powers, and focus instead on building alliances with some of the more fringe countries.
If he does become commissioner next year, it will be interesting to watch whether this potentially abrasive tactic works.