Cameron: Tories will leave EPP in 2009

Conservative MEPs will leave the European People’s party (EPP) in 2009 and form a new party, David Cameron has announced.

The Tory leader said the new grouping with the Czech Civil Democratic party (ODS) would be a “strong new voice for change, optimism and hope” in Europe.

The pledge to withdraw the party from the centre-right grouping in the European parliament was the only promise made during Mr Cameron’s leadership campaign.

But it has proved a divisive issue for the Conservatives, with moderate MEPs warning it would leave them isolated in Europe, or forced to ally with far-right groups to gain influence.

It was originally seen as an attempt to woo the eurosceptics in the party, but there has already been a backlash, with the Bruges group, which set up the website, this afternoon accusing the Tory leader of a “fudge”.

Another eurosceptic, Bob Spink MP, noted: “I welcome David’s announcement so far as it goes, but it will not solve the problem of the bad deal we get in Europe.”

Mr Cameron made his announcement in a joint press conference with ODS leader Mirek Topolanek this afternoon, where he insisted that despite the delay, he had kept his word to withdraw the Conservatives from the EPP.

“This agreement will help build the strength of the centre-right in Europe,” he insisted.

“Instead of being reluctant room mates of the EPP, we can now operate as friendly neighbours – working together when we agree, but with our own distinctive political group.”

The Tory leader said Europe’s failure to cut carbon emissions, reform agricultural subsidies and put its own accounts in order “was not good enough”.

“So no more introspection, no more hand-wringing, no more standing still while the world moves on. We want a Europe not of back-room deals, but of bright ideals,” he said.

From 2009, the ODS and the Conservatives would together form a new grouping, to which “like-minded parties” were welcome to join, Mr Cameron said.

However, his comments provoked immediate scorn from opposition parties, who accused him of failing to keep the one promise he has made since becoming leader.

Europe minister Geoff Hoon said the Tories were now “completely marginalised and without influence within the EPP, and unable to join a new group outside it”.

Norman Lamb, chief of staff to Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell added: “Once again, the Tories are hopelessly divided over Europe.

“If David Cameron can’t keep a promise about how he runs his own party, how can we trust him to keep any promises on how he would run the country?”