POLITICS

Lord Hill, Britain's New EU Commissioner, Said He Didn't Want The Job

15/07/2014 11:35 BST | Updated 15/07/2014 11:59 BST
REX Features

David Cameron has nominated Conservative peer Lord Hill, most recently the leader of the House of Lords, to be Britain's next European Commissioner.

The appointment caught some by surprise given he had recently said he did not want the job. In an interview with Conservative Home in June, Hill said he did not fancy having to live in Brussels. "I quite like it at home, in the British Isles," he said.

Asked if he would accept the job if asked by the prime minister, Hill said: "Non, non, non." However the former political secretary to John Major will soon find himself on a plane to Belgium.

Hill's assent is possibly even more surprising given he actually tried to resign from the government as an education secretary in the 2012 reshuffle - but Cameron didn't notice and Hill remained in post.

Today's major cabinet reshuffle saw Philip Hammond, who has said he would vote to leave the EU if there were a referendum held today, replace William Hague as foreign secretary. It also saw the resignation of europhile veteran minister Ken Clarke. Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General who opposed a move by other Tory cabinet ministers to advocate leaving the European convention on human rights, was sacked by the prime minister.

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Hill's nomination will be presented by the Prime Minister to the European Council at a summit of the EU's 28 national leaders in Brussels tomorrow. Although it must be confirmed by a vote in the European Parliament in September, his nomination all but ensures that he will replace Baroness Ashton as the UK's sole commissioner in October.

He worked in the Conservative Research Unit and as special adviser to Ken Clarke in the 1980s and served in the Number 10 Policy Unit 1991-2 and as political secretary to Major.

Speculation in Westminster had focused on Andrew Lansley, former Tory leader Lord Michael Howard or even the now ex-universities minister David Willetts being sent to Brussels. However Hill had been tipped by the Daily Telegraph in April.

One advantage of appointing Hill, a peer, is that it does not trigger the expensive and dangerous by-election that nominating a MP would result in. Cameron would not relish having another fight with Ukip over a Commons seat so close to the general election.

Cameron is keen to secure one of the big economic portfolio's on the commission following his failure to block Jean-Claude Junker from becoming commission president. However there is a danger for the prime minister that European leaders do not see Hill as a big enough of a name to be handed one of the more important jobs.