David Cameron will return to the fray in Brussels today to try to secure a plum European Commission post for Britain.
After failing to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker being installed as the body’s president, the Prime Minister has announced that Lord Hill of Oareford is the UK’s nomination to serve in his team.
And Downing Street has indicated that Mr Cameron will angle to get the peer a key economic portfolio in negotiations at a summit of leaders.
As his appointment as president was rubber-stamped by MEPs earlier, Mr Juncker again insisted he was ready to accommodate British demands to renegotiate aspects of its relationship with the EU.
But he stressed that the principle of free movement of labour within the union was not up for grabs – and signalled his desire to push forward social measures such as a single minimum wage.
Mr Juncker also risked the wrath of many Eurosceptics in the UK by lavishly praising one of their hate figures, ex-commission head Jacques Delors.
Each of the 28 member states nominates someone to serve as a commissioner for a four-year term, with Luxembourg’s spot already taken up by Mr Juncker. The allocation of portfolios is set to be the topic of fraught negotiation between national leaders and the president at the EU Council meeting today, and it is not certain they will finalise a deal.
Britain’s current commissioner, Baroness Ashton, has a senior role as High Representative, which means that brief will go elsewhere this time around.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman denied that Lord Hill – a former businessman and then education minister best known in Westminster for unsuccessfully trying to resign during Mr Cameron’s 2012 reshuffle – was a “nobody” in Brussels.
He said the peer would be treated with “very very considerable respect” by EU figures.
“In terms of the UK portfolio, our view about the importance of economic priorities to us hasn’t changed and Lord Hill’s nomination is fully consistent with that,” the spokesman added.
There had been speculation that Mr Cameron would nominate former Tory leader Lord Howard or Leader of the House Andrew Lansley before Lord Hill was given the nod.
The selection was further shrouded in mystery last night when an exchange of correspondence between Mr Lansley and the PM was released, in which the minister said Mr Cameron had promised to support him in obtaining an “international role” over the next few months.
Number 10 declined to comment on whether Mr Lansley, who is stepping down from parliament at the general election, was being lined up for a job.