11 Jan 2013

Cable and Tory worries about Europe speech

Vince Cable has waded in with his own preview of the Cameron speech on Europe now expected on 22 January.

Not that he’s seen it, but he’s got enough of the drift to feel he should say the following:

” I have to say that this whole issue of raising again in a fundamental way British membership (of the EU) and the terms of membership is a massive disruption and deeply unhelpful in my job.

“I have to spend my time talking to business people, British  and international, trying to have the confidence to invest here and create employment and the recent uncertainly is just deeply uncomfortable for the country. I think the warning shot across the bows yesterday from the United States was actually quite helpful as well as very timely.”

Another cabinet minister who hasn’t seen the speech but I understand is quite keen to is Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke. His instincts are probably a close match to the business secretary’s words above. Will he feel he can stay on the ship of state when it’s delivered?

Even Eurosceptic cabinet ministers are in something close to open-jawed astonishment at the whole strategy of selling a speech as hugely important before No.10 even knew what it was going to put in it. One Tory cabinet minister told me the attempts by David Cameron to sound pro-membership in the speech to assuage worries he was heading for the EU exit risk making him come out of all this sounding more pro-European than he was before – presumably not the driving motivation.

The same minister said he thought the PM could start months and months of Tory demands for a “shopping list” of powers that must be repatriated, raising expectations way beyond what can be fulfilled.

There is an unease sometimes tipping into panic amongst some loyal Tory MPs and PPSs I spoke to this week that David Cameron could be about to make a speech that opens up Tory divisions, overshadows all other policy announcements and overshadows relations with Europe as well as unsteadying business… without winning a single Ukip vote back or helping the Eurosceptic cause they support. They question the tactics, the “big moment” speech and the timing, so far from a general election.

Cameron aides insist that the PM must stake out a position for being in Europe but Euro-sceptic, that the time is right to signal we want powers back, we do have some allies and the flurry of words from Germany and other quarters is just what you’d expect before the poker game starts.

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