Cameron must manage eurosceptic expectations
David Cameron should enjoy his moment of acclamation from his backbenchers on Monday because it is going to be extremely difficult to give them another such moment for the lifetime of this parliament.
Nick Clegg will now be stiffening his party’s pro-Europe position, and EU partners have signalled that they are not in the mood for granting the UK favours. Word will go out to the ranks that they should credit David Cameron’s veto moment and bide their time till the Tories can rule alone, unencumbered by coalition to get more eurosceptic policies.
In fact, long term, the entire Tory strategy for dealing with eurozone intensification was dealt a bit of a blow on Friday morning in Brussels. The theory went that as the eurozone get closer, those like Britain on the outer ring get a looser, lighter-touch relationship. You could argue that approach was run past the EU partners on Friday and got a pretty shirty response.
You wonder what Nick Clegg actually said when David Cameron rang him up at 4am Friday to say he’d vetoed the treaty of 27 idea in Brussels? Nick Clegg’s folk say he was immediately outraged and shocked. So why is it that we only saw that on camera 50-plus hours later, on Marr this morning?
Nick Clegg repeatedly made a point of referring on Marr to “I said immediately… I regret the outcome…” But his first responses through aides on Friday were along the lines of “David Cameron was put in this position by the French.” You can hear Ming Campbell say “David Cameron had no option” three times in his Today programme interview on Friday morning (Ming Campbell is quite capable of thinking for himself but I have the feeling that he may just have been on a requested mission to help his party leader on Friday morning).
Today, the Nick Clegg line is that David Cameron wielded the veto because he was a prisoner of his own backbenchers and he, Nick Clegg, wouldn’t have done it. Anyway, what matters is that senior Liberal Democrats in and out of government think Nick Clegg was caught on the hop, were horrified by his initial response and have not been slow in letting him know. Vince Cable told the Cabinet on Monday that the negotiating position was entirely misguided but, I’m told, didn’t get any support. He is not, I understand, intending to resign.
A couple of observations from the hurly burly of Friday. Firstly, the footage of “le snub” with Sarkozy: we had a look at the whole sequence a few times that day and the problem with it is that within a matter of a couple of minutes before this moment, you see David Cameron and President Sarkozy shaking hands, smiling, hands on back, all the usual world leader tactile stuff – it happens at the group photo just after the Croatia accession ceremony and moments before they go into the European Council meeting room for the Friday morning. You can hear David Cameron saying: “We missed you at the ceremony” (Sarkozy didn’t make it – perhaps a touch tired from his night of Brit-baiting).
The other thing I was going to mention is the line that keeps being attributed to Angela Merkel from the Friday morning press conference, which goes “I really don’t believe David Cameron was ever with us at the table.” Here’s the passage as translated to us. It could be this translation is wrong or it could be that Chancellor Merkel, not one given to grabby soundbites, never quite said what some think she said –
“The Brits were never part of the euro, they had an opt-out from the beginning so we are familiar with the situation. We have started Schengen with a number of states and we have said in the text adopted yesterday that if the situation arises in which we can take it up in the treaties with all, as we have done with Schengen, then we will do it as soon as possible. I don’t think that at all, David Cameron was at the negotiating table with us, we made this decision. We couldn’t make a lousy compromise for the euro but we had to set up hard rules.”
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