Published on 11 Dec 2012

PM ‘fully aware’ strategy needs EU to believe UK might quit

I’m told the PM was inclined to get the long-promised Europe speech out of the way before Christmas so it didn’t obscure the childcare, social care and other mid-term policy announcements scheduled for January.

He also didn’t want it crashing into a key European summit negotiation – those prove harder to avoid as they are almost monthly. But the window proved tight – only Tuesday week was available because of other commitments – and that’s given another good reason to delay to 2013.

The biggest reason though which has kept this speech in wraps for very nearly one year is caution. We were originally promised a speech outlining where UK policy was going on Europe in the immediate aftermath of the UK veto at the December 2011 summit – that summit, we were told, was a product of a changed Europe and the UK deserved/needed a new strategy to deal with the new reality. But voices in David Cameron’s ear, often from within the Whitehall machine, have urged caution and have gulped at the proposals in play. Various combinations of referendum/consent have been looked at, but the PM seems to have settled on a manifesto commitment to renegotiate British terms of membership early in the next Parliament and then put the redesigned membership to a popular vote: are we in or out?

One Cabinet minister associated with the more outspoken end of the Eurosceptic market told me the PM is “fully aware” that the EU would have to believe the UK was willing to quit if the UK was to have any chance of getting a proper repatriation of powers and the sort of slimmed down membership people like Boris Johnson have been demanding. But, the Cabinet minister told me, David Cameron feels he can’t himself say it. He repeatedly says he wants Britain to stay in – to say the opposite would frighten businesses and maybe even some voters too.

Then there’s the alienation of other EU leaders we desperately need as allies in negotiations – one No. 10 aide complains that the UK it is constantly on its guard these days to avoid being cast as the scapegoat for Eurozone failure to agree at any summit. The threat to leave is the obvious strategic underpinning of the entire strategy but as far as the PM is concerned it is the threat that’s best not heard from him.

The PM’s aides, meanwhile, continue their search for plausible allies in the repatriation battle. The Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, spoke last week of the need for some powers to come back from Europe – the UK is trying to find out what he meant and whether it’s compatible with the social/employment/fisheries repatriation that gets talked about in No. 10 and elsewhere. No. 10 aides point at how the European Commission has acknowledged it can’t do everything and might have to slim down in some areas. The same aides point out how there has been some repatriation of fisheries powers already.

But there’s another conversation in government that goes well beyond that pretty ambitious menu: Cabinet ministers (not to mention countless other Tories elsewhere in the ranks) who talk about resenting just about every single rule of the single market, the product stipulations etc that Brussels sees as central to a fair and level table in trade. Those same Cabinet ministers speak for a school of Euro-scepticism that David Cameron would find hard to satisfy even if his own renegotiation went dreamily and without a hitch.

This school of Euro-scepticism isn’t going to roll over, will be fired up by the months of EU-chat ahead and in the second half of 2014, when the EU could be absorbed in Eurozone intensification, you have a potential perfect storm of mis-matched expectations and EU anxiety in the run-up to a 2015 general election. All that and businesses jumping about complaining about uncertainty over the UK’s position in Europe. David Cameron worries about unleashing forces he cannot control with the much-delayed speech, and you can’t blame him. But it was his idea.

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8 reader comments

  1. Peadar O Siouchru says:

    In? Out? Or shake it all about?

    1. Robert Taggart says:

      Shaken – aye. Stirred – ?

  2. Mudplugger says:

    With each passing month, the growth of UKIP support continues and, after the forthcoming Euro Elections, when UKIP will do very well, it will be obvious that the Tories face a wipe-out in 2015. Game over.

  3. ema says:

    Anti Europe have two arguments. The first is EU trade tariffs. The second is ability to adjust interest rates for example to cater for local variations.

    Regards the first point, we want to be at the table to improve trade, not outside facing tariffs. Many of the tariffs regard weapons and restricted goods, which is standard for countries.

    Regards the second point, the UK outside the euro in a UK slump this is able to adjust interest rates, will still be worse off economically compared to the UK in a common currency. The logic is simply flawed, especially when you factor in business and banks leaving the UK to be within the Euro zone.

    Cameron’s gaming Europe is very dangerous – his tactics could backfire horribly. Cameron needs to seriously table both the notion of less power from Brussels as well as significantly greater. The latter puts us inside the room discussing trade, rather than outside with terms dictated.

    1. Caliban says:

      Sorry ema, but if you are implying those are the only two arguments, you have seriously misread the issue..

      I speak for myself, but I think you will find a great many who agree with me. I do not want to be ruled from Brussels. I do not want foreigners with a veto over British law. I do not want my elected parliament being forced to accept laws made by unelected eurocrats. .

      For as long as I can remember, people who said the ultimate aim of the EEC (as it was) was to create a United States of Europe were jeered at as paranoid conspiracy theorists. It is now very clear they were absolutely correct, and the British people have been consistently lied to.

      The EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty fiasco tells one everything you need to know about the EU. The former was rejected by the people (where they were actually asked) so, virtually unaltered, the name was changed to the Lisbon Treaty and it was passed without reference to the people.

      As the balance of voting power in the EU is moving East, we should not be surprised to find it is becoming more like the USSR with every week that passes. It is a political Union, designed by politicians, run by politicians, for the benefit of…

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    Just like separatists in Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia, Tory Euro-sceptics believe that bluffing will get them better terms.
    What they all overlook is that each of their nations’ economic health depends on their trade with the rest of Canada, or UK, or Spain and (in our case) with Europe. And because economics are the engine room of all nations, our national well-being is being used as a Tory gambling chip.
    Lord Snooty’s behaviour is all so infantile.

  5. Yorkshire Lass says:

    People are seriously going to vote for UKIP? Gawd give me strength – they’re a bunch of unelectable tossers with one groove on their record. Considering they hate the EU so much they’re bloody keen to be elected as Euro MPs – and effing useless, too, as they don’t attend, just take the money and run.

  6. Barbara Stevens says:

    Its in or out, promises won’t be any good, we’ve had them before and he does not keep them. We need to know what the nation wants before the next election, lets face it, the Conservatives may not win the election, what then? Miliband is as elusive as Cameron, we won’t mention Clegg he’s not worth it. None are facing up to the fact that its what we all want, to decide our own destiny. For me I’ve had enough of all of them and its ukip for me from now on.

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