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David Cameron’s Secret Eu Policy. He Just Can’t Bear To Think About It.

Last Updated: Friday, July 20th, 2012

What is it with David Cameron, the EU and the Telegraph?

On Friday June 28, he criticised an In-Out EU referendum while answering questions at a press conference during a Brussels summit.  “Some people just want to get out: stop the bus, I want to get off.  But I don’t share that view.  That is not the right thing to do,” he said.

These words were read as the Prime Minister saying “never” to such a referendum.  They caused such a commotion within his party that he rushed out a piece in the Sunday Telegraph two days later, declaring that “I am not against referendums on Europe…for me, the two words “Europe” and “referendum” can go together”.

Now, the Prime Minister’s words that Sunday weren’t inconsistent with his words the previous Friday – it’s worth noting that he has never actually ruled out an In-Out referendum under a future Conservative-led Government – but their emphasis was very different.

It’s worth stressing that if Mr Cameron favours any EU referendum at all it’s a renegotiation one (or perhaps more than one: a pre-negotiation referendum, to obtain backing for the future Government’s negotiating position, and a post-referendum one, to gain endorsement for whatever post-negotiation proposition he puts to the people).

But herein lies the problem.  Most Tory MPs, nearly all the voluntary party, George Osborne and Boris Johnson all want a commitment to a renegotiation and a referendum in the next Conservative manifesto.  Mr Cameron is not sure.  The position is an immensely delicate one.

So I ask again: what is it with David Cameron and the Telegraph?

Yesterday, he gave an interview to the paper in which he said that an In-Out referendum “would be bad for Britain…If your vision of Britain was that we should just withdraw and become a sort of greater Switzerland, I think that would be a complete denial of our national interests”.

Again, the Prime Minister didn’t actually rule out an In-Out (or any) referendum under a future Conservative Government.  But his were strong words – so strong as almost to justify the Telegraph running the quotes above a headline declaring “I’ll never campaign to take us out of Europe.”

Once again, his words caused a stir within his party, with Tory MPs expressing their disappointment this morning.  And once again, the Downing Street spin operation was out and about yesterday stressing that the Prime Minister “had simply been restating that he did not want a referendum now”.

There were essentially three views of what the Prime Minister was up to yesterday:

  • He was firing the opening salvo of a campaign to confront his own party’s Eurosceptics, a clear majority, by signalling that Britain must stay in the EU at all costs. 
  • He was simply repeating what has always been his position, that it is not in the least surprising, and all reaction is just so much Westminster Village hoo-hah.
  • He was once again firing from the hip without thinking through what the reaction to his words would be by Conservative MPs and party activists.

Given the Downing Street media operation yesterday I think we can rule out option one.  Mr Cameron has not been in the business of confronting his party on Europe right from the start – when he went along during his leadership election campaign with the move to pull his party’s MEPs out of the European People’s Party group.  It is not impossible that he may come to believe that the logic of his own words on In/Out must lead to just such a confrontation.  But this is very unlikely – since such a move would split the Tory party, the very end that the Prime Minister is dedicated to avoiding.

I believe we should also dismiss option two, because it is as true to say that Mr Cameron was repeating his position as it is beside the point – which is that the Eurozone has changed since the last Conservative manifesto was written, and will doubtless change even more by the time the next one is.  The Euro crisis has not gone away.  A hundred Tory MPs have written to the Prime Minister demanding a manifesto referendum commitment.  Polling shows that a narrow majority of Tory voters want to leave, and that a quarter would consider voting UKIP – whose polls ratings have climbed.

It therefore follows that for Mr Cameron simply to oppose an In-Out referendum, and proclaim the advantages of staying in the EU, has consequences that shouldn’t simply be brushed aside.  As I asked on ConservativeHome yesterday, what would happen if the Prime Minister pledges a renegotiation referendum in the next Conservative election manifesto, wins, flies across the channel with his demands…and is then told by the Germans (and others) to get lost?  Would he simply say on return: “Well, as I said, our relationship with the EU needs a big overhaul.  But since that big overhaul isn’t going to happen, we shall just have to lump it as it is”?

These are reasonable questions for his colleagues and party to ask.  The Prime Minister could close them down by saying words to the following effect: “We’ll make our manifesto decisions in due course.  But for the moment I repeat what I’ve said before: the balance is strongly in favour of us staying in the EU.”  And to the inevitable question that follows – “Does that mean, Mr Cameron, that you could imagine Britain ever leaving?” – there is an answer that will suffice.  “As you know, Jeremy (or Andrew, or whoever), Europe is changing very fast, and I believe that the question simply won’t arise, because reform – of the very kind I’ve championed for so long – is bound to come.”

All this leaves only option three on the table: that the Prime Minister keeps firing from the hip without thinking through what the reaction to his words will be by Conservative MPs, party activists and others.  A final question follows: why, since Mr Cameron is a highly intelligent man, and more aware than anyone of the tensions over EU policy that threaten to tear his party apart, does he persist in doing so?  I suspect the answer is: because his EU dilemma is so acute that he simply can’t bear to think about it.  And because he can’t bear to think about it, he keeps trying to wing it in press conferences, newspaper articles and interviews.  And because he keeps winging it, there is consequent trouble.

That trouble reminds him that EU dilemma is so acute that he simply can’t bear to think about it.  And because he can’t bear to think about it…but you know the rest of the score.  None the less, with many of his MPs, most of his party, a big slice of Tory voters, Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband banging at his door about Europe, the option of not thinking about it won’t be sustainable for much longer.

By Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Tim Montgomerie: Lord Ashcroft sets out four tests that policies should pass if the Conservatives are to be electorally successful   “Last night I listed ten big takeaways from Lord Ashcroft’s latest megapoll on the Tory path to a majority.  This morning I want to focus upon the central conclusion of the report and Lord Ashcroft’s four tests for electorally successful policy. He writes: “Everything the Conservatives do between now and the next election must pass at least one of the following four tests, and it must not fail any of them. First, does it show we are sticking to the right priorities for the country? Secondly, does it show strong leadership? Thirdly, does it show we are on the side of the right people (and, if necessary, make the right enemies?) Fourthly, does it offer some reassurance about the Conservative Party’s character and motives?” Read more: http://is.gd/CndE3F

Paul Goodman: If Cameron is against leaving the E.U in all circumstances, what will he do if renegotiation doesn’t work?   So what happens if the pressure from Mr Osborne and others succeeds – which I believe it will – the manifesto duly contains a renegotiation and referendum pledge, Mr Cameron wins the election, flies off with his renegotiation demands…and the Germans tell him to get lost? Which they would surely have an incentive to do, since the Prime Minister appears to have revealed his negotiating hand – and has apparently removed from it a powerful card, namely the possibility of supporting a British exit if he doesn’t get what he wants. Read more: http://is.gd/XaTrpd

Gary Streeter MP: We start loving the Coalition or Ed Balls and Ed Miliband will be in Downing Street
“So I have gone into the summer recess having made a half-way-through-the-year resolution. I am going to get behind the coalition more fervently when Parliament reassembles in September. In my heart this is not easy, but in my head I know it to be the right thing. The government has achieved a lot in the past two years and has some tough challenges to tackle. I will still oppose an elected House of Lords but other than that I will endeavour to support the leadership that comes from Cameron and Clegg. I am utterly convinced that a Labour government anytime in the next five years would be an absolute disaster.” Read more: http://is.gd/dZbFkL

Peter Bone MP: A case for a Conservative Minority Government   There are three key reasons why a Conservative minority government is the best way forward: First, the National Interest. With a Conservative minority government we could focus on the bigger issues facing this country, the issues that affect the lives of our constituents…Second, new Conservative Ministers.  A Conservative minority government would bring in talented and qualified Conservative MPs as ministers, replacing the lack lustre set of Liberal Democrat ministers forced upon us by the Coalition agreement…Third, reinvigorating the Conservative Party. The final reason to embrace the third way and have a Conservative minority government would be that it would reinvigorate the Conservative party across the country.” Read more: http://is.gd/bCeXLv

David Skelton: Equal marriage would be good for gay people, good for the institution of marriage and good for society   “The Tory Party has a pretty indifferent record when it comes to gay equality. Being responsible for a totemic reform, such as gay marriage, would do more than a million mea culpas to eradicate the memory of Section 28 and the like. The Government could follow in the tradition of Tory social reformers and push through this reform, which is backed by solid conservative principles.  Or they could turn their back on the reform and see the Tory image retoxified and Tory modernisation undone. Allowing gay people to marry isn’t about ‘redefining’ marriage.  Instead it is about allowing gay and lesbian people into the institution of marriage – an institution that they deeply respect.  As long as sufficient safeguards are in place to protect religious freedom against judicial activism, there is no reason for conservatives to oppose equal marriage.” Read more: http://is.gd/tH9BLY

Samuel Kasumu: We must celebrate National Citizen Service    “As we approach the one year anniversary of the terrible riots that swept across the nation, we must continue to ask ourselves why so many young people were so willing to destroy the very communities from within which they reside. We cannot forget those terrible scenes of 2011 because many of the underlining challenges of a ‘broken society’ still exist. Youth unemployment is still high, fathers are still absent in many households, children are still living in poverty, and violent crime (particularly within inner city areas) continues to be a problem. NCS may not be the only cure for such sicknesses, but it will certainly play a part in developing a society that is more inclusive, more cohesive, and more positive.” Read more: http://is.gd/gc8YAj

Paul Goodman: As the Olympics loom, “Jerusalem” is David Cameron’s choice as England’s sporting national anthem (Exclusive to ConserativeHome):  “Mr Cameron has said that were England to have an anthem for its sporting teams his own choice would be “Jerusalem” – the musical setting of William Blake’s poem by Sir Hubert Parry. The Prime Minister added that he could understand why people felt that English teams should have an anthem on the same terms as Scottish or Welsh teams. He also said that although some on the left claim “Jerusalem” for their own – because of the reference to “dark satanic mills” – he disagrees and believes that it should belong to everyone. Mr Cameron gave his view to a group of young Tory activists during a Downing Street reception for the Conservative Future earlier this month.” Read more: http://is.gd/BpC2fW

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