In 1975 the Prime Minister Harold Wilson claimed there had been a successful renegotiation of our Common Market membership and so he could recommend that we remain members. In fact the renegotiation was so inconsequential nobody can remember what concessions were obtained.
David Cameron’s frankness about the choice of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission shows that Mr Cameron is not going to indulge in Wilsonian pretence. Instead Mr Cameron is following in the tradition of Margaret Thatcher in telling our European partners uncomfortable truths.
If the renegotiation of our EU membership delivers nothing of substance then Mr Cameron will not claim that it has. How will that leave him voting in the in/out referendum? The Guardian this morning claims he was still vote Yes:
Cameron made clear that he would stop short of embarking on the step that some eurosceptics and even some ministers have been urging him to take – campaigning for a No vote in his planned referendum unless the EU embarks on significant reform. Asked whether the appointment of Juncker made it more likely that he might campaign for a referendum no vote, the prime minister said: “My goal is exactly the same as it was before today, which is to act in Britain’s national interest. I believe Britain’s national interest lies in reforming the EU, holding a referendum about that reform in the EU and recommending that we stay in a reformed EU. Has that got harder to achieve? Yes. Is it still the right thing to do? Yes. Will I give it absolutely everything I have got to achieve it. Yes I will. “
That interpretation of the Prime Minister’s remarks strikes me as wishful thinking by Guardian journalists. Either that or they are still taking seriously the briefings from Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s Chief of Staff, who is very much a last ditch Europhile.
It seems implicit from his remarks that if Mr Cameron can not secure “a reformed EU” that he would not feel able to recommend that we stay in an unreformed EU.
Only by contemplating such an outcome could Mr Cameron hope to have any clout in the negotiations. At present the Eurocrats don’t take the scenario of Britain’s exit seriously – so they don’t take negotiations to retain our membership seriously.
Certainly the Eurocrats seem to regard the prospect of the negotiations as a most tiresome charade. Here is Frau Markel:
“It was made clear yet again that the idea of an ever-closer union, as it is stated in the treaties, does not mean that there is equal speed
among the member countries, but there can be different speeds that member countries adopt to come to ever-closer union,” she said
afterwards. “We also stated that the concerns the UK has will be addressed also as regards the European developments.”
Groan, yawn, “yet again.” But the point is not that we want to move towards a closer union more slowly. We want to move in the other direction with great giant leaps so that we are once again a self-governing nation. Saying that these “concerns will be addressed” doesn’t really show an appreciation of what is required.
It was always complacent of the EU establishment to just assume that Mr Cameron would play along – accepting whatever cosmetic tokens were offered. If they retain such complacency the UK’s departure from their club could herald a Eurosceptic tide across the continent, leaving a new settlement of free trading nation states.