• David Cameron expected Angela Merkel and others to help him to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s  bid to be President of the European Commission.  This would have allowed him to proclaim a victory in Europe and to assert that his renegotiation plans are on course for success – in the event of him returning to Downing Street after the next election.
  • Instead, Merkel changed her mind because of domestic political pressures in Germany – a development that Downing Street did not foresee.
  • The Prime Minister was thus left with an unappetising choice: either to back down, thus opening himself up to attack for UKIP, Labour and most of his own Party, or to carry on.  This would also expose him to the same charge.  But he would able to counter that at least he had fought for Britain’s interests, and present himself as standing up for them in Europe.
  • Previous briefing has stressed Cameron’s belief that Juncker is a calamitous appointment for the EU; that, by pushing his candidacy, the European Parliament has made a power grab at the expense of national Governments, which it has no legitimacy to do, and that he loathes the horse-trading by which these deals are done.  All this is doubtless true (and certainly right).
  • The Prime Minister can legitimately claim that he has confronted the European establishment.  However, he cannot maintain, on the evidence of last week, that he is changing its mind.
  • The great unknown of any European renegotiation is whether other EU countries generally – and Germany in particular – would be so unwilling to see Britain leave that they would give Cameron what he wants in any renegotiation.  His agenda to date is, by the Eurosceptic standard of his own party, fairly modest.  His friendlessness this week suggests that he may not even get that.
  • Merkel and others will doubtless want to cut Cameron some slack in any renegotiation.  But the lesson of the Juncker affair is that she may not be able to.
  • Even the mightiest leader in Europe is vulnerable to miscalcuation, domestic pressure, chance.   De la Rouchfoucauld’s words are unimprovable: “Great and striking actions which dazzle the eyes are represented by politicians as the effect of great designs, instead of which they are commonly caused by the temper and the passions.”
  • The Prime Minister is by background and inclination a supporter of Britain’s EU membership.  He will want to return from any renegotiation recommending an In Vote.
  • The gamble which he is taking couldn’t be more obvious.  Wanting to stay In, he will keeping warning Merkel that Britain could go Out – thus dropping a hint that he might have to back such a course.  Labour will carp from the sidelines, having nothing of their own to offer.  UKIP will pile in.  The LibDems will keep their heads down.
  • Cameron is thus pursuing what Robert Blake, in his biography of Disraeli, called a steeplechase by moonlight.  These are as perilous as they are exhilarating.
  • What would he recommend if got nugatory terms from Merkel in a renegotiation?  Would he seek to bluff it out, as Harold Wilson did in 1975 – as Nigel Lawson reminds us today?  What would Eurosceptics in his Cabinet have to say if he did – the Goves and Hammonds and Javids?  What, for that matter, would his Party?