Melanie Phillips

23 January 2013

Cameron's EU hokey-cokey pig-in-a-pokey

Published in: Melanie's blog

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As I wrote here just over a week ago, the great question about David Cameron’s EU referendum promise was always going to be what he would do if he failed to achieve what he set out to achieve.

He has said will try to secure from the EU meaningful concessions amounting to ‘a new settlement’. This would enable him to present the EU to the British people as a reformed body which now met their objections, and to which he would therefore recommend they vote to stay in.

But what if he failed to secure that ‘new settlement’? For weeks he has dodged that question.

Today, in his seminal, epoch-making, earth-moving speech that has redefined British politics in the most significant way for 40 years (or so the media, aided by incandescent Europhiles, have been shouting all day) he dodged it yet again. He simply refused to answer.

From which we are entitled to conclude that, since he has said most emphatically that he wants the UK to stay in the EU, he will not campaign for a ‘no’ vote even if he fails to secure those concessions and that ‘new settlement’.

From which it follows that he will in fact campaign for a ‘yes’ vote, even if he has failed to secure those concessions and ‘new settlement’.

From which it follows that he doesn’t actually attach much significance at all to those concessions and that ‘new settlement’ which he has so loudly trumpeted as so crucial.

From which it follows that, despite his emphatic acknowledgement today of the concerns of the British people about EU membership, he either doesn’t understand what they really are or else holds them in total contempt.

In a nutshell, the British are concerned about the progressive loss of their powers of self-government. They want an economic trading agreement with the countries of Europe. That’s it.

They don’t want the EU to decide on foreign or defence policy, immigration, justice, agriculture, fisheries policy or the economy. They believe that by progressively controlling all those things and more, the EU poses a direct threat to democracy and their ability to govern themselves through their own sovereign Parliament, and that it therefore constitutes a form of tyranny.

In his speech the PM acknowledged in general those concerns. But to say that he intends to return to the British people those lost powers of self-government is to promise the impossible.

Whatever changes to the EU are made to cope with the Euro crisis and other problems, these will undoubtedly amount to more power for Brussels, not less. For the substitution of national sovereignty by EU control is absolutely fundamental to the whole EU undertaking.

Cameron cannot undo that; nor can he opt the UK out of it. Does anyone imagine that the UK will be granted exemption from the edicts of the European Court of Justice, for example? Or that it will be allowed to pull up the drawbridge against the unfettered flow of peoples within the EU, aka mass immigration? Or secure change in, or an opt-out from, any of the myriad treaty obligations that rest on that fundamental transfer of power from member states to the EU and that the UK itself has signed?

The idea is simply absurd, as EU politicians and officials have queued up today to say with warnings that there can be no ‘cherry-picking’ or ‘à la carte’ and that this would open up a ‘Pandora’s box’ (ie other member states will want the same thing, and then the entire EU enterprise disintegrates.) And who can blame them? Either you accept the rules of the club you are in - or, if those rules are fundamental to that club and thus unchangeable, you have to leave it.

Today, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was said to have come to Cameron’s aid by promising to look favourably on the shopping list of reforms he will propose after the next UK general election in 2015. Yet in Berlin this week, she and the French President promised to deliver joint proposals for more economic co-operation in the Eurozone by May. In other words, the EU will probably stuff Cameron just on his timetable alone.

And just look at the goals he set out today. More competitiveness. Less bureaucracy. More flexibility. Powers flowing back to member states. A bigger role for national parliaments. Different boundaries for the single market and the single currency to produce ‘fairness’.

And motherhood and apple pie.

In other words sheer waffle. All totally unspecific and thus meaningless. Just how much progress on any of these goals does Cameron consider would amount to this mythical ‘new settlement’? Presumably just as much progress as he thinks will allow him to pull the wool over the eyes of the British people.

Today he dodged the question of whether he would campaign for a ‘no’ vote if a ‘new settlement’ wasn’t reached. But surely here’s the real kicker. Cameron said:

‘And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether’ (my emphasis).

As I read it, this allows him to say that if he hasn’t managed to secure the ‘new settlement’, the very basis on which he was calling the referendum will have been vitiated and so he will not be calling it after all. So much for that ‘definite’ in/out pledge.

What’s more, all of this is another five years down the line -- and anything can happen before then. Meanwhile he has stuffed the Labour party, whose leader Ed Miliband today fell neatly into the trap by ruling out giving the people a referendum voice on the EU at all. And he has neutralised his troublesome Eurosceptic MPs, who are now swooning in ecstasy at the ‘definite’ in/out pledge. In other words, this all looks like no more or less than a tactical manoeuvre to get himself out of political trouble.

But what they have all failed to realise, all these idiotic Tory MPs and journalist sheep who are already assuming the Tories have won the 2015 election, is that when Cameron says he believes something ‘with courage and conviction’ the British public start counting their spoons. He can promise this referendum until he is blue in the face – the public just doesn’t believe him. He broke what appeared to be an EU manifesto pledge once before; and they see no reason to assume he will not do it again.

And if you read the actual words he has spoken, you can see that today once again he left himself plenty of wriggle room.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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