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The Osborne Ultimatum

By Peter Hoskin
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Yesterday we had the Balls Ultimatum; now his Conservative counterpart, George Osborne, has an ultimatum of his own. It’s directed at the European Union, and it reads like: change, or we’re off. He makes it in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, from which the Telegraph’s James Kirkup has taken and translated the relevant passage:

“Q: Will Britain be in the EU in ten years?

A: I very much hope so, that Britain will stay in the EU. But for us to stay in the European Union, the EU must change.”

The first question that springs to mind is how the Germans will regard such rhetoric — and it’s no moot question, either. A good portion of David Cameron’s Europe strategy is founded on the idea that he will receive help from Angela Merkel to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the union. But, judging by the comments made by Frau Merkel’s colleague Gunther Krichbaum yesterday, that may not be a foregone conclusion. Diplomatic conduct, on both sides, could matter.

And other questions arise, too. For instance, is Mr Osborne suggesting that if Europe doesn’t give Britain the deal it wants, then a future Conservative government could decide that we’re better off out? Or does he just mean that the British public would turn against an unreformed Europe in any future referendum? All in all, yet more reasons to anticipate the Prime Minister’s Europe speech — and hopefully an extra dose of clarity.

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