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David Cameron's words on Europe should not be subject to exacting scrutiny. They are designed to leave all options open.

By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron has been talking about the Conservative Party's position on Europe today. Interviewed in Brazil, the Tory leader reiterated his support for staying inside the EU but also appeared to tip-toe towards offering a referendum by using the words "fresh consent".

You can watch a video of his remarks over at the BBC but here are his words:

"I don't think it is in Britain's interests to leave the EU but I do think what it is increasingly becoming the time for is a new settlement between Britain and Europe, and I think that new settlement will require fresh consent. In the next parliament, I think there will be opportunities for a fresh settlement and for new consent to that settlement. There is a reason why. The euro is a currency with 17 different countries. I think, increasingly, one currency will mean one economic policy. They are going to change and that will give us opportunities for changing our relationship with Europe. I argue for Britain's membership because I think it is in our interests. If I didn't think it was in our interests, I wouldn't argue for British membership."

What does it all mean? Nothing much in my opinion. One of the best ways of understanding David Cameron is to think of him as the student who always waited until the last minute to hand in his essay or prepare for an exam. He doesn't make any big moves until he has to. He doesn't like to close down options until he's forced to do so. Sometimes he never reaches a decision point and with terrible consequences. Before the last election he never decided upon a theme for the campaign. He was unable or unwilling to choose between the different ideas being proposed by the ying and yang voices within his inner circle. The result was a shapeless campaign where Cameron's personality rather than a clear Conservative manifesto was dominant.

The same is true of Europe. Cameron is a moderate Eurosceptic. He's actually a moderate conservative in all respects. A moderate social conservative. A moderate Unionist. A moderate hawk. A moderate on public sector reform. A moderate in personal style. Those wanting a big bold move on Europe are likely to be disappointed. He only vetoed last December's fiscal treaty when he had no other option. Until events, Eurosceptics or Europhiles get him into a corner he won't choose on renegotiation or a referendum. All words employed in the meantime are mere devices to buy time. All of his options remain open. He hasn't said anything that any Eurosceptic can bank.


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