Conservative Diary

« The best way of raising workers' wages isn't to force employers to pay more. It's to get the state to tax less. | Main | Does a Conservative-led Government really want to make our tax and benefit system the least family-friendly in Europe? »

Here's what will happen if Cameron stays impaled on his Euro-fence

 By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter

Screen shot 2012-11-05 at 10.15.25The Prime Minister is due to make a big speech on EU policy before Christmas.  He must make one of the two speeches below. Either this -

"The bottom line of my policy is, and has always been, that it is in Britain's national interest for us to remain an EU member state.

If, at some point in future, the EU were radically to reform itself, or to break up, the opportunity for us to achieve a major repatriation of power to Britain.

But until or unless that happens, we must work on the assumption that Britain must and will remain a member of the EU.

I believe it's consistent with that assumption to seek a limited number of power repartriations - on financial regulation, on social and employment policy, on the CAP and the CPF.

Such repatriations would require negotiations, and negotiation sometimes requires compromise.  So I can't guarantee that I'll get everything I want.

But I believe that I'll get most of it.  So a commitment to such repatriations will be in the next Conservative manifesto.

And, I say, my bottom line is that it is Britain's national interest for us to remain an EU member state."

or this:

"The bottom line of my policy is that the time has come for us to gain a major repatriation of power to Britain.

The Fresh Start Group has set out twelve major policy areas in its review of what the EU does. They are the following:

Trade, structural funds, the CAP, the CFP, the EU budget, social and employment law, financial regulation, environment legislation, policing, immigration and defence.

I am determined to see repatriations of power for of them. This will mean the ring-fencing by Parliament of these repatriations against the power of the European institutions.

In short, I want see a completely new relationship between Britain and the EU.  Obviously, my vision isn't shared by our Liberal Democrat colleagues in Government.

Which is why my bottom line is to hold a referendum in the next Parliament, if a majority Conservative Government is returned, so that the British people can give their view.

If my proposed new relationship with the EU is agreed, we will put it to a referendum.  If it isn't, that referendum will be on Britain's EU membership itself."

Needless to say, my imaginary extracts aren't the whole speeches.  It goes almost without saying that they could be better written.  But the general drift is clear.

Either the Prime Minister should make it clear that his bottom in line is staying in the EU - and accept that it follows that repatriations of power will probably be limited.

Or he should make it clear that his bottom line is effectively ring-fencing Britain off from the rest of the EU if necessary. That means taking the route towards the exit door.

All in all, I'm saying that a fudge will no longer work for Mr Cameron, the Conservative Party, or just about anyone else. He must choose.

I would take the second route, myself - though I acknowledge that it taking it he would also be taking on some very serious problems.

Such advice is easy for journalists to give: we tend to favour clear-cut solutions, which provide powerful copy (in some cases, anyway) and an arresting headline.

Furthermore, fudge is necessary in politics.  I'm not a fan of every aspect of the Northern Ireland "peace process". But it wouldn't have happened, with all its benefits, without a big diet of fudge.

But here's what will happen if the Prime Minister tries to fudge the EU issue in his coming speech by being studiously vague about repatriation and referendums.

  • The media and Conservative MPs will pile in demanding to know what Mr Cameron will do if he can't achieve his blurry repatriations of power.
  • Debate will simmer on through more difficult Parliamentary votes all the way to the European elections of 2014, at which UKIP will top the poll.
  • Any firming-up of Mr Cameron's view one way or the other after the Euro-elections will be seen as a frightened response to UKIP, which will help boost its position.
  • If Mr Cameron doesn't firm up his view by 2015, Tory MPs will take one of three positions in their own election manifestos.
  • These will be 1) Out 2) Renegotiation, and Out if not successful and 3) Whatever the official line is at the time. This position is unsustainable.

I refer once in each of my drafts to the Prime Minister's bottom line.  Speaking of which, Krieg Barrie's excellent illustration above shows Mr Cameron impaled on his Euro-fence.  The fifth spike from the left seems to be entering an unfortunate place.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.