Because Germany says No!
I read a piece in today’s Telegraph, by Bruno Waterfield, their man in Brussels, which contained a chilling paragraph. I’ll quote it in full: Ministers have stopped saying that they plan to use treaty change to take powers back from the EU. This follows private warnings from Germany that it is not willing to trade eurozone “fiscal union” for British opt-outs.
Of course we are well advised not to believe everything we read in the papers. But on the other hand I’ve known Bruno a long time, and mostly he gets things right.
I’ve noticed for some time that Conservative Ministers have talked about renegotiation through gritted teeth, grudgingly conceding that they have to make some concession to back-bench (and public) opinion. But George Osborne, in Brussels recently, was typical. “Let’s not get carried away — it’s a long way off”. Yes George. The way we’re going, it’s infinitely far off. As Dan Hannan put it, when the EU is in crisis, they tell us it’s the wrong time to talk renegotiation, and when the crisis is over (if it ever is) they’ll tell us it’s no longer a priority. For government ministers, it’s never the right time to renegotiate.
Unless we have the political will to make renegotiation stick, it won’t happen. Indeed the best argument for defining our objective as “withdrawal” rather than renegotiation is that renegotiation will get negotiated down to not very much — a couple of minimal, watered-down concessions that can be presented to the press as “Game, Set and Match to Britain” (remember John Major?), but in fact make no difference.
It is particularly alarming that the way Bruno tells it, our Conservative Ministers turned tail at the first whiff of cordite. Renegotiation would require absolute commitment, and resolute determination. Frankly, anyone who pipes down at the first threat from Berlin hasn’t a hope in hell of achieving a result.
So for the benefit of William Hague and David Lidington, let me draft a model answer. “Dear Chancellor Merkel: We’re sorry to hear that you won’t trade eurozone “fiscal union” for British opt-outs. But in that case, please be aware that we will block your treaty change until you are prepared to be more flexible”.
On a related point, Nick Clegg, jokingly called “Deputy Prime Minister”, has been at it again, saying “Renegotiation would cost jobs”. No Nick, you’ve got it wrong. Membership of the EU costs jobs. Membership costs the British economy something like 10% of GDP a year. Membership stands in the way of economic recovery and growth. Leaving the EU, in economic terms, would be a bit like leaving the ERM in 1992: the start of a long period of economic growth. We’ve heard all the nonsense about jobs depending on membership (only yesterday I heard Hague saying that British jobs depend on the Single Market). And we just don’t believe it any more, because it’s self-evident nonsense.