I suspect that David Cameron avails himself of public transport only rarely, but in my view he’s on the wrong bus. His references to “us sceptics”, and claimed determination to achieve a “more flexible EU”, seem to be motivated more by the management of back-bench unrest than any real commitment to change.
Imagine, for a moment, a man who gets onto a bus from London to Brighton. But no sooner has the bus reached Clapham than our passenger is walking up and down the aisle, lobbying passengers for a new destination. “I really don’t like Brighton too much. Went there as a child. Hotels are not that hot, and there are too many druggies and layabouts on the beach. I think we should go to Bournemouth. Bit of class and old-world distinction. Maybe shabby-genteel these days, but lots of potential. Come on. Let’s tell the driver to change course”.
What sort of reception will he get? The other passengers will say “Come orf it, mate. We bought tickets for Brighton. Going to see Granny. You go to Bournemouth if you want — we’re going to Brighton. You got on the wrong bus”.
You got on the wrong bus. You’re left with two simple choices. You can go to Brighton like everyone else. Or you can get off the bus.
Or again, suppose our man joins a golf club. He goes to the first AGM and proposes a motion that the eighteenth green is really a waste of space, but it could be redeveloped to make a great tennis court. Golf seems to be in decline, whereas everyone wants to play tennis these days.
He’s going to get a similar reaction to the one on the bus. “Sorry, mate. You joined the wrong club. We joined to play golf. You want to play play tennis? Go join a tennis club”.
The parallel with the EU is too close to need further labouring. The destination of the EU project is laid out very clearly in the Treaty of Rome, and all the later treaties. Ever-closer union. Constant transfers of powers from the members to the centre. Every problem, every crisis is an excuse for “More Europe”, no matter how the Europe we have is failing. The euro crisis is the basis for demands for sweeping new centralised fiscal powers, and a debt union. We can have all the rhetoric we want about a more flexible union — they’re not listening. They don’t want it. We joined the wrong club, and the sooner we recognise it the better.
Cameron’s protests that he’s a eurosceptic (No, Honest, Guys!) sit uncomfortably with his constantly reiterated insistence that the UK must remain in he EU. The costs of membership manifestly outweigh the benefits (indeed the costs are arguably greater than the value of all our exports to the EU-26). The costs to our liberty and democracy are more difficult to quantify, but perhaps greater than the economic costs. We have struggled for decades — literally decades — to achieve better terms, but we keep getting deeper in, we keep losing powers to Brussels. To suggest now that we can turn the tanker around and achieve a more flexible Europe is surely the triumph of hope over experience. I have elsewhere compared our position to that of a dinosaur in a tar pit — struggle as we will, we just sink deeper in the hole.
Cameron is in the wrong bus, and he’ll stay on it until he realises that he has to get off the bus. We should be Better Off Out.
Afterword: I see that Cameron in his recent speech said: “If we weren’t in the EU, helping to write the rules, they would be written without us”. But even ignoring the fact that we’re constantly outvoted as we try to modify the rules, the plain fact is that we don’t have to obey them, except in the relatively trivial sense that we would need to meet EU specs on products we export to the EU-26. But that is a commonplace of international trade — it applies to all exports. We should be relieved of the massive weight of EU employment and social regulation, welfare rules, immigration rules, renewables targets, agriculture & fisheries, and on and on, which affect domestic as well as export business. We don’t agonise that we are unable to affect US rules because we’re not in Congress, or unable to affect Japanese rules because we’re not in the Diet. We won’t agonise about not being in the EU, either.