“Tories drop challenge to Brussels on work rules” screams a newspaper headline. According to Bruno Waterfield, our friendly Daily Telegraph journalist in Brussels, the idea of making trouble and demanding repatriation of powers is just too much to contemplate while the euro is burning and the EU in crisis. Chris Grayling (whom we saw in Brussels earlier in the week) is reported as saying that the Conservatives’ demands for repatriation have been abandoned “because of the urgency of the eurozone crisis”.
(To be fair to Chris, he insists that he didn’t say that, and that his view was distorted by sub-editors. However I haven’t seen any correction in the paper, nor have I seen the government rushing to deny it, nor to set out a repatriation negotiating strategy).
Respecting “the urgency of the euro crisis”. How kind. How thoughtful. How reasonable. How very English. The rules of cricket clearly apply. Sportsmanship. Don’t kick a man when he’s down.
But politics is not cricket, and the sooner Cameron gets his head around that, the better. Our continental partners have no difficultly in kicking us, down or not. Right through from Belgium agreeing to sell us ordnance provided we weren’t actually at war (like your bank manager taking away the umbrella when it rains), through to the vindictive proposals for financial regulation and a Tobin Tax, designed by envious continentals to scupper our financial services industry, our partners have no hesitation in playing the game for their national interest, and bad luck to us for getting in the way.
Indeed, another reason we should be Better Off Out is that our leaders (of either party) seem unable to engage effectively in the dirty games of EU politics.
You only get a major concession from the EU if you have strong cards in your hand, something to offer that they desperately need. Right now they desperately need a new Treaty (or they think they do). Far from being “the wrong time”, therefore, this is exactly the right time. Maybe in a couple of years it will be business as usual (though I doubt it), and then our negotiating position will be lost. We’re told we can’t make demands when they need our help — but we won’t get what we want when they don’t. Chris Grayling (at least as reported, if that’s accurate) is setting out a lose-lose strategy. If we don’t strike now, we never will.
Sarkozy and Merkel are talking plans for a “two tier Europe”. Obviously in such a Europe, we’d want Britain to be outside the new joint fiscal and debt structures, but we should be in no doubt that we should in fact be disadvantaged. We keep hearing from Nick Clegg that outside the EU Britain would be “isolated and marginalised”. But I’m afraid the reverse is true — we’re about to be isolated and marginalised within the EU.
We have a golden opportunity to get what we want now. We can use it as what the Commission calls “a beneficial crisis”. But our Conservative-led government lacks the vision, the guts and the determination to seize the prize even as it’s dangled before them. I’ve been waiting fifteen years for a Conservative government to get a grip. I’m still waiting, but I’m not holding my breath.
Don’t it just make you proud to be a Conservative? No. I’m afraid it doesn’t.