Cameron’s contortions — and indeed the Conservative Party’s contortions — over the EU issue would be funny, if the matter weren’t so serious. Beset by UKIP, Cameron knows he has to offer a tough line on Europe. He’s declared his intention to do so. He’s promised the 22 that the Tories will go into the next General Election with a strong European policy, and he’s been rewarded with much desk-banging. Downing Street has been briefing loudly — and for rather a long time — that Cameron is about to unburden himself of a great speech on Europe, soon. But the great speech, promised for autumn, has slipped back into next year.
It’s not hard to see why. First of all there’s the implacable opposition from the minority party in the coalition — the Lib-Dems. Then there has been the dawning realisation that Cameron’s glib talk of major concessions from Brussels is going to be rather more difficult to deliver than he assumed. European leaders have been queuing up to quash the idea. François Hollande insisted that there could be no cherry-picking. Then Hermann Van Rompuy and German Finance Minister Wolfgfang Schauble rushed to ram home the point.
So Tory policy is blowing in the wind. The Prime Minister will be hanged by his MPs, his party and the electorate if he softens, but savaged by his coalition partners, and most of the EU, if he does not.
Meantime Europe Minister David Lidington has cautioned his colleagues not to be “emotional” about the EU. What’s this, David? Are you not emotional about freedom and democracy? And if not, why are you in politics in the first place? The trouble with Lidington is that he’s a “safe pair of hands” (unlike his predecessor Mark François, who was if nothing else a conviction politician). Too often a safe pair of hands means simply a defender of the status quo. Lidington might have been more comfortable in the Foreign Office, presiding over orderly decline.
We’ve heard more sense (astonishingly) from our old bête noire Jacques Delors, who seems to have seen the light. He has called for the UK to be allowed to leave the EU (as if the EU could stop us), and to have a new relationship with Brussels, based on trade. I agree.
But I don’t agree with the European Federalists, who suggest that Britain should have “Associate Membership”. Under this proposal, we would lose our place in the institutions (our commissioner, our place on the European Council, and our MEPs), but remain in the Single Market. No, No, No! (As Maggie Thatcher would have said).
As Nigel Farage made clear on The World at One (BBC, 1:00 p.m. Dec 31st), that would be the worst of all possible worlds. The three vital economic benefits of leaving the EU would be (1) We’d stop paying into the EU Budget; (2) We’d get out from under the EU’s suffocating regulatory régime; (3) We’d be free to strike our own trade deals with the rest of the world. None of these objectives could be attained within the Single Market. We’d be constrained by EU regulation and the EU’s Common External Tariff, and we’d still be expected to contribute. And we’d lose what (very little) influence we have in the Brussels institutions.
Yes, we want (and we will ensure we get) market access in the EU. But the Single Market is the problem, not the solution. We want out.
Far too many people who speak up in the European debate simply don’t understand the difference between the Single Market and free trade. The Single Market carries most of the baggage that we’re trying to ditch. It’s what we want to get out of — not what we want to retain.