It was as long ago as December 2012 that I wrote a blog-post pointing out that David Cameron was painting himself into a corner on EU policy.
He was confidently looking forward to the new relationship with Brussels that he was going to negotiate. The problem was (as all of us seriously involved in European issues knew perfectly well) that Brussels was never going to consider serious concessions. It is committed to ever closer union, to the aquis communautaire, to the “occupied field”. Brussels can no more relinquish powers to member-states than it can ride a bicycle backwards.
Cameron therefore risked putting himself into a situation where his choice was either to try to defend an essentially trivial renegotiation – or to come out and say “I gave it my best shot. I gave Brussels every opportunity to reach a fair and acceptable settlement. But in the end, they refused, so I believe that the only option is Brexit”. Of course we know he will never say that, because in his heart he is committed to remain.
I recall that I voted for Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party in 2005 largely because he promised to take his Tory MEPs out of the strongly federalist EPP Group in the parliament. I regarded this as evidence of his commitment to the eurosceptic cause. And to be fair, he did take them out – though it took him three years to get around to it. I realise now that this was not evidence of Cameron’s position on the EU. It was merely a chunk of red meat tossed casually to the eurosceptic membership in a cynical but successful attempt to attract their votes. Well done Dave. I was taken in, along with many others.
Of course Cameron still maintains the fiction that he might campaign to leave. He doesn’t put it quite like that. He says that if he doesn’t get the deal he wants, “he rules nothing out”. But it’s also the case that he takes no one in. His negotiating stance from the beginning has been “Remain at all costs”, and everyone in Brussels knows it. He’s not demanding the best deal for Britain. He’s pleading for a face-saving fig-leaf.
As Christians4Britain put it in a recent Tweet: “Why does the Prime Minister persist with the refrain that “he rules nothing out” when plainly he has?”.
Or as Sarah Jane @sarahdukip put it “He’s going to try to sell this as a huge victory when it’s actually total surrender”.
So Cameron has indeed painted himself into a corner. Lacking the moral courage to do the right thing and campaign for Brexit, he has to take whatever Brussels chooses to give him, and try to sell it as a success. But Jacob Rees Mogg has already described the Tusk draft as “thin gruel”, and now that thin gruel is being further watered down, as member-states start to unpick bits of the offer. Brussels offered Cameron only the crumbs from their lavish table – and now they’re asking for some of their crumbs back.
Cameron failed to get control of our borders. He failed to get treaty change. He failed to find a way to deport foreign criminals and terrorists. He has failed to deliver on any of the substantive EU-related commitments in the last Conservative manifesto. And he has infuriated his grassroots. Just a couple of days ago 130+ Tory Councillors wrote to the Prime Minister stating that his renegotiation has failed, that he risks splitting the Tory Party, and that he should admit it and campaign for Brexit.
The Out campaign has been boosted by the remarkable unanimity of the press, who have immediately seen through Cameron’s Potemkin Village of a deal, and condemned it accordingly. This could be a fatal blow to the Remainians. The Independent was one of the few papers less strong in its condemnation – and ironically, it closed shortly afterwards. I was amused by Dan Hannan’s comment: “Remain-mongers complain about Eurosceptic newspapers; but it’s hardly our fault that no one reads the pro-EU ones”.
Be assured that Cameron, who is nothing but a crafty operator, will be orchestrating a few surprises. A synthetic war of words in which he can present himself as fighting boldly for Britain. Some last-minute concession like a rabbit out of a hat. We need to be aware of that, even if we’re expecting a fairly moth-eaten rabbit.
Occasionally the press are asking “If you (UKIP) win the referendum, what will you do? Will there be any point in UKIP any more?” The standard response is “We’re focused on the referendum. Ask us that question again when we’ve won it”.
But let me give you my suggestion about the task we shall face after the referendum. Imagine we’re in the House of Commons the day after the vote, and that the OUT side has won. Let me give you a preview of Cameron’s speech.
“Mr. Speaker, Yesterday the British people made a momentous decision for the future of our country. Of course it was my rôle to lead the “Remain” campaign, and naturally I am disappointed that we lost the referendum. But let me be quite clear about this. I respect the judgement of the British people. Their voice must be heard and respected. Mr. Speaker I, and my government, have “got the message”. The British people cannot accept the package which I negotiated with the European Union.
“So now my task is clear. I must take the decision of the British people back to Brussels. I must explain that their proposals have been rejected. And I must work with them to find a new solution which will enable me to obtain the full-hearted consent of the British people to maintain this vital relationship which is so critical to the prosperity and security not only of our country, but of Europe as a whole, and indeed to Western civilisation as we know it”.
Or to put it into the vernacular “I respect your decision, but I shall ignore it”. The European project has form on referenda. It’s called “biased finality”. You can have all the referendums you want. Indeed they will insist on having more referendums until they get the answer they want. I suspect that even when we win the referendum, UKIP will have more work to do.