Melanie Phillips

12 December 2011

A lucky general -- but the battle has just begun

Published in: Daily Mail

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History does not yet record whether the Prime Minister is given to philosophical reflections about fate and destiny. Nevertheless, it is striking how David Cameron’s career is associated with random pieces of luck or unforeseen events which have the effect of transforming his fortunes overnight, both for better and worse.

He first came to power in his own party after trumping the then front-runner by wowing the public with a speech given entirely from memory, having learned his lines apparently to quell his nerves.

As Prime Minister, his whole economic strategy was then blown horribly off course by the global economic hurricane.

But having gone to last week’s EU crisis summit with his leadership on the line over his handling of both the economy and Europe, he returned hours later as a conquering hero — all because of an unforeseen reaction in the middle of an acrimonious Brussels night.

For, as has been widely noted, what he was asking for at that summit was minimal. He was not asking for any powers to be repatriated, as his Eurosceptic colleagues were demanding. He was asking merely for a continuation of previously existing safeguards to protect the UK’s financial institutions.

From the reportedly shell-shocked reaction of his officials when this strategy fell apart, it would appear that the British team had been confident that such a modest request would pose no real difficulty.

Had it been accepted, Mr Cameron would have returned to Britain claiming he had defended its vital interests in the City of London — while actually having done nothing at all to start protecting Britain from the increasing threat to democracy posed by the EU as it assumes ever more draconian powers to stave off its total collapse.

In other words, his tactic was a fig-leaf to silence his party’s Eurosceptics, while failing to prise open the EU’s stranglehold on the UK.

It didn’t seem to have occurred to the British team that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would refuse such a modest request.

But what was to have been yet another deal owing more to spin than substance was transformed instead into a Churchillian ‘Britain stands alone’ moment — thanks to the fanatical and self-interested obduracy of the French and Germans.

In truth, the Prime Minister could hardly have done anything other than veto the treaty.

It’s not just that he would have been lynched by his party had he returned to Britain having sacrificed the City of London. No Prime Minister in his right mind could possibly have signed up to the crippling of his country’s principal economic asset.

Even some Lib Dems seemed to agree — in the few seconds that elapsed before  they started speaking from the other side of their mouths.

Nevertheless, Mr Cameron deserves many plaudits for sticking to his guns in the face of the Euro-bullies. What he must now do is show that his Churchillian mantle really does fit him.

Far from seeing off the threat to Britain’s financial institutions, what happened last Friday morning was merely an opening salvo in what is likely to be a war of attrition.

It is not just that the EU will want to exact revenge for being thwarted in this way. It is clear from what happened that for this bankrupt bureaucratic behemoth, crippling Britain’s financial institutions is a key objective.

Indeed, instead of facing up to the fact that it is the euro and the crackpot ideology behind it which have plunged the EU into crisis, President Sarkozy preposterously tried to blame Anglo-Saxon capitalism for Europe’s woes. In other words, the City is to be punished as a scapegoat for the debacle of the euro.

Who can doubt that, given the fiendish small print of EU treaties and the determination of the Eurocrats — by hook or by crook — to subsume individual countries into one superstate, ways will still be found to harm Britain’s financial interests.

The City is right to be alarmed. What is wrong is to suggest that Mr Cameron is no longer able to protect it because he has ‘left the table’, and so has led the UK into impotent isolation.

The fact is that we were never at the EU table for discussions over high finance because — thank goodness — we were never in the euro.

Even on other issues on which Britain does have a voice, it has regularly lost out. Overall, Britain has put far more into the EU than it has ever received in return.

Far from empowering Britain, membership of the EU has merely served to paralyse it. And remaining in it still poses a serious threat to those very financial interests that Mr Cameron so spectacularly defended on Friday morning.

The risk is that having wrapped himself in glory last week, the Prime Minister will now sink back into the deadly inertia and defeatism of an official British class schooled in the story of Britain’s intrinsic weakness and inability to prosper as an independent nation.

In fact, Britain stands to be far more prosperous if freed from the crippling yoke of EU regulations. For fundamental to the Eurocratic mindset is the belief that any advantage enjoyed by one country over any other amounts to unfair competition.

So the EU paralyses the ability of member states to act in their own national interest, which it damns as ‘selfish’. That paralysis is precisely why the economies of those countries are in such difficulty. And that is why Britain’s successful financial institutions are such an obvious target.

It is surely the case that for all the threats that Britain will now be punished for the heinous crime of standing up for its own interests, Europe needs Britain more than Britain needs the EU.

Things cannot stay as they are. Mr Cameron is about to find his character tested as never before, as the EU gangs up to strip Britain of its competitive edge.

Of course, given the fluidity of the economic crisis, no one knows what will happen from one day to the next. There are those who are praying the EU will break apart under these pressures, thus silencing the growing clamour in Britain to leave the EU because the EU will then have left it.

But even if that does eventually happen — and nothing decided at last week’s summit will actually rescue the euro — it may take some time before the Brussels boa-constrictor writhes its last; and as this super-snake thrashes around in its death throes, it may lash out at Britain with even greater force.

To defend his country, it is, therefore, essential that the Prime Minister now detaches Britain from the EU’s political project.

And since the EU clearly has no intention of agreeing, I believe that must mean following the inexorable logic of last  week’s historic veto and departing the  EU altogether. For the alternative is to snatch defeat for Britain’s interests from the jaws of victory.

Given the likely fallout as other member states realise what France and Germany have in store for them, this is the chance for Mr Cameron to show he is not just the British bulldog, but the leader of the ‘European Spring’.

Mr Cameron has been dealt yet another unexpected hand. Just as when he first gained his party leadership, fate has intervened and propelled him from zero to hero. Now he must prove that this emperor really is wearing a statesman’s clothes.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie