Cameron's EU-turn -- or more weasel words?
Published in: Daily Mail
Another day, another EU referendum promise. Or should that perhaps read another EU-turn?
After the Euro-summit last Thursday, David Cameron launched a passionate defence of Britain’s EU membership and dismissed the mounting calls for a referendum. Only 24 hours later, however, he wrote in a Sunday newspaper article that he was not against a referendum on Europe after all.
This has been spun as a reversal, and accordingly greeted variously with glee and groans by eurosceptics and euro-enthusiasts.
To which one can only say — calm down, dears.
For Mr Cameron has not promised a referendum on Europe at all. He has merely said he is not against one. And although he says there should not be an early ‘in or out’ vote, he doesn’t actually say what question his hypothetical, neither-in-nor-out, not-now-but-later referendum would actually ask.
Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said there may be a very powerful case for an EU referendum if member states agreed a closer union. It all sounds suspiciously like a pig-in-a-poke, sometime never.
This is surely no more than an attempt to placate the public, who viewed Mr Cameron after his ‘no referendum’ declaration rather as Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads had viewed King Charles I.
Do they take us all for total mugs? We’ve heard such weasel words so many times before. In particular, people still have not forgiven Mr Cameron for breaking a much firmer pledge on this very issue.
Before the last general election, he promised a referendum on the game-changing EU constitution.
From the outset, however, there was a crucial ambiguity in his promise. Would it still hold good even if the constitution was adopted before the general election — meaning it would be a fait accompli if Mr Cameron became prime minister?
Repeatedly, his colleagues were pressed on this very question — and repeatedly they dodged a direct answer.
The then Labour government duly signed the Lisbon Treaty enshrining the constitution and giving Brussels more powers — and Mr Cameron promptly said that his election promise had been overtaken by events, and tore it up.
The public were outraged. They did not accept that the Lisbon Treaty had made a referendum irrelevant. After all, the 1975 referendum on membership of the European club was held only after Edward Heath’s government had taken Britain in.
As far as the public were concerned, Mr Cameron had reneged on a manifesto promise to vote on Britain’s relationship with the EU. So why should anyone believe him now?
Moreover, there is a fresh degree of ambiguity in Mr Cameron’s words yesterday.
For it is not clear from his article whether he is ruling out an ‘in or out’ question just in the near future — or forever. The implication is that he never wants to ask it. For he appears to think Britain can claw back powers from Brussels.
But why on earth should the EU agree to any such renegotiation — unless Britain were threatening to leave?
Mr Cameron claims that ‘Britain makes the running in the EU’. Come again? This is surely delusion of a high order. The truth is that the running is invariably made by Germany and France — and Britain is generally run over in the process.
But don’t worry, folks — the PM tells us that he was responsible for Germany’s shift on the Eurozone banking bailout — i.e. throwing more good money after bad. He also states that there is now a British head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and ‘a home in London for important parts of the new EU patent court’.
Wow! British self-government saved, eh?
Over the years, politicians of all parties have repeatedly postured about Britain punching above its weight in Europe in defence of its national interest — only for the British public to discover in time that they have in fact lost yet another swathe of powers to Brussels.
Indeed, right from the start, Britain’s involvement with the European project has been characterised by the utmost bad faith on the part of successive politicians, who have dissembled to the British people over and over again about its implications.
Back in the Seventies, Edward Heath assiduously created the utterly misleading impression that belonging to the ‘Common Market’ would entail no loss of national sovereignty.
He knew full well that if the British public understood the implications for national self-government, they would never agree to membership of the European club.
Since then, as a stream of new EU treaties has transferred more and more powers from national governments to Brussels, politicians have refused at every stage to tell the public the truth about the steady encroachment of European law and the progressive emasculation of Parliament.
Worse still, Euro-sceptics who understood the implications were pilloried and demonised at every turn as ‘xenophobes’, ‘Little Englanders’ and ‘swivel-eyed fanatics’. Now, however, the times have radically changed.
The euro and maybe the EU itself are cracking apart under the pressure of their manifold and irreparable internal contradictions and false premises.
Well before this crisis, the British public had become horrified by the nation’s progressive loss of self-government to Brussels.
The United Kingdom Independence Party is no longer seen as a wacky fringe player but has become a serious challenger to the Conservative Party.
And now the torch-bearer-in-exile of the Tory Party’s true conservative wing, Dr Liam Fox, has chosen this issue to return to the fray after his messy resignation as Defence Secretary.
In a speech this week he is expected to say that, with the EU in turmoil, this is the moment for the British government to renegotiate its relationship with Brussels, backed up by the threat of recommending that otherwise Britain would depart the EU altogether.
Such clarity of thought is what people wanted to hear from David Cameron. What they crave is a firm government commitment to negotiate a looser relationship with the EU, and then to be asked to vote on whether they accept the result.
For what they understand now more strongly than ever is that, contrary to Mr Cameron’s boasts, the current relationship is not in Britain’s interests. And they also understand they were taken into Europe all those years ago on an utterly false prospectus.
For years, the British people have been terrorised by blood-curdling predictions of the economic penury Britain would suffer if we were outside the magic European circle.
In fact, this scare-mongering reflected more a loss of national self-confidence by Britain’s governing class rather than any relationship to reality.
For as Dr Fox points out, our EU colleagues export more to Britain than we export to them. Moreover, free trade with European countries is increasingly guaranteed by international law rather than by EU membership.
At last, the British people can see what was always clear to some from the start — that in economic terms, far from opening up global trade the EU placed damaging protectionist limits upon it, based on an unstable foundation that would crumble.
And in political terms, far from consigning extremism to history it would instead fuel it through its innate suppression of the democratic impulse of member states. As has now all too spectacularly been proved.
The time for dissembling and self-delusion is over. This is the moment to detach Britain from the mistakes of the past — and to right a historic wrong that was done to the British people, when they were duped in the 1975 referendum and as a result had their sovereignty taken away from them.
If David Cameron thinks his panic-driven fudge will keep the Tory Party united and — more importantly — the public on side, he could not be more mistaken.