SECURITY will now dominate the agenda, and the PM’s reform demands will be pushed back, writes Brian Monteith
The shock and the scale of Friday’s terrorist atrocity in Paris must obviously dominate the Prime Minister’s agenda in the immediate future, relegating what once seemed important issues to the background. He is currently attending the G20 summit where a response to the murderous attacks will be discussed and he is then expected to make a statement to Parliament on Wednesday.
Rightly the prime minister’s public concerns must be for those that have lost loved ones or been grievously injured, while working on actions to reduce the likelihood of such acts being committed again, especially within the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, he must now be aware that one outcome of the weekend’s tragic events must be to raise serious questions in the British public’s collective mind about the European Union’s security failings through a woefully inadequate approach to border control.
This is especially problematic for the prime minister in two respects. Firstly, he has been claiming that the EU provides us with greater security when the evidence we are witnessing suggests the reverse. “A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation,” said Ronald Reagan and the same must hold for a union of such nations that fail to control even just one part of their communal border - such as entry into Greece.
Fortunately the UK did not join the Schengen agreement that removed consternation EU border crossings so it does control its borders. We should be thankful to those politicians who stood their ground and demanded our own controls remained in place when they were being pressed at home and abroad to sign up to the agreement.
The second difficulty for David Cameron is that as public concern mounts about weak EU security of porous borders, foreign terrorist infiltration and illegal immigration disguised as a humanitarian refugee crisis, he cannot offer a genuine reform of the European Union on these issues because he published his four “demands” last week and they did not go anywhere near such difficult subjects.
As the EU has moved towards an ever greater union where nation states become subservient to centralised power in Brussels, it has dawned on more and more people that to make it work for us we have had to keep opting out of what are hailed as the EU’s best achievements. By staying out of the Euro currency and resisting Schengen we have saved our country from two catastrophes of the EU’s own making.
These opt-outs are not, however, enough. Despite agreements and solemn promises to the contrary, the EU still expects the UK to underwrite Eurozone debt bail-outs, such as the recent help given to Greece, to the tune of billions. Although we can police our borders we cannot control the unlimited immigration from current and future citizens of other EU nations if they chose to move here. The only way we can regain control of these matters - and if the ability to decide all of our laws ourselves - is to leave the EU.
The prime minister has seen the storm clouds gathering over the eight long years of his leadership of the Conservative Party and has sought to win the EU doubters over by assuring them that he could achieve a meaningful reform of the European Union that would make the high cost of membership worthwhile.
Many of his loyal parliamentary supporters, many more business leaders and a large section of the public were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope, sometimes against their own bitter experience, that he could deliver genuine reform. Through his EU-sceptic Bloomberg speech, his rallying cries at Tory conferences, his commitments in this year’s general election manifesto and his countless soundbite-driven interviews, he compiled a list of 24 proposals that have, within a matter of months, now been whittled down by him to only four. The reason for this is obvious: he knows he would have come home with at least twenty of his requests being denied and would then have been boxed-in to either resign because of his failure - or recommend we leave the EU. The only prospect of achieving what could look like a successful negotiation would be to demand four concessions that, after a staged row, he could claim to have won.
The prime minister’s strategy of re-negotiating the UK’s membership terms can now be seen to be an unmitigated disaster by its own terms. Add to this the existential threats that he can neither predict or control, and he cannot even be certain to deliver an outcome at the close of the European Council on the 18th December. The security issues raised by the Paris atrocities and the concomitant problems from porous borders are now likely to push the prime minister’s demands further down the agenda and into the February Council.
Nor has the re-negotiation strategy fooled those hitherto loyal backbenchers, those business leaders or the public. Expect early this week for a very large number of Conservative MPs to announce they have lost patience with Downing Street team of Cameron and Osborne - a worry as much for the heir-apparent Chancellor as it is for the Prime Minister. The scale of the opposition will not only be a sensation in itself, given the government has a majority of only eleven, it will send a strong signal to Cabinet members who will have to face their own consciences when the prime minister announces his deal.
If that were not enough the first poll of public reaction to the prime minister’s four demands by Survation now puts the leave campaign ahead of remain 40 per cent-38 per cent - a reversal of recent surveys. This should surprise no one, the floating voters waiting on reasonable and realistic reform must sense a typical EU fudge, a concoction designed to deceive and will show their distaste.
The prime minister has badly misjudged the situation, much like he underestimated and misjudged the coming nationalist revival in Scotland.
Like Blair, his heir may yet leave before the date of his choosing.