The Prime Minister’s strategy for reforming the European Union is in tatters.
On Thursday he will travel to the European Council meeting in Strasbourg with his tail between his legs. For years now he has been saying he would deliver genuine and meaningful reform of the European Union, but even dogs in the street, be they dachshunds, poodles or great Danes can see his negotiating tactics have failed him. British Bulldogs are in hiding.
Those loyal adherents of the European dream, by which I mean those who hold fast to the fanciful vision of a homogenised federal Europe that relegates national identities to the status of Alabama or Nebraska in the United States, must be seriously worried by the Prime Minister’s performance. His failure to deliver anything resembling genuine reform, or even a lasting improvement, now risks taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union.
Let me lay my cards on the table. I believe wholeheartedly that leaving the European Union would be good for both Scotland and the United Kingdom, but I honestly thought the Prime Minister would make a better fist of his negotiations than he has done to date and that the chances of convincing the British people that leaving was better than remaining would be a difficult, though not impossible, challenge. Much to my surprise, the Prime Minister has under-performed at practically every opportunity.
Before I discuss what is likely to happen this week, let me go back a few years to provide some context.
It is a misconception that David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party because of a successful speech he made at a party conference. That occurrence was the visible side of a campaign that highlighted his oratorical strength against David Davis’s weakness. What was not seen was the degree to which Cameron cut deals with power-brokers on the right, such as Liam Fox and Conservative MEPs. By offering to establish a new Conservative grouping in the European Parliament that no longer signed-up to the Christian Democratic concept of federalism and to have a referendum on any new treaties that would take further powers away from the UK in favour of Brussels, Cameron built a majority.
Once leader, he was forced to concede the new MEP grouping but he was able to squirm his way out of delivering a British referendum on the Nice Treaty (that became the Lisbon Treaty) because Gordon Brown had already signed it on behalf of the UK before the 2010 general election.
Cameron’s unwillingness to countenance a retrospective referendum as he campaigned in the general election drove many Conservative voters into the ranks of UKIP and possibly contributed to him failing to achieve an overall majority. There are many political observers who believe that Cameron was happy to lose such eurosceptics and work in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Unfortunately for him, the haemorrhaging did not end and UKIP continued to gain momentum.
In response to campaigns such as the all-party Peoples’ Pledge that was demanding a referendum on EU membership and the strong possibility that further loss of support to UKIP could deliver a Labour victory or Labour-Lib Dem coalition, Cameron promised a referendum on EU membership. The offer he pitched, presented with all the sincerity that a Blair-esque politician could muster, was that he would seek genuine reforms of the European Union so that the UK would be protected from “ever closer union”. This would of course mean that were the UK to remain a member of the EU the status quo would change irrevocably. A vote to stay would be a vote for genuine change.
Fast forward to now, skipping over the many Conservative Party conference speeches where the Prime Minister bragged about how he would be the harbinger of substantial change to the EU and basked in the applause of the party faithful – or the recent Conservative Party general election manifesto that listed in detail what these changes could be. For all of his bravado, bluster and brinkmanship – that would make Alex Salmond jealous – what we have ended up with is an exchange of letters with the European President Donald Tusk that amounts to little more than polite niceties.
As if is not bad enough for supporters of the Brussels behemoth that our Prime Minister has sold the British people the idea that he could deliver real change without an inkling of how we would achieve it, we can now see he will not even deliver on all of his four lamentable requests (they can hardly be termed “demands”).
The promises on better regulation, protection from Eurozone caucusing and the UK taking longer to arrive at ever closer union (but still making the same journey) amounts to nothing other than a sickly treacle fudge that will be devoured over time by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
For anyone who doubts this outcome, consider the 79 decisions and opinions delivered by the ECJ since Denmark renegotiated its membership in 1992 that have made that agreement absolutely worthless. It is because of such EU duplicity that the Danes voted not to hand back more powers to the EU in a referendum at the beginning of the month.
What we are left with now is a debate about the entitlement of EU citizens to obtaining in-work welfare benefits if they come to the UK that is irrelevant no matter how it is settled. It is a choreographed argument designed to convince the public that the negotiations are tough and serious, when they are empty and facile. Expect a rabbit to appear out of a hat. The Prime Minister will settle for a compromise that is irrelevant but looks like he has “sweated blood” and “worked through the night” to win the “best deal for Britain”. It will ignore the fact that his Chancellor’s adoption of a statutory living wage that starts at £7.20 and rises to £9.00 by 2020 will become an even stronger magnet for economic migrants from countries such as Romania where the official hourly rate is currently only £1.20. Welfare benefits are not what is driving migration, it is open borders within the EU and a thriving British economy where the government does not provide the public services available to cope with the demands on housing, education and health services.
The Prime Minister’s strategy has failed and Strasbourg will be the moment the UK public rumbles him.
• Brian Monteith is a director of Global Britain.