As David Cameron makes yet more noise about Britain’s membership of the EU, you may wonder why he chose to use the word “consent”, a somewhat woolly concept, rather than going all guns blazing for a referendum.
One answer is that Cameron is increasingly finding himself between a rock and a hard place. As the FT’s Janan Ganesh puts it: “By hinting at a repatriation of powers, he (Cameron) raises eurosceptic hopes that are almost impossible to meet. Few diplomats expect to achieve more than cosmetic changes to the terms of British membership, and even those tweaks will take place largely in non-economic areas such as justice.”
One of the few British commentators to even begin to understand the EU, Ganesh is spot on with this analysis. Continuing in the same vein, he rightly says: “If such negotiations (on repatriating powers) ever transpire, the EU is likely to want to give Mr Cameron enough to have a fighting chance of winning a referendum to stay in the club. But the immemorial desire of most eurosceptics is nothing less than to belong to the single market while being excused much of the burden of European regulation. It is no more in the interests of the rest of the EU to grant this privilege now than it was in the past.”
An opt out on some justice and home affairs matters is all Cameron is ever going to get out of the EU, and even that is very uncertain. I, for one, have never understood why the majority of UK political commentators give house room to the concept of repatriation of powers from the EU to the UK. As the excellent Mr Ganesh has confirmed, except in a few specific, non-economic areas, it is impossibility.
Cameron is promising smoke and mirrors to appease the Tory right-wing and try and see off the threat to the Tories from UKIP. He is, however, deceiving the British people. This is, of course, dishonest. It’s also very stupid.
Janan Ganesh makes another strong point: “If the content of any new settlement will upset the right, the process of winning consent for it is also tricky. The Tory manifesto for the next election is increasingly likely to include a promise to hold a referendum on the new arrangements once they are secured. This should pacify eurosceptics for a while and prevent UKIP from encroaching too far into the Tory vote in 2015. But it will also ensure that the first couple of years of the next parliament will be dominated by Europe. The Conservatives could easily split as MPs decide that the deal struck by Mr Cameron is not worth campaigning for. Then, if the referendum is lost, it is hard to imagine the government surviving.”
Even supposing David Cameron is Prime Minister after 2015, and I most definitely do not believe that will be the case, it’s very difficult to see how his chosen policy on the European Union can be even modestly successful. The Tory eurosceptics are stridently demanding more than is even remotely realistic. Moreover, they scent blood and will not go away. Meanwhile David Cameron, one individual Prime Minister in a European Union of 27 member states, quite simply cannot give the sceptics what they want. To cap it all the British people are being promised a referendum on something which will probably never happen.