David Cameron excelled himself this morning with one of the worst cases of vague waffle I have ever heard from a national leader.
The fact of the matter is that Cameron’s top priority is to head off the unrelenting opposition to the EU coming from Eurosceptic MPs and Conservative grass-roots activists.
It strikes me as utterly bizarre that any Prime Minister can even think about holding a referendum in five or more years’ time, after a general election. Has Cameron even considered that the Tories may not win an outright majority in 2015? This pie-in-the-sky timetable is the strongest indication that Cameron is promising the referendum for Conservative Party management reasons and not the national interest.
Britain’s membership of the European Union is too important to trust to the vagaries of party advantage.
David Cameron’s “vision” for an EU where some of its workings have been “renegotiated” to make it better for Britain required a great deal of imagination to have any clue about what he meant in terms of concrete change. The only real issue he raised was the hours of junior hospital doctors.
Even I could sign up to the five principles outlined by the Prime Minister. I doubt if there is a person in the land who doesn’t want fairness, competitiveness, flexibility, subsidiarity and democratic accountability. It’s not difficult to come up with general ideas that appeal – the difficulty lies in translating them into meaningful action.
Few people would disagree that the EU needs reform. Most would like to know what such reform would actually entail. Yet Cameron said almost nothing about what exactly it is he wishes to re-negotiate. It was surprisingly empty and begged more questions that it has answered.
Cameron is treating Britain’s membership of the European Union as a blank sheet of paper which we can go back and negotiate from scratch. Judging by the interview given to Newsnight yesterday by Guy Verhofstadt MEP, a former Belgian Prime Minister who now leads the Liberal Group in the European Parliament, this will not be the case. David Cameron will, therefore, be faced with tricky negotiations and I, for one, will follow his performance very closely.
Returning to practical matters in the here and now, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said today that Cameron’s speech has served to increase uncertainty and he fears it could increase economic instability. The promise of referendum on EU membership seven years from now can only be damaging from now onwards.
Cameron’s approach is weak and misguided. Even worse, he may not have achieved anything at all – the Eurosceptics may feel his speech did not provide enough while the rest of us may be put off by its generality and lack of content.