Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Battle Lines Were Drawn, By Accident

I'm starting to wonder if Cameron has bitten off more than he can chew with his plan to renegotiate our EU membership, and whether some in the EU aren't quite pleased about it. If his negotiations are to bear any fruit at all then it has to seriously limit the freedom of movement element which allows anyone who is legally resident anywhere within the EU to relocate to the UK. For the second time since the election that senior EU officials have made it very clear that this is not on the table. Firstly when Eastern European leaders lined up to state that freedom of movement was "sacrosanct" , and now, with Jean-Claude Juncker wading in to say that Britain must take even more refugees from North Africa.

True, there have also been conciliatory noises as people have said they are prepared to work with Cameron on reform, and it's becoming increasingly clear that there is an appetite for reform amongst electorates across the continent. But this early and definitive red line is an clear statement that the EU is not prepared to keep the UK at any cost.

Cameron might well find himself in a position where he can't get any meaningful concessions at all and has to go to the country with this fact plain for all to see, and offer a referendum choice of either maintaining the status quo and admitting that we can not reform the EU from within or leaving altogether. Many in his party would prefer the latter, as would many outside. in effect admitting that he is prepared to stay in the EU at any cost.

The EU can't possibly offer Cameron what he wants because France, Germany, Holland and elsewhere would soon start demanding the same and the whole European Union, with it's enshrined principle of "ever closer union" would be stopped in it's tracks. None of the major political parties or institutions in Europe could accept this, and I suspect many would see British withdrawal as infinitely preferable.

I believe that Cameron never expected to win this election or to hold this referendum, and this gave him licence to be extra bold with the demands he never thought he would need to make.  Now that he has won he appears to have backed himself into a corner which he can not come out of without climbing down on one of the most important aspects of our relationship with the EU.

Of course it's not over yet. Cameron is a shrewd operator and may well get concessions which can be sold as a victory to the British public. These combined with the inevitable onslaught of negative campaigning and scaremongering may be enough to secure victory in a referendum. However with UKIP and the withdrawalists in his own party poised to expose any fudge, and many in both national governments and EU institutions refusing to offer the concessions he needs then there is the very real possibility that Cameron has been an unwitting architect of our EU withdrawal.