Nobody in their right mind seriously believes that David Cameron will campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. But that didn’t stop the media from earnestly reporting Number 10’s Brexit bluster
David Cameron is about as far from being a eurosceptic as a Conservative prime minister could possibly be. Sure, he was forced by the rise of UKIP into pledging a referendum on Britain’s EU membership – despite having previously stated that he didn’t think a referendum was appropriate – but this was only ever a matter of political expediency, not heartfelt desire for Brexit or deep conviction that the people should have the right to decide their own destiny.
But this has not stopped the media from willingly and credulously lapping up the latest spin emanating from Number 10 Downing Street – the risible idea that if David Cameron’s EU partners continue to treat him like the pesky kid at the adult’s table, he might seriously campaign for Brexit.
From the Telegraph:
David Cameron has privately conceded he will have to campaign to leave the European Union if he continues to be “completely ignored” by Brussels, the Daily Telegraph has learned.
[..] It has now emerged that Mr Cameron is telling senior figures in his party that he will be willing to campaign for a British exit if EU leaders do not back down over his key reform plans.
“He has said that if he is completely ignored or if they give him nothing he will campaign to leave,” the source said. “He has made that clear.”
Anybody with even one foot rooted in reality should be able to tell that this latest court gossip is nothing but spin. Having (unsurprisingly) gotten nowhere with his renegotiation efforts thus far, David Cameron needs to appear tough and resolute for the home audience. After all, it is pretty embarrassing that the leader of a global power and the world’s fifth largest economy has achieved precisely nothing, despite having embarked on a well-publicised begging tour of Europe. When begging and pleading with the Czechs for permission to change UK welfare rules yields no fruit, some kind of strong public stance is essential to preserve any kind of dignity.
And let’s be frank – the Telegraph didn’t so much “learn” that Cameron is considering campaigning for Brexit through canny investigative journalism, but rather they probably received a tip-off authorised by the Conservative Party hierarchy to place that narrative into the news cycle.
And what a successful stunt it has been. Now we are duly talking about how the prime minister feels so frustrated with the progress of his renegotiation that he is considering this drastic step, when deep down they (and most of us) know that David Cameron would sooner leave his daughter unattended in Nigel Farage’s local pub than recommend to the British people that they vote to leave the EU.
The truth, of course, is that this was always a sham renegotiation. David Cameron didn’t even bother to consult with the British people as to what they wanted out of any new settlement with Europe before jetting off to Brussels to set out his puny demands, so how could he claim to be representing the public’s real concerns?
This whole exercise has been about starting with the outcome of a “Remain” vote and then working backwards to determine the least possible number of concessions required from the EU to deliver that goal, rather than starting with a hard-headed assessment of Britain’s own national interest or public sentiment. And such a back-to-front renegotiation was never going to bear fruit.
As Mark Wallace points out in Conservative Home:
The conventional wisdom is that the Prime Minister has cut back his list of renegotiation demands in order to reach a swift agreement, in which he can claim victory and then hold an early referendum. That probably was his hope; it would certainly make political sense. Unfortunately for him, each aspect of that plan is foundering while the clock ticks down.
With every day that this supposed renegotiation goes on, Britain looks more and more like the weak supplicant nation asking its superiors for scraps from the table – and being rebuffed. This would be humiliating enough, but it is also self-reinforcing. The fact that our EU partners have already seen Cameron going cap-in-hand around the capitals of Europe begging for concessions (rather than boldly stating the UK’s national interest or presenting a radically different vision of EU membership) means that they are emboldened to give away fewer concessions when he comes knocking again.
Right now, the EU has bigger fish to fry than the Brexit question. And with immigration and terrorism top of the agenda, EU leaders feel confident in pushing our renegotiation way down the list of priorities because they know – even if our credulous media claims not to know – that David Cameron will campaign for a “Remain” vote, come what may.
France and Germany are both diplomatically canny countries. If they suspected for a moment that their treatment of David Cameron might seriously cause him to snap and embrace the Brexit cause then they would immediately start making more conciliatory noises. Secretly they might be glad to be rid of Britain, but they know that Brexit would be a stunning, unacceptable repudiation of their vision for Europe. Thus the fact that there is no diplomatic panic in Berlin or Paris is proof that Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande know that their British counterpart remains utterly pliable and sickeningly eager to please.
David Cameron can continue to authorise leaks suggesting that he is contemplating campaigning for Brexit, if it makes him feel better when he is politely ignored by the leaders of other countries a fraction of our size and power. He can promise all the table-thumping rows in the world, too.
But the one thing he cannot do is convince those of us who see through his cheap tricks that he is a real eurosceptic, or that he would ever allow his name to go down in the history books as the man who led Britain out of the European Union.
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