David Cameron is negotiating with the British people on behalf of the European Union, not the other way around
David Cameron’s entire “renegotiation” (in fact in has been no such thing, for there were never any demands made) has all been completely backwards, with the prime minister far more interested in huddling with fellow European ministers to work out what kind of a deal might be successfully snuck past the British people than conducting any kind of listening exercise with the British public to determine what key concerns and demands need to be taken to Brussels.
And we see yet more evidence of this in the Times’ Red Box briefing today, which reports on the understandable concern from the government that the meaningless superficiality of David Cameron’s “reform” will be inadvertently exposed by a fellow European leader or minister who makes the mistake of telling the truth:
British ministers are urging their European counterparts to talk up David Cameron’s renegotiation deal to persuade British voters that it is significant.
There are fears in the UK government that some foreign leaders, who have been irritated by Cameron’s demands, will be publicly dismissive of any deal agreed at next month’s European Council summit.
Senior British figures point to polling that shows that opinion on the EU is evenly split, but if voters think the prime minister has secured “major change” they will vote overwhelmingly to stay.
[..] The nightmare scenario is if a minister from Germany, France or Poland goes on the record to say Cameron’s changes are meaningless window dressing.
The piece goes on to quote polling which suggests that successfully presenting the output from the renegotiation as “major change” dramatically increases the probability of a “Remain” vote:
Asked to “imagine David Cameron has secured a small change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union, securing guarantees over some key issues that he said protected British interests, but without any major change in which policy areas the European Union has powers in”, 38 per cent wanted to leave and 37 would want to stay.
If Cameron “could not secure any change” and the referendum was held with the EU “as it is now”, 46 per cent would leave and only 32 per cent remain.
But if Cameron gets “major change” including “substantial changes to the rules Britain has to follow and British opt-outs from European Union rules in several different policy areas” the result is dramatically shifted
Some 50 per cent of people would then vote to remain, with only 23 per cent determined to leave.
None of this is in any way surprising, and as such it is not really “news” at all. Anybody with their head properly screwed on knows that the government is not conducting a serious renegotiation with the EU in good faith with their mandate from the British people, and that everything we are now witnessing is part of a co-ordinated public perceptions and expectations management effort from a prime minister and a government who made their minds up long ago.
But while this is hardly breaking news, it is still worth taking the time to pause, step back from the daily commotion of the Brexit debate, and marvel at the bigger picture.
The first duties of any elected government – of any prime minister – are to advance the national interest of the United Kingdom, and to fulfil the mandate on which they were elected in the first place. Feeling the pressure from UKIP midway through the last parliament, David Cameron chose to offer a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU – against his better judgement, his personal pro-Europeanism and his (wrong but sincerely held) belief that Brexit would be against our national interest.
But since having been returned to power in May, the prime minister has not acted in good faith based on that mandate. In fact, he has been deliberately deceptive and manipulative, seeking to create and propagate the illusion that he is pounding tables in Brussels and fighting for our priorities in Europe, when he never even bothered to check what those priorities are, let alone insist on any specific concessions.
David Cameron and his loyalist cheerleaders prance around as though they have bravely confronted the EU with a specific list of demands designed to win back sovereignty and secure it forever, when all they did was write a wheedling, begging letter to Donald Tusk hesitantly suggesting a few topics of discussion – half of which were slapped down the same day.
This is how you end up with the risible scenario of George Osborne appearing on Newsnight yesterday to give an update on “renegotiations” which are not taking place, and declaring himself a eurosceptic despite the fact that he is currently engaged in nothing more than a joint marketing effort with our EU partners to hoodwink British voters into thinking that we have won some meaningful concessions:
If David Cameron, George Osborne and the more vacuous half of the Conservative Party can all describe themselves as “eurosceptic” and do so with a straight face, then we are all eurosceptics now. Everyone, from Martin Schulz, Jean-Claude Juncker, Kenneth Clarke and the entire sorry cast of Britain Stronger in Europe would qualify as a eurosceptic by this metric, because everybody concedes that the EU needs reform of one kind or another (even if that reform involves “more Europe”).
In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that when it comes to this non-renegotiation, the British public are effectively sitting at one end of the long conference table while the British government schemes and confers with the rest of the European Union at the other end.
I know it is hopelessly idealistic of me, but I expect more from my elected government. And it is getting tremendously tiring waking up every day wondering what new schemes,devices and cunning plans the prime minister of this country intends on using to hoodwink and misdirect the people he supposedly serves into believing that he is in any way working on their behalf.
A greater man than David Cameron – if his devotion to the EU and fear of Brexit were similarly genuine – might have stood up and declared that because he believes EU membership to be strongly in our national interest, he couldn’t in good conscience put it to a popular vote or negotiate in an unbiased way on behalf of the United Kingdom. Yes, such a stance would have further fuelled the rise of UKIP, but at least I could respect the intellectual honesty and consistency.
But David Cameron did not do this. Rather than behaving with honour or principle, Cameron swanned around, pretending to share the public’s concerns about the European Union, and then – as soon as his re-election was secure and the UKIP threat neutralised – zipped across to Brussels to begin plotting with fellow EU heads of government and state as to how Britain’s pesky electorate could best be mollified, placated and distracted while the Brussels juggernaut rolls on unopposed.
And they wonder why there is a strong public perception of a self-serving European political elite who doggedly pursue their own interests in direct opposition to the will and interests of their national electorates!
There is only so much that one can take of duplicitous politicians who pretend to be eurosceptic and favour Brexit when stumping for votes or positive headlines, but whose every action contradicts this stance once in power. And I may have finally reached my limit.
If the EU’s form of parochial pseudo-internationalism really does represent the best future of human governance – and it really, really, really doesn’t – then politicians should come out and say so. They should own their love and admiration of the EU and their lack of faith in Britain, instead of hiding from these things and pretending to be eurosceptics.
I respect any politician of any stripe who has the courage of their convictions – who is able to articulate a sincerely held viewpoint without first running it by a focus group, and whose commitment to their causes runs deeper than exploiting them for electoral gain. That’s why I maintain a degree of respect for Jeremy Corbyn, despite sharing none of his socialist beliefs.
Jeremy Corbyn’s sincere-but-loopy socialism I can respect. The unabashed European federalists in Brussels I can respect, too. Though hardly any of them are democratically elected officials, at least they have the courage to hail their creation for what it is – an embryonic state in gestation.
But David Cameron and George Osborne – europhiles in stolen eurosceptic clothing, actively engaged in perpetrating a moral fraud on the British public – people like that I cannot respect, do not respect and will never respect.
Top image: cartoon by Ben Jennings
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