If you're reading this on Wednesday morning, David Cameron is about to set out his views on how we should deal with the EU, raising the prospect of a colossal pram-toy-throwing exercise if and when the continent doesn’t bend to meet his whims. In today’s speech, the Prime Minister will threaten our European brethren with a potentially EU-dismantling UK withdrawal. He will do this unless he can claw back enough power to satisfy disgruntled backbenchers, regardless of our need to trade with these people.
“I’m not blackmailing anyone,” insists Cameron, from the plush seats of the Carlton Club’s male-only lounge. “Britain has a perfect right to say: 'We are members of this club, we are prominent members [and] we pay a large bill for being a member of this club.'”
We’re at this point because Cameron has failed to establish any kind of successful narrative for his domestic politics. Cameron’s leadership has been limited to week-old reverberations from the Tory party’s latest five-person focus group and his policies subject to the wrath of a popular press that causes him nothing but endless U-turns. It makes no sense to waste time making threats against key EU trading partners while austerity Britain tumbles towards a triple-dip recession.
The delays to the speech have led to a never-ending series of bluster-propelling anti- and pro-EU sound bites. The Daily Mail for one has been ramping up its coverage, telling us a horde of “some 21 million Romanians and seven million Bulgarians” might be heading for Britain when immigration controls expire at the end of the year. And just imagine the shock and awe of a thousand-mile-long trail of people, stray dogs, horses and beat-up Soviet-era Ladas stretching across Europe like a camel train in the Gobi desert, all heading straight for the doors of your local dole office.
Worse still, The Mail goes on to say that – despite plucking the numbers 21 and seven million out of the air – the government won’t even tell us exactly how many of them are on their way. The government knows. They have numbers. But they won’t tell us. How are we supposed to prepare? How strong do my fences need to be? What's Bulgarian for "get off my lawn"? How much does it cost to keep a Romanian infant on the dole?
Just like The Mail's desperate attempts to sell us anti-EU, anti-immigrant stories, Cameron’s decision to tackle the EU now feels like nothing more than a populist distraction from the Tories' failure to lay in place the key plank of their domestic policy: cutting the deficit.
Cameron’s going to tell us what is wrong with Europe, how the EU is “seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf” and how the Prime Minister of the UK has a plan to solve it all right off the bat of successfully tackling press regulation and restructuring the NHS.
A "yes" vote on any referendum could claw back powers, based on successful negotiation of what those powers are going to be. But a "no" vote would leave us out in the cold altogether, without influence in Europe and operating under significantly reduced trading powers. On top of that, the potential five-year wait for a vote will erode confidence and reduce investment in the UK.
Nigel Farage, UKIP leader and the suburban Quentin Crisp of British politics.
The problem has been created in part by UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, a grey-haired common water frog who’s been sapping support from the Tories at an alarming rate. UKIP, a Eurosceptic, right-wing, populist political party, has seen its approval rating triple over the past year, making it more popular than the Liberal Democrats. In a sad way, it’s somewhat reassuring for the UK. While the Greeks and Swedes are flirting with the pretty extreme neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and right-wing Sweden Democrats, Cameron’s practically tip-toeing around anti-immigration sentiment in comparison.
That said, the UK isn’t commanding its empire while sipping brandy in a regal club house. In Europe right now, we’re more like that kid on the estate who has a much-prized job working the counter of the local Spar. We probably smoke, drink and do more coke than anybody else going, and we’re earning alright, but we’ll never quite match Hans with his tricked out Audi and job managing the local sports centre.
Are we sure anybody would really care if we moved out? What’s Cameron’s leverage for renegotiating the terms of the EU? Why should other European leaders give a shit if our toys lie broken on the ground? When he starts making demands it’ll more likely just leave the rest of Europe wondering what we’ve been thinking all along: Who does this prick think he is?
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