Irish stew (1)
Could a British, Eurosceptic, Conservative prime minister have to pledge billions to save the euro from collapse? Will David Cameron agree to increased EU powers to avert a future crisis of the sort brewing around Ireland? The answer to both questions appears to be yes which may land the Tory part of this coalition in a very hot Irish stew.
The chancellor couldn't have been clearer when he arrived in Brussels this morning:
"We're going to do what is in Britain's national interest. Ireland is our closest neighbour and it's in Britain's national interest that the Irish economy is successful and we have a stable banking system," George Osborne said ahead of a meeting of European Union finance ministers.
"So Britain stands ready to support Ireland in the steps that it needs to take to bring about that stability."
He and the prime minister took a decision last week in Seoul that Britain would be ready to promise £7bn in loans as part of any Irish rescue plan. The arguments in favour of this are not hard to understand. David Cameron's favourite fact on his recent trips to India and China is that Britain does more trade with Ireland than with the so-called BRIC (that's Brazil, Russia and the two he visited) countries.
Add to that the fact that British banks are heavily exposed to Ireland and the economy of Northern Ireland is heavily influenced by that in the South and you can see why ministers are so concerned.
Most Eurosceptics will share that economic concern but politically they want to let out a hearty cheer when they hear the European Council president, Herman van Rompuy, warn that both the euro and the EU face a "survival crisis". "I told you so" they want to shout "the euro's doomed".
They believe that every EU crisis is an opportunity to re-shape Britain's relationship with it and loathe the idea that their government might simply go along with plans to spend more money and give more powers to prop up the euro.
Thus this morning John Redwood writes that:
"The UK should make it clear that we are not part of any Euroland rescue or facility. We should say we do not think they can use EU disaster relief provisions to offer Ireland more cash. If Ireland does not wish to take any EU money, the UK should be Ireland's ally."
And the leader of the "Britain Out" brigade, Douglas Carswell adds:
"Britain should do all it can to support our friends and neighbours. Not by bailing the Euro out, but by helping countries out of the Euro. The misery and pain in Ireland will only stop when Ireland has freed herself from monetary union."
Although Britain is not in the euro and thus does not contribute to the eurozone crisis fund, we do contribute to an EU crisis "mechanism" - signed up to by Alistair Darling in those five days in May after the election. In addition, we are shareholders in the IMF who would play a role.
What's more, this crisis is adding to the pressures on Germany's Angela Merkel - whose voters have done more bailing out than anyone's and resent it deeply - and will, thus, increase her determination to strengthen the EU's powers over weaker economies.
So, if there's a bailout, Britain will pay. The longer the crisis goes on the more demands will increase for greater EU powers. Britain, whether she likes it or not, is going to be thrown into this Irish stew.