Will Cameron repeat Major's under-the-table tactic?


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The old saying goes that it is lonely at the top. It will feel very lonely indeed for David Cameron at the summit tonight. He could do worse than following the example of his predecessor John Major.

The prime minister will be on his own in a room with 26 other leaders who he knows do not want the same outcome as him.

He will be all too aware of the high stakes involved. Failure to agree could hasten the collapse not just of the euro but also of banks and whole economies but agreement could trigger demands at home for a referendum which would threaten the future of the Coalition.

He will be fearful of how he will be greeted when he gets home.

He will be able to text or email his advisers outside. He can summon one or two of them into the room for brief urgent consultations. They, though, cannot hear what the leaders have been saying and are reliant on their boss's messages or occasional read-outs from an EU official inside the room.

The danger is that by the time their advice comes the vital negotiating moment will have passed.

Back in 1991 in the Dutch city of Maastricht John Major faced fellow European leaders determined to forge ahead with what was called then EMU - economic and monetary union or the single currency to you and me.

Major was determined to keep Britain out but without being consigned to the slow lane of a two speed Europe.

He did what any man facing such a problem might do. He hid one of Britain's finest diplomats under the summit table. Sir John Kerr, the UK's Ambassador to the EU at the time, was able to listen to the summit discussions and pass notes from under the table cloth to the prime minister.

Sir John was stuck under the table for the last few critical hours and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a shining example of the spirit which made Britain great and could, if David Cameron follows my advice, keep us that way.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    "John Major ... hid one of Britain's finest diplomats under the summit table."

    Haven't heard Edwina Currie being described as a dilpomay before!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Aren't many of the smaller countries fearful of Germany/France's power in Europe but left with no choice but to back these two?
    If DC can get these countries to (bravely) speak up in support of the benefits of having UK on-board, we may yet take a powerful seat at the table.

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Intriguing anecdote about John Major. Makes me wonder whether Sir John Kerr was the only one hiding or whether any of the other leaders had also placed diplomats under the table. If so, did the ones under the table all pretend not to notice each other? Or was there in fact a parallel set of negotiations going on under the table?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    A great step forward for Europe - All the members (except UK) can move forward on integration. For the UK - an excellent opportunity to redefine their relationship with Europe over the next few months after the noisy debate that will soon reach a crescendo after the veto. The UK was the ONLY country to say No. They can now look at Associate membership like Norway or leave


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