Europe - Why Cameron's speech is proving so hard to write


It is a year since the prime minister found himself isolated in Europe at a summit determining the EU's future. It is six months since he signalled that he might be open to a referendum on Britain's relationship with the Europe. Yet David Cameron has still to fix a date let alone finalise the text of a long promised speech spelling out his European policy.

I understand the PM held a meeting with the foreign secretary and the chancellor on Monday to agree the content of a speech which will see him walking a political and diplomatic tightrope.

Another meeting may follow on Tuesday. David Cameron's aim is to satisfy those in his own party, as well as those who have defected to UKIP, that they will get the meaningful vote on Europe they have long craved for while reassuring the leaders of both other countries and multi-national companies that this will not represent the first step on a road taking Britain out of the EU.

Senior Tories have little doubt about what the core message will be - a promise to hold a referendum after negotiations in which Britain would attempt to secure a new looser relationship with the EU. In other words, not an IN/OUT vote on Britain's EU membership on current terms but on new terms when/if they can be agreed.

One reason for the agonising over this speech has been what one source calls "getting the diplomacy right" ie ensuring that potential allies in Europe - the Germans, Dutch and the Swedes who have, so far, backed Britain's call for a freeze in the EU Budget - are clear that Mr Cameron is not capitulating to those who want Britain out of Europe.

He needs them in future negotiations not just on the budget but also on reforms of EU banking rules.

Another problem is what some ministers call "the Honda problem" - the risk that multinational companies put further investment in Britain on hold while they wait to see if the country will stay in or get out of Europe. Many voters see the EU as the cause of our economic problems. It would be politically disastrous for the Conservatives if their approach to the EU seems to make our economic prospects worse.

There is diplomacy to be done at home as well as abroad with Tory Eurosceptics who will question the worth of a referendum promise without a date attached and who will demand to know what the prime minister would do if he cannot get his way in negotiations.

The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox has been clear about this - he would be prepared to see Britain get out.

What's more there is the question of how this speech will affect the coalition. Most expect a referendum to be a Tory manifesto promise enacted some years hence.

However, it is possible that Germany's Chancellor Merkel - if she is re-elected next year - might push for treaty change before the next General Election.

No wonder Mr Cameron told a journalists' lunch on Monday he was trying to balance "what I think is right for the country, what I think is politically deliverable and what is deliverable diplomatically".

To the surprise of his aides he went on to explain that his was "a tantric approach to policy-making - it will be even better when it does eventually come".

He hastily added "that wasn't in the script." Many are getting impatient to discover what exactly is.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    At the top of his piece, NRob refers to 'The Europe'. He presumably put 'The EU' and changed EU to Europe

    Of such subtleties are spin made. If you ask people about Europe, it's holidays and fairly friendly foreigners. The EU, is meddling bureaucrats.

    I think NRob may be biased on this issue, especially given the content of the rest of the piece

    The EU gives the BBC money, maybe that's why

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    #111 Eddy from Waring "My pension is much better protected"


    I wonder if Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Irish & Cypriot pensioners feel the same having seen theirs cut by up to 40%?

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    @84. Eddy from Waring
    "The document you quote seems to parallel quite well the basis of EU institutions... good... affirmation though."
    My quote is my own, which alludes to sovereignty & personal determination. I doubt very much the Greeks would agree with you as they see their budgets now overseen by a German appointed bureaucrat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    We don't want the gradual encroachment on our lives by Europe, we'd much rather have the total & immediate encroachment of Press hacking, trial by media, the web monitoring bill, highest per capita CCTV anywhere, Bankers bailouts, tax loopholes and tax rebates for millionaires, an end to public services all backed by no written constitutional rights and an unrepresentative election process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    "what I think is right for the country, what I think is politically deliverable and what is deliverable diplomatically"
    Shouldn't that be "what the *people* think is right for the country".
    Isn't "politically deliverable" and "deliverable diplomatically" a function of competence as a leader?
    The fact that all 3 aren't the same thing pretty much shows what's wrong in politics today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I want a referendum on EU membership - I am now a Labour supporter - Though was a Tory supporter until Thatcher - who signed us up to a Political Union without a referendum. I voted in favour of the Common Market under Heath when we HAD a referendum NOT a political Union. If the ENTIRE country voted IN FAVOUR of the EU I would accept it - Otherwise I( want OUT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.


    "...we will see the gradual encroachment on our lives by the EU. Who voted for that?..."


    I did. Such "encroachment" as you put it, as has happened in my life has been of huge benefit:

    My colleagues and I gained great protection from onerous conditions under WTD.

    My pension is much better protected.

    Our rivers, beaches and food are cleaner and safer, etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I'd personally vote to stay, but an In/Out referendum is wanted by the majority of the population, more so than the referendum on Alternative Vote ever was.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.


    "...A cleaner...from child benefit for the kids who are still in Poland..."


    She told you that, did she?


  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Dave wants to cling to power but knows UKIP are snapping at his heels. The mood in the nation appears to me to be swinging towards leaving the EU entirely. I guess Dave doesn't want to use that as a bargaining tool within EU meets because they may/will call his bluff and say 'OK. Go.'

    He then has to offer vote. Then Tories split, never to govern again.

    Hmmmn ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    re #100, most conservatives are pro trade with Europe, but strongly against the legal, fiscal and political framework that has ensued. This does not make them anti-europe as you assert. If the BBC and opinion formers keep to your view of life, there is no hope for a better outcome. Instead, we will see the gradual encroachment on our lives by the EU. Who voted for that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    76. Brangy.
    Have you ever made decisions on location for a material company investment? I have and they are made on the basis of quality of product, suppliers, local labour laws, stability of government and tax rates. EU membership is not only an irrelevance, it isn't even discussed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    When I listen to the low, cynical stuff the average joe parrots round here, and his complete absence of magnanimity towards anyone, or anything, sincerely trying to improve the human condition, I do sadly conclude that the EU is indeed, far too good for him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    #101 Alasdair ~ to be fair this isn't (just) Tory anti-europe bile, if polls are indicative over half the elecorate want out and less than 3 in 10 want to stay in. The Tories do not get 50+ of the vote.

    I suspect quite a significant percentage of the 56% who want 'out' are just frustrated, by successive governments, of being denied a vote on the issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    "Cameron: was trying to balance "what I think is right for the country, what I think is politically deliverable & what is deliverable diplomatically".
    Sounds complex, has been sounding complex. & no doubt will continue to sound complex mainly because Cameron himself cannot make a decision. So, why hasn't he held a referendum so that he can represent his people?

  • Comment number 102.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    There is no doubt that the main player in the EU lobby and manipulate the system to their own ends whenever possible. The issue therefore is whether you are a main player, join the game & therefore limit negative impact, or step to one side and be bypassed but benefit from being out of the game. I've yet to hear a sensible discussion about the pros and cons, it seems to be rhetoric from both sides

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    There is an irony in Tory anti-Europe bile. The Scottish Government wishes to remain within the EU, yet opponents of Scottish self-determination, including most Tory Eurosceptics, scaremonger about Scotland having to re-apply, quoting the misinformed Mr Barosso.
    If they follow their logic, the Eurosceptics should declare the 'Rest of the UK' as a new state and hence be out of Europe at a stroke!

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    The Euro can only function through more integration, but this comes at a time when the likes of the UK and Germany are doing most of their trade outside the EU. The trend is only going to increase as economic power shifts to Asia and South America. Logically there will eventually come a point where the financial and political cost of the EU to its members cancels out the diminishing benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    If the benefits of EU membership (or exit) are so overwhelming whats wrong with the nation having a full factual debate, without external interference, then a referendum.

    The result would either renew the mandate for EU membership, strengthen the then PM's position in negotiations or plan for an exit and get the nation focusing on a post-EU future.

    Why should any side fear that debate?


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