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, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Now that Lord Leveson is at a loose end, perhaps we could get him to compile a report on the E.U.'s questionable activities. The problem is that a thorough expose of that morass would probably run to 100 volumes and take 20 years to prepare. Probably better to wait a few years, then get another Gibbons to pen "The Decline and Fall of the European Empire".

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    What is all this nonsense I have read in some posts that tories are anti-EU. It was the tories that took us into the common market and the tories who signed Maastricht.
    They, like the majority of the population, want trade and cooperation with the EU not federalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    “a promise to hold a referendum after negotiations in which Britain would attempt to secure a new looser relationship with the EU”

    Unless this looser relationship will return us to the EEC, then it is not enough and millions of ex-Tory voters like me, will continue to vote for UKIP and he will be turfed out on his ear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    If European elections were promoted as much as General elections, and as much time and effort was put into them, discussing issues and differences between the parties, etc. their goals within Europe, etc., the public mindset regarding the EU would be totally different. Unfortunately inward thinking politics have made the European Parliament unaccountable, inaccessible and distant from the public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    A free trade area of nation states has been blown by the need to support the south..If we belong they will insist we share burden as well as benefit.

    We would lose our position as a manufacturer and entrepot for overseas companies if we risk leaving.

    Euroscepticism is a conduit for a host of discontents not to do with Europe,chief of which is the leadership.They`ll eventually get him

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    The EU is the least of our worries.

    Disunited Kingdom economy heading for a 'triple dip' - a whole new level of disaster.

    Don't let snooty distract you from the real issue with sound bites about europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Ok I have to ask

    Quote "reassuring the leaders of both other countries "

    //from the above article//

    Which are the other Two Countries and why does our Government have to consider them at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    There is absolutely no doubt that being inside the EU brings far more benefits to the British people than if it were outside (see latest economist). However, we need to provide the EU with legitimacy by closing the democratic deficit and the only way that is possible is deeper integration. What will follow is a Union able to compete/influence on world stage, and remedy the problems closer to home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Why does it have to be IN/OUT? Surely our issue is with the increasing federalisation?
    Why can we not align ourselves with Norway and Switzerland in having access to the Common Market but not to the madness of unification?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Here's a great clip highlighting the "Democracy Deficit inherent in the European Union."

    The sooner we leave the EuroTitanic and board HMS Referendum, the better. Lets hope DC gives us the choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    As it stands the EU is not elected by the people they serve.
    Are not accountable to anyone but themselves.
    Inflict their judgement on the rest of us without our consent.

    Sounds like the Roman empire of old.

    If the EU wants our endorsement then it needs to resolve these issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Of course it's difficult. He doesn't want to upset his EU chums but doesn't want to alienate the voters. His first duty should be to the latter, of course, but he is so wedded to the EU project that as usual he'll find some comforting words for us which won't mean anything in practice. So on we go, governed by bureaucrats and career politicians and lacking a true leader with principles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    An in / out referendum will only happen if UKIP are elected in sufficient numbers to force the issue. The chances of that actually happening are (I believe) very remote, therefore nothing will change.

    Personally I think De Gaulle was right - he remembered Churchill's view that given a choice between the continent of Europe and the open sea, Britain would always choose the latter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    On the issue of trade, if we left, surely as the UK has always been an advocate of an open door, WTO compliant trading economy there would be plenty of trading opportunities?

    Without the millstone/cost of EU regulation around our necks our companies & tax rates could be leaner too to attract investment even if there were EU tariffs on exports.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    The EU has become a self-regulating beast, utterly disconnected from the loose trading affiliation it ought to have always primarily been. There are too many cultural and linguistic obstacles to federation. Until this is realised by those who are currently too comfortably on the gravy train Britain's relations will worsen until the link is severed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    we have cleaner beaches.....lower roaming charges on mobiles...hurrah....
    and international corporates closing plants in the uk and re opening then in turkey because of EU subsidies in Turkey....achived via the EU contributors of which we are one.
    VW make a lot of cars in slovakia instead of germany....EU subsidies??
    unemployment in spain is 25% greece....who knows....has Europe "worked"? discuss

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Nick, You are missing one small detail. The rest of Europe are desperate not to see UK leave the EU. Can you imagine the 6/7 th largest economy in the world leaving a group of countries that is so financially inept. The likes of Germany would certianly want to keep us in and if we leave they will want to join us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Cameron is wriggling. His problem is that the vast majority of people in Britain want an In/Out referendum - and will probably vote to leave the EU. Both Labour and the Tories have tried for years to deny us that vote, but it will come in the end; voters can't be refused forever.

    Better to do it now and get it over with. Give us the vote we want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    In common with many others, I suspect, I'd like him to say that in the Spring of 2014 we will have a referendum on whether we withdraw from the EU or remain on whatever terms are in force at that time, while noting that he's not going to sign any new agreements in the month or so before the referendum. That gives the EU a year to improve.

    That gives the EU a year to

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Cameron hasn't yet spoken on his European policy as Clegg hasn't given it to him yet. I think that the other Clegg (Compo's mate) would do a better job as a coalition partner.


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