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 217.

    This is supposed to be a democracy; give us an in-out referendum now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Re 214
    Absolute nonsense. We are not asking for the pound to be on the gold standard. We are asking for a return to the status quo ante when the UK was an independent, self governing democracy with full control over our affairs as enjoyed by the vast majority of nations in the world. Joining the EU was a major mistake and it is time it was rectified. Only politicians benefit from m,embership

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Is this part of the deal Cameron promised Barosso to persuade him to follow the Westminster line on Scottish independence in his BBC interview?

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    @153.Colin Bullen
    Those who opposed the EU are being proved right as the whole thing collapses

    They may have got the result right but not the reasoning, most anti-EU (incl Tory septics & UKIP) want to make the same mistake with the £ as the EU did with the € Essentially manage fiat currency as though it were on a gold standard. When it comes to economics there's only hair breadth between them

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Every 5 years, political parties dangle the referendum carrot in front of voters then snatch it away as soon as they are in power.

    No politician wants to be responsible for the potentially catastrophic decision to allow the UK to leave the EU.

    The UK is in Europe, why pretend we aren't? We should be at the heart of the EU negotiating for the UKs best interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    @ 209: You think when it comes to a General Election the only or main thing most voters bothered about their jobs, inflation, taxes, paying the mortgage, are going to be bothered about is getting Britain out of the EU?

    @211 Well so much for democracy then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    we don't need a referendum we just need to get out of the EU asap

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    So what'll he say in this long-awaited speech?
    He chooses what powers he wants back, then offers an in/out referendum.
    He hasn't a majority government. Not all Tories are Europhobes. He's in coalition with the mainly Europhile LibDems. & Labour, judging by E Milibands recent speech are also broadly pro-EU
    Yet this talk of voting pacts with UKIP that haven't a single seat.
    Tail wagging the dog?

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    The EU that Britain had a referendum on is completely different to the one now. There's only one thing that needs to be said, VOTE UKIP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Mike S 207
    "small number of posts"

    Most people are more concerned with the Census results about our changing country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    The small number of posts generated by this article since 8am indicates the interest shown by the British public in both the EU - and Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    .. I'm afraid that in the long term the only way on the road back to prosperity is a more integrated Union

    One could easily construct a sound economic argument that somewhat less integrated, in the form of national currencies valued to suit the individual economies would lead to more prosperity

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    192.Eddy from Waring
    UK has always had immigrants
    Conservatives have always allowed/used/encouraged immigration & without any major problems
    Labour are the nasty party & used mass immigration as a political weapon but policy has backfired as mainly English working class are being 'displaced'

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    @ 202 "nasty party"

    Labour are the nasty party-led the country up the garden path-no more boom and bust-borrowing 37billion a month even when task receipts were good- What Cameron has to do is persuade citizens in eurodream that things could get better if they allowed their parliaments to be more flexible- devaluations, competitive tax rates cheaper labour costs in Greece

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    David is a committed Europhile.
    The business class is overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU.
    The 'fruitcakes' are little more than a joke who are doing so much damage to our future economic prospects.
    We need more than a one issue bunch of lunatics to govern the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.


    There is one thing that would come from a Tory/UKIP coalition - it'd show is all the wolf's body under the sheep's clothing that the Tories really are.....

    ....still the nasty party, always the nasty party.....

    ...the only question is just how nasty exactly.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    174 Colin Bullen - "a large number of UKIP supporters are from the left".
    Now that UKIP is seen as a potential government or coalition partner it will be extensively examined on its wider manifesto. Much of it seems to have an unreconstructed Thatcherite whiff about it. Will leftist euro sceptics stay in the same bed as their new-found right-wing friends? Personally I doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Gove+IDS+Grayling+Hammond+Patterson+Letwin+Greening+Villiers =8/?16 Tory Cabinet Ministers. Mrs May wanted to delay full access to Romania+Bulgaria-COULDN'T & hates ECHR.
    Paul Goodman ex-Tory MP and political commentator said that Mr Cameron has the most diificult party-management problem in history.
    UKIP 10%Tory 32%LAB 42% - NO 2015 victory without UKIP.He needs to 'get real'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    188. Eddy from Waring

    "Back to the common market please"

    "To which party, within whose gift it is to give you that, do you address your request?"

    Good evening Eddy,wishful musing I so-pose.As a trading block I`m fine with EU.But for the life of me can not see the benefit of another layer of Federal Government in addition to Westminster.
    Would vote for any to prevent that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Simple answer to all those who run around crying wolf about Europe, stay in it and make it work.
    Running away and pretending the rest of the world will embrace us & provide alternative markets is clearly nonsense. The Commonwealth and the U.S. have moved on.
    Anyway, lets get real are we Europeans and if not just what are we, 'Little Englanders' with a misguided sense of real influence.?


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