10 January, 2013

Speech of the Decade

Not an exaggeration, I think. In a couple of weeks' time David Cameron will set out his ideas for the UK's relationship with the EU. The speech will possibly be made in Holland, rather as Mrs Thatcher's major European policy speech was made in Bruges, Belgium.

The speech is important because in Parliament the euroseptics are scenting victory and will no longer be fobbed off with a poor effort at negotiation, as when Tony Blair gave away part of the Thatcher Rebate in return for a promise from the French (!) that they would reform agriculture.

And forty years after joining the EU, the British people are clear that they are ready for a change. Now we shall see what sort of change Mr Cameron is offering.

He starts off badly in that he says he wants to stay in the EU. This is bad for two reasons. Many, perhaps most, Conservative MPs want to leave the EU and secondly, as Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has pointed out, we're not going to have much success with the negotiations if we're not prepared to threaten to leave. Cameron wants to stay in the Single Market, although what good he thinks it is doing us he doesn't say.

Cameron's plan, it is said, is to start negotiations after he is re-elected in 2015. This means we have to trust him without knowing what he might achieve, or might be willing to achieve. Anyone who has experienced his somewhat shady integrity in the forming of the coalition will be unimpressed. He believes he can tempt voters away from UKIP with this vague promise of starting negotiations in a few years' time. I fear there will not be enough meat on this bone to make any difference to the sceptical voters either inside or outside the Conservative Party.

It is said Mr Cameron will offer a referendum, perhaps in 2017, on whether to accept the terms he has negotiated or leave the EU. This is so late that the EU will have done its reorganisation before he gets to the negotiating table and he will have no bargaining chips to use.

The time to demand clarity on Cameron's proposals is now. Let's hope he can explain them.

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