David Cameron’s strategy on Europe was in disarray tonight as a leading politician in Poland, an ally of Britain, was secretly taped during an expletive-laden outburst accusing him of “incompetence” and appeasing Eurosceptics with “stupid propaganda”.
The astonishing attack emerged as Mr Cameron faced an embarrassing defeat in his lonely attempt to stop the veteran federalist Jean-Claude Juncker being chosen as the next president of the European Commission at a summit of EU leaders on Friday. The Prime Minister will warn them that Mr Juncker’s appointment would increase the chances of Britain voting to leave the EU in the 2017 in/out referendum he has promised.
Amid dismay in European capitals at Mr Cameron’s negotiating tactics, the Prime Minister looks set to be deserted by Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands, with which he hoped to gather enough votes to block Mr Juncker, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
Mr Cameron can be sure of the backing of only one country – Hungary.
“He has lost a lot of friends and goodwill by being so bullish,” one Brussels insider said.
Downing Street talks between Mr Cameron and Herman Van Rompuy, who will chair the summit as President of the European Council, ended without agreement yesterday. No 10 described the meeting as “full and frank” – diplomatic code for a row.
Mr Cameron told Mr Van Rompuy he would go down fighting by forcing a vote at the summit, breaking with the tradition that the top Brussels job is decided by consensus.
A vote would force other leaders to say why they believe Mr Juncker is the right man for the job, flushing out what Britain claims are their private doubts about Mr Juncker.
Explosive leaks of what Polish politicians really think about Mr Cameron emerged when secretly taped recordings of their conversations this spring were passed to the Polish magazine Wprost.
Jacek Rostowski, Poland’s former Finance Minister, said: “[Cameron] thinks he’ll go renegotiate [EU rules on freedom of movement] and come back, no Polish government could agree to it. Except in return for a mountain of gold.”
Radoslaw Sikorski, the current Polish Foreign Minister, replied: “It’s either a very badly thought through move, or, not for the first time a kind of incompetence in European affairs. Remember? He f****d up the fiscal pact [which Mr Cameron vetoed in 2011 but failed to stop]. He f****d it up. Simple as that.
“He is not interested, he does not get it, he believes in the stupid propaganda, he stupidly tries to play the system... his whole strategy of feeding [his Eurosceptic critics] scraps in order to satisfy them is just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said, ‘f*** off’, tried to convince people and isolate [the sceptics]. But he ceded the field to those that are now embarrassing him.”
Mr Sikorski, a contemporary of Mr Cameron at Oxford University and member of the hell-raising Bullingdon Club at the same time as Boris Johnson, added: “They’ve f****d up Eastern Europe and a few other things. ‘If Europe doesn’t reform, it’ll end badly!’ Let them worry about their economy. If they don’t reorganise themselves, they’ll have as bad an economy as Germany.”
Mr Rostowski, another Anglophile, said the impact of Britain leaving the EU “will generally be bad for us, because we would like for Great Britain to stay. I think it’ll be the case that [Mr Cameron] will lose the elections. Great Britain will leave. Once they do, they’ll keep open borders. Not for [gypsy] beggars.”
Mr Cameron’s clampdown on “benefit tourism” by EU migrants in Britain played badly in Poland.
Pawel Gras, then media spokesman for Donald Tusk, the Prime Minister, said this was “thoughtless, probably suggested by [some spin doctor], probably came from some focus group, he didn’t think through the consequences, the whole thing was stupid, Donald [Tusk] called him at once to discuss it, he had such a go at him [Mr Cameron], I mean, f***, it’s a shame we didn’t record it, he had a such a proper f****** go at him”.
Responding to the leaks, Downing Street said: “The Prime Minister has been very clear that support for the EU in the UK is wafer thin. There is real disillusionment amongst British voters about the EU.
“Clearly abuse of the right to free movement is one of those issues where people have concerns and where we think it is absolutely right to have a discussion and look at what can be done.”