PM is not in Holland, and pro-Europeans may prevail

Inside Westminster: Eurosceptics are never satisfied. If Cameron announced a referendum tomorrow, they'd complain it wasn't yesterday

Share
Related Topics

At one point, David Cameron is said to have considered going to Bruges to make his great speech on Europe that never was – or, more accurately, isn't yet. The Belgian city was on his list of possible venues because Margaret Thatcher delivered her landmark speech there in 1988.

In Conservative folklore, the Thatcher speech was the moment when she put her party on the true path of Euroscepticism. But Whitehall whispers suggest that when Cameron aides read the whole speech, they realised the media's inevitable line-by-line comparison would show his to be more anti-European. Baroness Thatcher said: "Let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community."

So Amsterdam was chosen for the speech Mr Cameron was due to make today, only for it to be postponed when he rightly decided to give his full attention to Algerian hostage crisis.

We know some of what he will say on Europe from the extracts released on Thursday night: the British people will "drift towards the exit" of the EU unless it reforms. We don't yet know his precise words on a Europe referendum but details are dribbling out in a messy way. He will promise a referendum on the "new settlement" for Britain he will seek to negotiate, but the vote would not take place until after the 2015 general election. He is likely to resist Eurosceptic demands for legislation now to lock him into a referendum if he is still PM after 2015.

Although several current Cabinet members would vote to leave the EU, Mr Cameron would not allow his ministers to campaign for exit if he were recommending a Yes to his new deal. Collective responsibility would still apply – unlike in the 1975 referendum in which Britain voted to stay in the EU, and the Labour PM Harold Wilson papered temporarily over Labour's deep divisions on Europe by allowing ministers to campaign Yes or No.

Today the parties have changed places. Labour is broadly united on Europe, while the intense debate is within the Tory factions. In the longest ever run-up to a big political speech, we also learnt a lot about Ed Miliband's thinking. He will resist Labour calls to match Mr Cameron's referendum pledge, abandoning the opportunism that saw the Opposition join forces with Tory Europhobes to defeat the Government on the EU budget last October. Mr Miliband has decided not to play politics on Europe again. He told his Shadow Cabinet on Tuesday Labour must focus on being "not only an effective opposition but also how we become an effective and responsible government".

The Tories believe Labour is vulnerable on Europe. At the general election, Mr Cameron intends to portray Labour as the party that would not "trust the people" to decide Britain's future, and might even take us into the euro.

Labour is taking out some insurance. It will rule out joining the euro in the next parliament, but not forever. It would keep the law passed in this parliament, under which any significant transfer of power to the EU would require a referendum. Labour will call for some powers to be returned from Brussels to member states, such as regional policy, to allow a more proactive industrial policy. National parliaments, clubbing together, could apply an "emergency brake" to proposed EU laws.

Mr Miliband believes there is nothing to have a referendum about. He might be proved right. Mr Cameron would negotiate his "new settlement" during talks on a new EU treaty to entrench reforms to the eurozone. However, the mood changed at the EU leaders' summit last month, which gave what one Brussels insider calls a "cold shower" to the idea of a new treaty. Mr Cameron had already locked himself into promising his party a referendum. Now, he can't draw back without provoking a Tory lynch mob. So his Europe strategy may well be based on a very flimsy foundation. Perhaps he is mainly trying to buy time. I doubt the Eurosceptics will give him much. They are never satisfied. If he announced a referendum tomorrow, they would complain that it wasn't announced today.

Mr Cameron's much-delayed speech has given pro-European businessmen and politicians unexpected media space to make their case. Their potential trump card was always going to be that EU exit would put job-creating foreign investment in Britain at risk.

Even the prospect of a referendum could have the same chilling effect. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, has already found potential investors in Scotland hedging their bets ahead of the referendum on independence that will take place in the autumn of next year.

That could be writ large across the UK and Mr Cameron's referendum, if it happened, could easily be five years away. The debate sparked by an unmade speech gives pro-Europeans a ray of hope that a sceptical public might yet be won round to the benefits of EU membership. They should have three messages: "Jobs, jobs and jobs".

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific