What is David Cameron playing at? His anti-EU stance is totally irresponsible

Just because the PM has it in for Jean-Claude Juncker shouldn’t mean he ignores the advice of British business

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The Independent Online

Among the many sage pieces of advice in Dale Carnegie’s seminal work How to Win Friends and Influence People there is this: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

I don’t know if the Prime Minister has a copy of Carnegie by his bed, but he should. Last thing at night, he could do worse than to read it and try and absorb a little more. Because his behaviour on the EU shows that when it comes to getting a group of people to view him kindly and ultimately to give him what he desires, Cameron is wrong-headed.

Worse, by pursing a relentlessly confrontational, increasingly isolationist approach, the Prime Minister is in danger of doing this country a terrible disservice. Business and the City want to see Britain remain within the EU. They would like the grouping to be reformed, they’re not happy with some of its practices, but, first and foremost, they see our continuing membership as vital.

Don’t be fooled by letters to newspapers signed by a few entrepreneurs and businessfolk saying we would be better off outside the EU: the overwhelming majority of industry leaders, chairmen and CEOs of our biggest FTSE100 companies are anxious that we stay in.

That should be the starting point for any responsible Prime Minister. Our future prosperity as a nation is built upon the ability to develop and grow businesses, to create wealth, to provide jobs and revenues for the Exchequer. In fact, it should not only be the beginning but also the end of any EU strategy. To not listen to the business community, to go ahead and adopt an opposite stance is foolhardy, and potentially catastrophic.

But that’s precisely what Cameron has done where the appointment of the next EU commission president is concerned. He has set his face against Jean-Claude Juncker, likely to be nominated as the only candidate on Friday.

Juncker, it must be said, is not an inspiring choice. The Prime Minister of tiny Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013, he is the sort of centre-right technocrat that gives the EU a poor image in the eyes of its critics. In opposing him, Cameron is not alone. But whereas the other leaders have tended to voice their misgivings in private, the British PM has turned his hostility into a very public point of honour.

The result is that, with the exception of some support from Hungary, he is entirely on his own. But this is the same Cameron who tells the world he remains committed to the EU, that he wants to change it for the better; that he will call a referendum that he hopes will settle once and for all the question of the UK’s continued membership. In theory, he wants that ballot to produce a resounding “In” victory.

I say in theory, because his is a mighty peculiar way of trying to secure it. Juncker is a typecast EU federalist, aiming for more integration not less. Cameron is against that policy – and those who propose it. But his principles have taken him to a lonely place, one from which it will be impossible for him to push for any meaningful UK reform, of the sort that our business leaders demand.

Cameron, however, is not listening to them. He’s pandering to a different audience – and it may wreck his chances of securing a second term as Prime Minister. With a general election looming large, the right wing of his party and Ukip are more important to him. By attacking Juncker he is hoping to convince them of his robustness where matters EU are concerned.

He’s driven himself into a corner. He’s unlikely to secure improvements, and Juncker will be president, come the UK referendum, of an EU still stuck in its old ways. Cameron will find that position very hard to defend in the face of an anti-EU onslaught from the “Out” campaign.

Perhaps that’s his game all along - that contrary to the impressions given he does not believe in the EU at all, and would happily lead Britain to the exit. Perhaps he can use Juncker’s elevation to guide us there even sooner. Certainly, in terms of his ability to see off discontent from the right of the Tory party and to crush Ukip, that would make sense. Those shrill voices that hound him constantly would surely dissipate.

But he is paying too much heed to the wrong people. He should be asking why business chiefs believe so firmly in the EU. What do they see that the Eurosceptic Conservatives, and Nigel Farage and his cohorts at Ukip, do not? He should appreciate as well that the corporate chiefs are not political. It’s not as if they’re committed to Labour or the Lib-Dems. If they are anything they’re Tories, but they still favour the EU. Why?

They’re Tories like Cameron, in fact. More like him than those on the right and the defectors to Ukip. He needs to start hearing them, and put the interests of the nation and its economy ahead of appeasing the anti-EU faction.

Here is another nugget from Carnegie, which ought to sum up Cameron’s EU philosophy: “If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive”.