Mary Dejevsky: Britain must join the euro – and Cameron is the man to do it

Tory Eurosceptics have one prejudice that unites them - xenophobic Little Englandism

Share
Related Topics

Almost six weeks have passed since Nicolas Sarkozy memorably told David Cameron to shut up. But the French President did not stop there; he also told him why it was time for him to hold his peace. "We are sick of you criticising us and telling us what to do," it was reported. "You say you hate the euro, and now you want to interfere in our meetings."

In so saying, Sarkozy highlighted Cameron's dilemma as acutely as anyone either before or since. For this is exactly what Cameron was trying to do – what he has been trying to do ever since the euro crisis erupted, and what he will attempt to do again today, at the latest "make-or-break" get-together of EU leaders. He wants to keep Britain on the outside of the eurozone, while maintaining a big-power say on what happens inside. As Sarkozy rightly implied, this is an essentially ignoble and dishonest ambition.

So far, though, Cameron has just about been able to hold the line, however unpopular this might have made him elsewhere in Europe. Both he and his Chancellor, George Osborne, have managed at once to insist on the continued wisdom of keeping Britain outside the euro, while demanding a voice among those whose immediate financial fate is truly at stake. But those days of sitting on the fence, of having cake and eating it, are coming to an end – and that could be as soon as today.

Whether the outcome is the plan for amendments to existing EU treaties – the first choice of France and Germany – or a new agreement among the 17 countries of the eurozone, Cameron has to choose. He can accept the treaty amendments, and, in so doing, make it likely that other doubters will accept them. Or he can veto the idea, which would – almost – automatically trigger a eurozone treaty to which Britain would not be party. It is extremely hard to see how, in this event, Cameron – or any successor – would be able to justify any role at all for Britain on the inside. Inner and outer circles, the two-speed Europe so long spoken of, would be the reality.

The past week has seen a ferocious campaign by Conservative Eurosceptics to force Cameron either to reject the Franco-German plan, or to make his acquiescence conditional on a referendum. The concerns they have voiced in public rest on considerations of national sovereignty and national interest. They claim the changes would damage the City of London as a global financial centre, and, with it, the prosperity of the country as a whole. Underlying their objections are doubtless two other strands: any plan cooked up by France and Germany is bound to be bad for Britain; equally, any new plan will sooner or later impose greater EU financial cohesion.

Cameron has carved out for himself some room for manoeuvre. He says he will veto any treaty changes that he deems not to be in the national interest. And his existing commitment to holding a referendum on EU treaty amendments extends only to provisions that transfer more power to Brussels. There is enough space here – just – for the Prime Minister to navigate his way through. But he will need to be brave. The clamour from Tory Eurosceptics will only grow, as will pressure for a referendum. He will need all the political cover that his Coalition with the Europhile Liberal Democrats affords – and all the three years that remain until the next election for the indignation to die down.

But there is another option. Tory Eurosceptics make a lot of noise, and they have one widely shared prejudice that unites them – xenophobic little Englandism, masquerading as the high principle of national sovereignty. But their demands for Cameron to wield his veto on proposed EU treaty amendments contain one fatal flaw. The alternative to treaty amendments, as Cameron, Osborne and pretty much anyone else in government appreciates, is the two-speed Europe that would threaten London's primacy as a financial centre even more. So who is acting against the national interest now?

This could be Cameron's opening. Given the trouble he is going to be in anyway – with his sceptics, if he agrees to the proposed treaty amendments without agreeing to a referendum, and with business, if he effectively accepts Britain's relegation to a lower financial league – he should summarily end the ambiguity of the past year and embrace the only logical solution: Britain's belated entry into the euro.

Between the lines of what Sarkozy, but also leading German politicians sometimes say, can be detected the thought that, if another big economy, ie Britain, had been in the euro from the start, the operation of the currency would have been better policed. The agreed limits on indebtedness might have been kept; Greece, for one, might not have been admitted. That is all history now. But Britain's entry into the euro would, at a stroke, bring more money and – as the regulation of British banks improves – more financial stability into the European Central Bank, to mutual benefit.

Britain would retain, or even enhance, its position as Europe's financial centre – a price that could reasonably be exacted as a condition of entry. Nor need there be complaints – as there were 15 years ago – that sterling would be entering the euro at too high a rate. Thanks to Gordon Brown and the global financial crisis, the pound has been devalued by almost 30 per cent against the euro. Cameron could thus boast that a key requirement set by the former, Labour, government had been met.

Not only does Cameron have all these arguments and more, on his side, but he has the political means to get his way. He is not John Major, teetering on the brink of losing his majority and in hock to his Eurosceptics. With Liberal Democrats and Europhile Labour MPs on his side, he could win a majority in Parliament and campaign country-wide for a referendum "Yes" as the only true representative of the national interest.

With his PR skills and his one-nation Tory credentials, Cameron is one of the few British politicians who could convince mainstream voters to accept the euro. The Republican, Richard Nixon, initiated the US opening to China; the Likud Zionist Ariel Sharon took Israel out of Gaza as the prelude to a Middle East peace (regrettably halted by his illness). David Cameron should be the Conservative who made Britons into Europeans.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Recruitment Genius: Conveyancing Fee Earner / Technical Support

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Fee Earner/Techn...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'