Steve Richards: Britain is charging towards indiscriminate Euroscepticism at an alarming speed

Share
Related Topics

Britain is farther away from the European Union than at any point since it joined.

Freeze-frame the many stormy dramas in the past and there was always a sense the UK would struggle through as a central player in the EU, with all three main parties committed to membership and their leaders taking more expedient stances than some of their oratory might have suggested.

On the Maastricht Treaty, the Iraq war and the Lisbon Treaty, insecure Britain differed from most of Europe, but opt-outs and Blairite pragmatism after Iraq meant there was always a way through. Now with Tory MPs asserting a new, wholly unrealistic, but resolutely determined Euroscepticism, a weakened David Cameron seeking to appease them with hints of a renegotiation that will not succeed and cannot take place this side of an election, and the eurozone planning fiscal integration, Britain is marching to a different, more dangerous and yet vaguely defined place. One despondent pro-European Labour MP predicts an in-or-out referendum within five years. We are moving nearer to the illusory freedoms of isolation.

In the increasingly frenzied, bad tempered politics of the European Union, Cameron seems to be seeking alliances with countries outside the eurozone, rather as Tony Blair took comfort from the fact Poland and Spain were allies over Iraq even if France and Germany were against. The non-euro alliance will be punier than Blair's over Iraq as most of the countries outside still want to join. Britain, Sweden and perhaps one or two others will be defiantly apart as the economic might of Germany reshapes the contours of the EU.

President Sarkozy had a point when he berated Cameron for attacking the euro disdainfully while seeking to be part of the discussions on its future. At every stage, pathetically and with little ammunition to back up their patronising and deluded postures, British leaders have lectured the rest of Europe. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did so on a regular basis until they discovered that Germany was better equipped to deal with the financial crisis than the UK. Cameron and George Osborne offer their advice as if they were presiding over a successful economic policy.

Cameron was singing the same old tunes yesterday, blaming the EU for imposing too many directives on the City of London. This was hardly the moment to go on the attack after a week in which European attention was focused on avoiding a financial crisis of apocalyptic proportions. The reason he did so had nothing to do with events in the eurozone. Instead, Cameron chooses to highlight his own genuine scepticism at a point when Tory MPs are becoming dangerously obsessed once more. He has pledged to them a return of powers, so far unspecified, from Brussels to the UK. It is not clear where the support for such a transfer will come from within the EU, whether any minor changes would be enough to reassure his MPs, and what the Liberal Democrats would do if such a negotiation began before the election. Probably the only way out for Cameron is to pledge quite soon that the next Conservative manifesto will commit to renegotiate within a set time limit and to put the result to a referendum. No one knows whether that would be enough to calm down his backbenchers.

But with Labour also refusing to rule out a referendum on future treaties, the wariest member of the EU becomes warier. The scale of the renewed charge towards indiscriminate Euroscepticism cannot be overestimated. During Britain's intense agonising over Maastricht, John Major's Foreign Secretary was Douglas Hurd and his Chancellor was Ken Clarke, two pro-Europeans. When Blair alienated France and Germany over Iraq he resolved, typically, to move closer to them when the war was over. Domestic and international dynamics propelled Britain to remain at least close to Europe when it looked as if it was moving away.

This time the gaping gap is for real.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A royal serving the nation

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn