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

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Tax Solicitor

£40000 - £70000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Tax Solicitor An excel...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: This is an exce...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz