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

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

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

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

£45,000 - £55,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified accountant...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
Anthony Burgess, the author of 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Earthly Powers,' died 17 years ago  

If Anthony Burgess doesn’t merit a blue plaque, then few do

John Walsh
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor