Leading article: Now is not the time for Eurosceptic opportunism

Ideological agitations make the task of solving Europe’s problems more difficult than ever

Share
Related Topics

Never mind the devastation that a break-up of the eurozone would wreak; never mind the unimaginable economic, social and political consequences if the vision of a united Europe were lost to the design faults of the single currency; and never mind the knife-edge upon which the euro is now so finely balanced. Regardless of the risks, Eurosceptics both inside and outside Government are trying to use the crisis to prise Britain out of Europe altogether. The shameless opportunism of such agitation is bad enough. More unforgivable still, it makes the task of solving Europe's problems more difficult than ever.

Senior Conservative members of the Coalition are as egregious offenders as any. George Osborne has already weighed in once, with his oft-quoted identification of the "remorseless logic" of closer European integration (providing that does not include us). Now the Chancellor has gone a step further, explicitly raising the possibility of an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. His aides claimed the comments were hypothetical only. But no amount of post hoc justification can scrub away the taint of politics. Such game-playing may be acceptable in opposition; it is not worthy of a Chancellor. Nick Clegg may struggle for authority in government, but he should still be shouting louder about Britain's place in Europe.

In fact, the Government's position – as articulated by the Prime Minister and Chancellor, at least – is a confusing one. With the black hole in Spain's banks threatening to pitch the eurozone into a sovereign funding crisis it will struggle to contain, both David Cameron and Mr Osborne have lent whole-hearted support to plans for a euro-wide banking union. They are also four-square behind more general efforts to deepen and extend the common market. When it comes to Britain's financial services, however, all bets are off.

David Cameron has already vetoed the European fiscal pact, after his six conditions designed to protect the City (described by one British MEP as a "rat sandwich") were comprehensively rejected. For all the raucous plaudits, from Eurosceptic backbenchers and newspapers alike, Mr Cameron's "standing up for Britain" only forwent our voice in negotiations, to some chagrin in the City. Efforts to ensure Britain is not touched by a banking union look alarmingly like more of the same.

The Government is not wrong to fight for our financial services sector. For all the justifiable ire now directed against banks and bankers, the City remains the engine of the British economy. Resurgent manufacturing industries are much to be desired, but such a shift is neither quick enough, nor sure enough, to be relied upon. Meanwhile, banks account for 10 per cent of GDP, employ up to a million people and produce an annual surplus of £40bn. Such numbers are not to be treated lightly.

But David Cameron et al are turning what should be the starting point of negotiations into an ideological crusade that has less to do with finding a solution than with capitalising on the perceived weakness of the others at the table. Between compromise and careful design, there may be integration and regulation that work for all. Rabble-rousing at home is no way to achieve it.

More importantly, it is not only our financial services at stake. What should be a nuanced discussion about banking regulation is becoming an in/out battle over Europe. Of course there are sticking points. But to cast the issue as make-or-break is a pernicious nonsense.

There are real questions to be answered as the resolution of the eurozone's problems play out. At this point, however, with so little certainty about what a post-crisis Europe might look like, carping about referendums and clawing back powers from Brussels is both imprudent and crassly ill-timed. Europe is on the brink of a precipice. Britain should be doing all it can to help, not standing well back, shouting for everyone else to do something, and then threatening to cut the rope.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices