Even the EU’s warmest supporters concede its flaws, and the prime minister, speaking on the BBC yesterday, made sensible points about entitlements to benefits, for example. But on the wider principles of free movement of peoples Mr Cameron is wrong, and very unlikely to carry Europe with him as he attempts to “renegotiate” Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU.
The prime minister just doesn’t get the point of Europe. He wants to restrict the benefits of EU membership to countries that least need it – those with high per capita incomes. This is not what the EU has ever been about. From southern Italy in the 1960s to Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1980s, to eastern Europe now, the EU has had free movement of peoples to raise living standards across the continent. It means job opportunities via migration to richer lands, and allowing capital to move into low labour cost economies, raising wages there. The EU can’t just be a club for for rich countries.
The traditional party of free-market economics seems unwilling to recognise these simple economic truths and political realities. Fortunately, Labour and Liberal Democrats do, and Mr Cameron’s unwise threat not to serve as PM unless he can have his highly risky in-out referendum makes it more likely to push the centre-left back together in a broadly pro-European cause after the election. Yesterday, in a vain (in all senses) attempt to outflank Ukip David Cameron wrote an early resignation letter. He will have made Nigel Farage very happy indeed.