With Ukip and backbench Tories nipping at his heels, David Cameron has been forced into a referendum on the UK's future relationship with the EU, if the Tories win the next election in 2015. A vote he could do well without.
What we now have, during the worst economic recession in our history, is a destabilising four years of uncertainty that will make overseas companies look twice at the UK as somewhere to invest.
Mr Cameron is seeking to repatriate powers on issues such as social and employment laws, policing and crime, but to renegotiate on these issues and hold a referendum by his pledged deadline of the end of 2017 is impossible, as he well knows. The chance of any meaningful renegotiation being agreed by the other 27 member states is even less.
As a Brussels regular it is clear to me that the French and Germans and most other member states have no desire to reopen treaties which have been years in the making, to allow for British demands.
Mr Cameron is taking a dangerous gamble, believing that by holding a gun to the head of Brussels bureaucrats and national governments he can get what he wants under threat of the UK leaving. But for many in the EU the loss of Britain would not be a negative, but a benefit, the loss of an obstructive lodger who brings more trouble than she is worth.
During the last 35 years I have been a director of over 15 companies, many trading all over the world; these businesses have scaled from the quite small to hundreds of millions. I've managed export activities to many parts of the globe and lived outside the UK for several years.
In all this time I have never once found difficulty (or advantage) in being inside, or outside, the European Union. It has mattered not one jot to the issues of trade and I have always enjoyed free movement everywhere.
The scaremongers who would tell us we need this environment to enjoy "free trade", are generally those with personal vested interests and, notably, often political animals with little experience of the business world.
Europe is a huge delusion. It was founded after the Second World War as a French/German political entity to avoid another conflict. As the non-productive elements of our society have found, it has become a wonderful trough to feed from. From the business community I have yet to find an individual who can demonstrate benefit from this institution. It has just made us less competitive. Time to move on.
Abbots Worthy, Hampshire
This is Cameron's equivalent of Blair's Iraq war moment. It opens a trap-door, creating a shambles of a policy over which he has no future control, and can't hope to recover.
It generates uncertainty and muddle for the foreseeable future. And for years to come he will bleat that he knew that he was right, had no regrets, and would do exactly the same again.
Gavin P Vinson
Prince Harry's Xbox war in Afghanistan
Prince Harry's comment that using the gun on his Apache is a "joy for me because I'm one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I'm probably quite useful," is a staggeringly insensitive and stupid one.
Much better had he lowered his head and said, "Yet the Afghans we kill have mothers too... but alas, it's a war."
That would have been the wise as well as the right move. Alas now, he has made the British Royal Family a target for all the crazy fundamental Islamists out there.
For many years I have loudly decried research which purported to establish a link between video games and real-life killings. Tosh, I repeatedly said.
In one interview Prince Harry has not only made me eat those oft-uttered arguments, but he has also made me feel ashamed to be in any way British. In war death happens – there is no excuse for anyone describing it with such relish and lack of concern for the feelings of the families of people he may have killed.
So the Taliban think that Prince Harry probably has a mental problem? This from an organisation that commits systematic massacres of civilians, engages in human trafficking, desecrates religious sites, oppresses women and shoots schoolgirls. No mental problems there.
As for Prince Harry, he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Who'd be a Royal?
St Austell, Cornwall
Your hospital could be next
In a few days the Health Secretary is due to make a decision about the fate of Lewisham Hospital. This is a busy, solvent, successful local hospital which serves its mixed south-east London community well, but which has the misfortune to be near another hospital which has a massive PFI debt.
A government administrator has proposed taking away Lewisham's emergency services and demolishing most of the hospital buildings to raise money for the bankrupt neighbouring trust. It's like having your house knocked down and the land sold off to pay someone else's mortgage. And Lewisham's patients will be expected to go to the bankrupt neighbouring trust. The whole idea is unsafe, illogical and hugely unfair.
Hopefully Jeremy Hunt will see sense and reject this proposal, but if he agrees to it then this destruction could happen anywhere, to any hospital. Yours could be next. You have been warned.
No more dithering over the climate
Your leading article of 14 January rightly highlights the need for urgent international action to tackle climate change. But bold steps by the UK Government to slash emissions at home are also required. Despite David Cameron's pledge to lead the greenest Government ever, his ministers have been steadily watering down efforts to build a low-carbon economy.
As a country that prides itself on being innovators from the first industrial revolution, there is a real opportunity for the UK to take a lead in developing a clean energy revolution. And for a nation blessed with some of the world's finest renewable energy resources there are substantial economic and job benefits too.
However, the Government's refusal to include a clear target for decarbonising the power sector in its Energy Bill, and its reckless push for new, polluting gas power is putting off future investors. As well as delaying action on climate change, this fossil-fuelled strategy means that when the inevitable green energy revolution takes hold, Britain will not be at the vanguard.
If we really expect the world to adopt the measures needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, wealthy nations such as the UK, with a technological advantage and near boundless renewable resources, must take a lead. Time is running out – our environment and economy simply can't afford more dithering over global warming.
Head of Campaigns, Friends of the Earth, London N1
The man I owe it all to
I totally agree with every word Virginia Ironside says (22 January) about the joys of being a grandparent. My two grandchildren, both under five years old, are the light of my life.
But I'd also like to put in a word for that sometimes maligned species, the son-in-law, their Dad.
My idea of heaven is when my daughter brings the whole family round on a Sunday afternoon. I have a chance to catch up on her news and have great delight playing in the garden with the grandchildren – we gave up swords a few months ago, Virginia, it's light sabres now.
But while all this fun is going on my son-in-law is pottering around fixing all those annoying DIY jobs that I can't do and which would cost a fortune if I called in a tradesman.
What would I do without him? And anyway, it's down to him that I've got the grandchildren in the first place.
Emin clashes with Gove
So Tracey Emin is complaining about the treatment of the arts in the school curriculum ("Emin warns of riots if Gove gets his way", 22 January). She got in to her unmade bed with the Tories before the last election. I'm afraid she'll have to lie in it some more before young artists get the breaks again.
Tom Watson MP (West Bromwich East, Lab)
House of Commons
I wholeheartedly agree with Tracey Emin's view that the arts have been downgraded in the latest education reforms.
We lead the way in so many creative fields, ranging from film, stage, writing, fashion and fine art, to graphic design and illustration. I find the obsession with science and maths thoroughly depressing and long for the importance of the arts to be more fully appreciated by governments of all hues.
Great Massingham, Norfolk
Luggage market at the airport
John Broughton (letter, 23 January) suggests a single weight allowance for each airline passenger and their luggage, allowing lighter passengers to take more luggage.
Surely all you would then do is pack some of your things in your wife's increased luggage allowance. Only lone passengers would be affected. And then, perhaps, we would have scenes at airports of strangers negotiating and re-packing at the check-in counter. What fun!
Bathford, North East Somerset
Your report "Children are now raised 'in captivity'" (19 January) raises an interesting question. Would exposing today's children to the adventures and perils I delighted in when young risk a referral to social services? My view is that today's environment is much more crowded and faster than it used to be. This calls for an imaginative effort by parents that is outside the scope of many.
Back to normal
So, "Boy shoots dead five people in New Mexico" (21 January). Front page news? No – two column inches at the bottom of page 29. Looks like we're back to just the routine slaughter in the US then.
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