Britain in the EU after Juncker

Obviously David Cameron’s defeat over the Commission presidency is a disaster for him, right? Daniel Hannan wrote

The game is up. No one will now believe that the United Kingdom can deliver a substantively different deal in Europe. The FCO’s ploy of doing a Harold Wilson – that is, making some piffling changes and presenting them as a significant new deal – has been discredited almost before it began. If David Cameron couldn’t prevent the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission, no one will believe that he can deliver a more flexible EU, with more freedom of action for its member nations

And he may have a point. But the problem is, I’ve seen no-one who isn’t already a Eurosceptic make the same point. Hannan thinks we should leave the EU. Nothing’s changed, and he’s found it easy to hammer recent events into his narrative. Obviously UKIPpers are cock-a-hoop. They’ve always said Cameron was “weak” and re-negotiation is a pipe-dream (comments saying this will be deleted as utterly uninteresting…). Fine. Certainly the election of the Luxembourgeois arch-federalist doesn’t directly contradict this narrative.

But I suspect reality may be more complicated.

The EU was never going to give Cameron much when there is a realistic prospect of a Miliband administration in 2015, to whom nothing would need to be given and from whom much could be taken.

But assuming Cameron is still Prime Minister in June next year, having thrown him under the bus, Merkel would be forced to give way on other matters in any re-negotiation she’s already admitted as such. Juncker’s red-lines are likewise reasonable. He says free movement of people isn’t up for negotiation, and nor will Britain have any veto over further integration in the Eurozone, but otherwise he’ll listen and is open to negotiation.

The “Spitzenkandidaten” system by which the commission presidency goes to the pre-chosen head of the largest “party” in the European parliament is a power-grab by the parliament against the heads of Government. Supposedly a response to the charge that the EU is undemocratic, but actually allows the Bureaucracy power over the process, it’s a form of cargo-cult democracy, aping its forms, but without any of the substance of democracy. This is why Merkel initially sided with Cameron in opposing Juncker. She too, along with most of the executive heads of Government in the EU oppose the Spitzenkandidaten system. She was effectively forced to back down by her own domestic party. If anyone’s “weak” it’s Merkel. Cameron stuck to his guns, not, I suspect because there’s anything wrong with Mr Juncker; no other candidate is any less federalist, but because failure to do so would mean the implosion of the Tory party.

If the EU bureaucracy sought to wound Cameron by publicly humiliating him, it is they who miscalculated.

As it transpires, near Isolation in EU summits is a very comfortable place for a Tory PM to be. He returned, defeated 26-2 in a vote, to cheers of support from the entire Tory party, including the awkward squad like Peter Bone. Far from having his tail between his legs, Cameron, by raising the prospect of the UK leaving the EU, seems to have taken the wind out of UKIP’s sails. It’s certainly not obvious the “defeat” has hurt the PM in the polls and may have even given him a boost. A UK PM sticking two fingers up to the Eurocrats is rarely unpopular.

Whatever Cameron gets by way of re-negotiation will be painted by Daniel Hannan as “insufficient”, making Britain’s exit inevitable. I think he, and UKIPpers can be ignored on the subject. Again, don’t bother commenting about what you think will happen in negotiation, if you think there’s no chance of success, I’m not interested.

For my part, the EU needs to be reasonable. It needs to acknowledge the UK’s history of independence and act accordingly. Unless there is a significant return of powers including some movement on the primacy of EU law, and the EU negotiating with respect with our elected head of Government, I will vote “out”. Cameron has relied on the conditional – “if there is significant movement, then I will say ‘in'” and this was taken as a clear and outrageous threat by the Eurocrats.

The UK is going to leave, unless the EU gives way, a lot, which it still might.

5 replies
  1. @parlow72
    @parlow72 says:

    Great, but you've fallen into the same hole as Cameron in failing to define what is significant. Now I fully understand that declaring red lines will weaken his hand in any negotiation. My biggest fear is that any renegotiation will be classed as a 'historic' victory by Cameron, in the same way it will be declared a failure by Eurosceptics.

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Of course you are right, but Cameron (and more importantly, the Tories) won't buy anything insignificant. I suspect Cameron wouldn't mind going down as the PM who took the UK out of the EU.

  3. Charles
    Charles says:

    I had lunch a few weeks back with a senior diplomat & a political editor.

    Their view was that the primary factor in determining whether Cameron backs 'in' or 'out' is whether he can carry the Tory party with him (which they defined as >66%, but I suspect Cameron would want to be nearer to 75%).

    The one thing he doesn't want is to be the Leader who split the Tories…

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    An interesting analysis, thank you.

    My only point of contention is that I doubt whether DC would ever actually have the will or the power to actually take us out of Europe – and that is not a dig at DC.

    I genuinely wonder whether any politician today would actually have the ability to take us out. So many vested interests in keeping us in – not least the fact that the European Parliament gravy train seems to be the reward for retired/disgraced/bonkers MPs of all parties.

    An Anon that is not abusive!

  5. perdix
    perdix says:

    Since we will never get everything everybody wants in a negotiation it will be a matter of individual judgement on whether to vote to leave. Some people will not change their minds irrespective of any "concessions". Others in the middle ground may be swayed by some progress.


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