In the Treasury, soon to be renamed Micawber House, it’s been a very pleasant start to the year. Despite unhelpful mumblings from the usual quarters about a triple–dip, the spotlight has moved away, and for the first time for a long time, Gideon has been able to come out from behind his desk. And joy of joys, the cunning plan, the great distraction, seems to be working! Not a day goes by without some mention of ‘the great leader’s’ long-awaited speech on Europe – which has been put off more times than a Berlusconi trial. Meanwhile the country slips ever nearer to the edge of the precipice.
Yet again the clown Cash and his eurosceptic cohorts have managed to get Britain’s membership of the EU to the top of the agenda. Not your agenda or my agenda or even the coalition’s agenda, but to their agenda. Yet again Britain is seen to be mithering on the sidelines about Europe. It’s boring, the timing stinks and this ridiculous charade is going to be very costly in terms of inward investment and jobs. Does Dave care? Not really, you see he’s completely lost. He hasn’t a clue what to do. Any distraction to get people’s attention away from Britain’s dire economic straits and his inability to do anything about it, even one as potentially dangerous as this which could prove to be fatal, is manna from heaven. He’s going to milk this one for as long as he can until ‘something turns up’.
What is sad about this whole argument about Europe is that too many of our politicians – mostly Tories, can’t see beyond the end of their noses. They wouldn’t recognise a ‘big idea’ if it hit them in the face. Europe is a ‘big idea’, a very big idea. It’s far from perfect, but like all big ideas it has to be worked on, patiently and diligently. It has to be allowed to evolve and to grow. There will be growing pains. The Euro crisis is such a pain, but out of it will come a stronger and more unified Europe. This is an evolutionary process that will take generations to perfect.
What the European ‘big idea’ does not need is narrow-minded ‘little Englanders’ carping on the sidelines about the restoration powers and using EU membership as a political plaything. What the European big idea needs is total commitment and involvement. What it would benefit from most is strong British leadership – from within.
Members of the Eurozone already recognise that with closer fiscal union there will have to be allowances made for those not a part of the Eurozone. These arrangements will need to be negotiated and there will be ‘powers’ that will be returned or amended. But what is not needed right now is for Britain to derail crisis negotiations by threatening that unless ‘powers’ are restored to Westminster, it will use its veto. It makes Britain look stupid and weak. What Britain does not need is a Prime Minister who is not prepared to stand up to his back benchers or one who refuses to put the best interests of the country before the interests of his party.
The Americans and major European leaders have made their position clear. They want Britain in Europe and playing a full part. And let’s be clear, Britain outside Europe would be heading for Third World status within a generation. The so-called ‘special relationship’ with the US would be in the trash can, Frankfurt would be the financial capital of Europe, inward foreign investment would dry up and companies would up-sticks and leave Britain: and we definitely wouldn’t have a place on the UN Security Council. In a word – disaster.
So, on Wednesday David Cameron has an opportunity to reaffirm Britain’s place at the heart of Europe or risk agreeing to what will inevitably become an in-out referendum on EU membership.
Will this well choreographed distraction prove fatal to Britain’s best interests? After his speech will Cameron be regarded as a bold, strong leader, or a fool? He’s already made himself look foolish on the world stage. He’s got some work to do to change that perception. I’m not holding my breath.