Give us this day our Referendum
David Cameron states in The Sunday Telegraph: ‘With reform, Europe can be a force for good’. Cranmer would like to respond with the equally fatuous declaration: ‘With wings, pigs can fly’, but he realises that this does nothing to move the analysis forward. What is interesting, however, is the implicit message of Mr Cameron’s statement, which must be: ‘Without reform, Europe can be a force for evil’.
We are already witnessing the German drive for a revived constitution and an ‘official’ history of Europe, which Professor Norman Stone has rejected as ‘quite absurd’. Such sinister moves have absolutely nothing to do with issues of economics or trade, and everything to do with defining the ‘soul’ of political union, the search for which Chancellor Merkel has dedicated her presidency.
Mr Cameron calls for a ‘new EU’, and one which rejects the old idea of ‘ever-closer union’. He decries the EU’s ‘endemic flaws’: its obsession with ‘centralisation’, debates ‘behind closed doors’, the ‘focus on itself rather than the world outside’, and also the EU’s determination ‘to press ahead with a new European Constitution’. He calls such an agenda ‘perverse’. Mr Cameron identifies the part played by the Common Agricultural Policy in global poverty, and therefore calls for major reforms, including reduced tariffs for African countries. In short, he calls for an EU of ‘flexibility…, economic dynamism and free trade’.
Mr Cameron thereby makes known his wish-list: open markets, a Europe of nation states, and a strong Atlantic relationship. The problems? His MEPs are still members of the EPP, which is constitutionally bound to the rejection of all three, and he fails to state what he will do to achieve his dream. How will he ‘modify’ the foundational principle of ‘ever closer union’? How does he propose to amend the Treaty of Rome? How will he handle the German and French repudiation of this Anglo-Saxon thesis? How does he propose to succeed where Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair failed?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to view anything that Mr Cameron says on the EU as anything but sophistry and salesmanship. One wants, desperately, to believe him. But when one does, one is left disillusioned and disappointed.
Like the EPP debacle, Mr Cameron refuses to engage in the consequences of his rhetoric: how does he propose to repatriate powers? How does he propose to transform the 'Brussels culture'? At least Michael Howard had a manifesto pledge to repatriate British fishing waters, which would have had seismic consequences for Britain's EU relations, but Mr Cameron has ditched even that. Why does he not do the simplest thing, and promise us a referendum? Such a policy would be hugely popular, reinforce his democratic credentials, and scupper UKIP completely.
Until there is a policy explaining ‘how’, there is absolutely no credibility at all to be found in Mr Cameron’s EU rhetoric. What is certain, however, is that there is absolutely no point trying to pour new wine into old wineskins. They just burst (Matthew 9:17).