Cameron nails his 95 Theses to the door of Europe
David Cameron's speech on Britain's future in the EU is a game-changer: vote Conservative in 2015 and you will get an In/Out referendum within two years. This is contingent on nothing but his premiership: whether he wins the election outright or leads another coalition, the Prime Minister will attempt to re-negotiate a path of subsidiarity with our EU partners, in which he may or may not be successful. But whatever the outcome, he will be put it to the people, and the choice will be In or Out.
This is seismic. Really, truly momentous. For the first time since 1962, the British leader of a major political party talked in terms of the geography that has shaped our national psyche; of our island history being antithetical to the continental drive for 'ever closer union'. It was exactly 50 years ago that Hugh Gaitskell talked of discarding 1000 years of history, when he warned: ‘You may say, “All right, Let it end!” But, my goodness, it’s a decision which needs a little care and thought.’
And David Cameron has clearly been applying some thought:
From Caesar’s legions to the Napoleonic Wars. From the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to the defeat of Nazism. We have helped to write European history, and Europe has helped write ours.But England and the UK has always faced out to the high seas, not gazed longingly at European empires. The Prime Minister is 'not a British isolationist' because Britain never has been isolationist. But he is concerned with the 'lack of democratic accountability and consent' in the EU, which, he says, is 'felt particularly acutely in Britain'. And taking up his Reformation theme:
The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point.Casting himself as Luther, Calvin or His Grace, he called for 'fundamental, far-reaching change' to the Europe steeped in Roman Catholic Social Teaching. He demanded more competitiveness - a healthy dose of the Protestant work ethic supported by the Anglo-Saxon drive for free trade. This is his 'driving mission' - to prioritise 'the tasks that get European officials up in the morning – and keep them working late into the night'. The alternative is 'sclerotic, ineffective decision making that is holding us back'.
Then he talks of flexibility; a kind of evangelical alliance 'that can accommodate the diversity of its members'. There must be, he said, 'a common set of rules and a way of enforcing them'. But he insisted that 'we also need to be able to respond quickly to the latest developments and trends'.
Eschewing rigid catholicity, he expounded: 'We must not be weighed down by an insistence on a one size fits all approach which implies that all countries want the same level of integration. The fact is that they don’t and we shouldn’t assert that they do.'
And striking at the heart of temporal power, he made a momentous 'heretical proposition':
The European Treaty commits the Member States to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.Welcome to the new EEC - the Eurosceptic Eurovision of Cameron. It has vision, but no mechanism for ensuring it. Power must flow back to Member States, but not an inch of subsidiarity has ever been achieved by any British prime minister. He is about to implement a complete audit of EU competences (which is, in itself, a seismic development). This will reveal 'where the EU helps and where it hampers'.
This has been consistently interpreted as applying not to the peoples but rather to the states and institutions compounded by a European Court of Justice that has consistently supported greater centralisation.
We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain – and perhaps for others – it is not the objective.
And we would be much more comfortable if the Treaty specifically said so freeing those who want to go further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others.
An in this great new Reformation, 'nothing should be off the table'. There must be 'a bigger and more significant role for national parliaments' because 'there is not...a single European demos'.
At last, the truth has been articulated. We are not European citizens, but diverse peoples across many nations, with different histories, traditions and values.
It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.Power should flow up from the people. He is right to point out that 'people feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to'; that they 'resent the interference in our national life by what they see as unnecessary rules and regulation'; and that they 'wonder what the point of it all is'.
He is even more right to observe that many 'feel that the EU is now heading for a level of political integration that is far outside Britain’s comfort zone'.
And he admits the reality of 'referendums promised – but not delivered'.
And so, for the first time since 1975, we are to have a referendum. He will campaign for an 'In', based on the success of his renegotiations. But the inference is clear: if he is not successful, he can conceive of a UK exit from the EU. And there is a simple reason for a post-election referendum:
The European Union that emerges from the Eurozone crisis is going to be a very different body. It will be transformed perhaps beyond recognition by the measures needed to save the Eurozone. We need to allow some time for that to happen – and help to shape the future of the European Union, so that when the choice comes it will be a real one.Of course the referendum is contingent on a Tory victory. But he was adamant that should another coalition be the result, as long as he remains Prime Minister 'this will happen'.
So, there you have it: a real choice; deep blue water. 'The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.' After that, there will be an In/Out referendum. And the Prime Minister made it clear: 'Of course Britain could make her own way in the world, outside the EU, if we chose to do so.' David Cameron has given eurosceptics (and democratic europhiles) every reason to vote Conservative in the General Election of 2015.
Unfortunately, he has given absolutely no reason not to vote UKIP in the Euro elections next year.