Eurosceptic Cameron is eyeing up an EU vote in September

Written by George Pascoe-Watson on 8 November 2015 in Opinion
As the prime minister challenges the In campaign, both sides are claiming to be ahead in the European battle

David Cameron is a massive Eurosceptic.

There. I’ve said it. Anyone who’s spent time with the Premier since the early years of his political career knows he is no fan of the Commission, ever-closer-union and the Directives that order much of British life.

I don’t doubt that many on the Conservative benches will baulk at this thought. But Mr Cameron has been careful not to be leading the “remain” campaign.  He’s still very firmly in the “we are the reform the EU or pull out if nothing changes” camp.

So say those around the Premier and this is where he stands today, shortly before he publishes his demands for change in a letter to Donald Tusk on Tuesday.

He is determined to focus peoples’ minds on the actual question. To those who say Britain must leave the EU, he is now challenging: what would Britain out actually look like?

Their bold prediction is that Britain will cut multiple trade deals around the world and the UK will soar economically through the stratosphere.

There will be no jobs-destroying red tape and rules hampering our entrepreneurs.  Membership fees will be spent on enterprise, education, a better healthcare system, roads and other infrastructure rather than squandered on EU dreams. Our welfare and NHS bills will tumble as we no longer have to shell out for economic and health tourists.  And our talented businesses will be able to trade the world over.

But the PM is incredulous. He’s a pragmatist. He believes that where it comes to business, and money, no countries will do us favours.  We’ll have to wait in line for deals to be hatched. This will take years and whilst we languish, our economy will suffer. And so will people.

That’s why Mr Cameron has been so keen to point to Iceland, Switzerland and Norway to ask: “is this the future of Britain that you envisage?”

Equally, though, the PM is challenging the “in” campaign. Why should we be unable to govern who lives here, how taxpayers’ cash is being spent, how were are ruled and who calls the shots?

Both sides are claiming they’re in the lead in the battle for Britain which will be settled in that EU referendum next year.  And it will be next year, my sources are clear. Possibly in September, but more of this later.

Chancellor George Osborne appears to have pulled off a major coup with last week’s breakthrough trip to Berlin. He persuaded Chancellor Angela Merkel to back – for the very first time in history – a “two speed” Europe.

These words may not mean much to many. But to those of us who’ve followed the EU story for a very long time, it’s a triumph in its own right.

The Chancellor’s aim is to ensure that countries who don’t use the euro currency will no longer be expected to be on an unstoppable march towards an EU superstate – “ever closer union”.

A two-speed Europe, with some countries moving faster to closer ties than others, has always been rejected in Brussels and by successive German and French leaders. 

This stark change, if he gets his way, will be written into EU law. This is important for two clear reasons:

One is that Eurosceptic Tories will see the symbolic breakthrough.  The other is that it allows the Chancellor – and future Chancellors – to safeguard the City of London, the biggest contributor to the Exchequer, from EU policies adopted by the Eurozone countries.

Who knew of the 20 year old Ionnina Compromise which he used to carve out Britain’s protection from Eurozone policies? Full marks to the Treasury boffin who brought it into play.

Mr Osborne didn’t manage to pull off a total triumph on his German trip, however. Berlin will not support the UK government’s planned restrictions to free movement of people and especially attempts to turn off the welfare tap to incomers.

There’s expectation of a deal a week before Christmas when David Cameron meets fellow EU leaders in Brussels. But I think it’s highly unlikely. Much more likely is a bitter punch-up between leaders with the PM appearing to be on the back foot.

However, by March next year a fresh summit is odds-on to deliver an agreement that Mr Cameron can put to the British people as a new deal for the UK.

Some would like to rush into a June referendum. They cite the difficulties of a September referendum – as seen in Scotland last year – with voters away on holiday in the campaign period. However eyes and ears close to the government say September is the most likely date. 

But the “out” campaign are also flying high. Their supporters are much greater enthusiasts for the referendum and that matters, history shows. 

Voters who are excited by an election of any sort are much more likely to turn out on polling day and this could well matter. 

Their strategic aim is crystal clear.  One third of the voting public are strongly in favour of staying in the European Union. One third of the voting public are strongly in favour of quitting the EU. And there’s a crucial one fifth who are eager to leave – but are terrified of the impact quitting might have on their job, and therefore their quality of life. 

It’s worth looking behind the polling numbers.  Research in the United States has shown that a great deal can be gleaned by studying the views of those most enthusiastic about an election or referendum.  In this case, those most in favour of the referendum are dominated 55-27 by “outers”. 

The leave campaign have crunched their numbers. They are convinced they have a better than 50% chance of winning if they can neutralise peoples’ fears for their jobs by leaving. It’s therefore a fundamental part of their strategy to silence or even toxify pro-EU membership business leaders, especially the CBI. 

Private briefing I’ve seen makes this clear: “The EU has free trade deals with dozens of countries that do not have to accept the supremacy of EU law or pay billions to the EU. Britain will do the same.” 

If they can discredit dire warnings of major job losses from Brexit, then they’re confident they’ll get Britain out of the European Union for good. 


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