The gamble David Cameron took in vetoing the European Union treaty change is likely to be one of his most significant moments in office. The prospect of handing over greater powers and sovereignty to Europe was a step too far for a Prime Minister whose deep Euroscepticism is now something he needn’t try and understate.
Instead of measures that would have required constitutional amendments to enable bureaucrats in Brussels to have ultimate power over the annual budget and tighter regulations on controlling structural deficit, Cameron has opted for isolation within Europe, significantly reducing the influence Britain can wield in the EU.
…”the worst of all worlds”…
While this decision was always going to receive support from cavalier Tory backbenchers whose cynicism renders their views on the matter unhelpful, Cameron’s decision has unsurprisingly divided opinion in the coalition with Nick Clegg. While doing his best not to appear dismayed, Clegg is obviously concerned that Britain will be sidelined in key European decisions in the future. Nigel Farage, of UKIP, paradoxically condemned the decision as “the worst of all worlds”, leaving the UK in the EU but without any power.
The problem for Cameron is what follows. There can be no denying that Britain’s relationship with Europe has fundamentally changed. The intergovernmental agreement that Merkel and Sarkozy have pushed forward cannot pass EU decisions that require a unanimous agreement without the approval of the UK. However, symbolically, Cameron has isolated himself and the country,with any influence he once wielded, now falling on deaf and resentful ears.
…Britain can develop commercial opportunities throughout the world without having stringent controls applied from Brussels…
Cameron’s Euroscepticism does however have limits. While a failure to receive assurances on the future of the City of London was one of his motivations, the reality is that had he signed up to the treaty amendments, the calls for a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU would have been even greater than they are now. The Prime Minister would surely have been forced into holding a referendum in light of the amount of sovereignty submitted to Europe, the result of which could certainly have brought down the coalition. Cameron has in effect bought himself some time, seeing Britain’s isolation as an opportunity to renegotiate a relationship with Europe while hopefully forging trade and manufacturing deals with emerging economies in South America and South East Asia. With an eye to the future and in an antithesis to Farage’s views, this should be seen as the best of both worlds. Britain can observe the direction that the eurozone’s recovery will hopefully take from fairly close proximity, but it can develop commercial opportunities throughout the world without having stringent controls applied from Brussels.
Though this view is forever optimistic, I struggle to find cause for optimism had Cameron signed the treaty. His relationship with the City of London sees him play the role of nervous puppet king excellently and does nothing to improve his standing among the electorate, and yet Cameron realises that the financial services industry is key to Britain’s economy. Signing the treaty would almost certainly have led to external regulation of the City, with the imposition of the Tobin tax forcing investors away from the UK. Angela Merkel would do anything to entice as many of these investors as possible to Frankfurt and Sarkozy would surely look to influence the UK financial sector through a pan-European regulator. The agreement is clearly focused on budget discipline and doesn’t appear to do anything to actually stabilise the euro, which is vital to Britain’s financial future. In effect, as Fraser Nelson has said for The Spectator, the treaty is little more than “a power grab by the French and Germans.” Cameron has done well to avoid it.
…Cameron is elected to serve the British public and meet their needs…
Secondly, it is a right of principle that key decisions on the economy of this country are made by politicians who are accountable to the British public, not to a group of unelected technocrats in Brussels. Structural deficit guidelines and sanctions are not needed in a country with a responsible government that recognises the need to reduce the deficit as quickly as possible. This external intervention is best saved for the irresponsibility of Papandreou and Berlusconi.
For once in the modern political landscape, a politician has shown a sense of personal integrity and gumption in reaching an important decision in the face of heavy pressure. Cameron made it clear before he arrived in Brussels that he would not sign anything that was not in Britain’s interests and he stayed true to that statement. It is refreshing, in the context of inane bureaucracy and false sentiment, to see a politician stick his neck on the line in defence of principal for David Cameron is elected to serve the British public and meet their needs. There is no doubt that the decision he has taken was not easy to reach and is a huge gamble. While Boris Johnston is unsurprisingly over enthusiastic in suggesting Cameron has “played a blinder”, it was a decision that displayed leadership and perspective. Cameron’s legacy will be defined by it.
Images courtesy of the EU and David Cameron