Mr Cameron’s ‘Double-Speak’ on Europe

David-Cameron-On-EU-and-Britain’s-MembershipOpinion by Denis MacShane  

Open The Guardian and The Independent and it seems as if the EU referendum is already won for the In camp.

The Guardian reports one pro-EU source who said: ‘There has been a massive change in tone. Ministers have looked at the polls – which show a 50/50 split if you take out those unlikely to vote – and suddenly realised that if you leave a vacuum then it is sceptics who gain.’

Meanwhile, The Independent reports Lord Heseltine assuring its readers that David Cameron will never allow Britain to leave Europe.

Much of this optimistic tone stems from Cameron’s pre-conference BBC interview when he told Andrew Marr: “I am trying to get for Britain the things that we need. Obviously once I’ve got them then I will turn around and make the case for staying in a reformed Europe. But right now I am fighting to get these things and I can’t guarantee I will get them.”

Cameron begs the obvious question.  What exactly does Britain need? For the CBI and other business outfits it is some limit on Social Europe which will be a red rag to the trade unions.

For many it is that Britain ‘regains control of its frontiers.’ But other EU leaders, and none of the post 2004 EU member states are going to allow Britain the right to set quotas or demand visas. Then there was the demand that foreign workers could not access working tax credits. Mr Cameron may solve that problem by  abolishing them for all workers – British and EU alike but there is a growing Tory revolt against that idea as abolishing tax credits plunges hundreds of thousands of low pay into deep, family-destroying poverty.

Another demand is that the UK Parliament should have the final say on any EU legislation even if accepted by ministers at European Council meetings and endorsed by the European Parliament.  This too is incompatible with EU membership.  But neither the nation nor Mr Cameron’s fellow EU heads of government know what Mr Cameron really, really wants. What are these ‘things that we (that is Britain) need’? Should British voters not be told?

But as ever in the Conservative Party ever since William Hague decided to endorse full-on Euroscepticism as the party’s ruling ideology after 1997, Cameron has to do the splits.

So while Lord Heseltine is wheeled out to tell The Guardian and Independent that he cannot imagine Cameron wanting to preside over the isolation of Britain from Europe the prime minister himself uses The Sun on Sunday to rant against Europe. Rupert Murdoch Sunday tabloid states: ‘The PM reveals for the first time he would be prepared to head the out campaign in a referendum if he fails to win us a better deal.’

According to the paper Cameron “warns EU leaders to ‘fix it’ for Britain or he will lead us to the exit door”.  The prime minister goes on to insult EU chiefs whom he says “drive me up the wall” and adds insult to insult by saying  Europe is “too big, too bossy, too interfering”.

Why on earth should British voters support an organization depicted in such negative terms by their prime minister?  There are many more readers of the Sun’s daily and Sunday version than the Guardian and Independent combined.

The Daily Telegraph has the biggest circulation of the non-tabloid press. In today’s Telegraph, the main Tory party conference EU story is that the Prime Minister will refuse to accept any ruling from the European Court of Justice that says a blanket ban on prisoners voting is incompatible with their rights under EU law.

Most EU countries allow some limited rights to vote but in Britain even prisoners on remand who have not been found guilty are denied the right to exercise a core civic right.

Whatever the merits of the case no EU member state can defy an ECJ ruling and remain in the EU.

So while to the The Guardian and Independent Cameron and his briefers proffer a more constructive line on the EU, to readers of The Sun and Telegraph it is the hardline anti-EU language that the Tories have used since 1997 that is deployed.

For Cameronologists trying to decode what the prime minister really, really wants this double-talk is confusing. For those trying to get a serious In campaign off the ground it makes their work so much more difficult.

Denis MacShane is a former minister of Europe and author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe published by IB Tauris.    

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Category: A Frontpage, Brexit, Denis Macshane, Opinion, UK

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