“When a man says he agrees to something in principle, it means he has not the slightest intention of carrying it out”.
Otto von Bismarck on David Cameron
Alphen, Netherlands. 11 January. Europe is at the epicentre of a world on the cusp of massive and dangerous structural and strategic change. The EU is in deep crisis and in desperate need of real, structural reform. Over the next decade Europe could lose up to 30% of its current slice of world trade. Power, influence and wealth is fast moving away from Europe. Ageing populations, over-regulation, incompetent governance, a lack of competitiveness, obsolete and weak armed forces, a crisis of democratic legitimacy, the retreat from political realism into fantasy idealism, and a profound split over the very idea of ‘Europe’ between those in the Eurozone and those without have all been laid bare by both the Eurozone and immigration crises. And then there is little David Cameron and his paltry little list of meaningless Brexit ‘non- reforms’. Yesterday in an interview he gave to the BBC the tragic irony of the entire Brexit kerfuffle was revealed. Brexit will not make a scrap of difference to Britain’s place in the EU, nor indeed help Europeans realise a reformed EU. Here is why.
First, Cameron is being completely disingenuous. Indeed, even before he has completed his renegotiation of Britain’s membership of the EU Cameron is already campaigning to keep Britain in. This is because there is no substantive re-negotiation. Rather, like the Grand Old Duke of York. Cameron is leading Britain up a hill to nowhere and once he has declared ‘victory’ he will lead Britain down again. In other words the entire process is a political fraud, and not all all untypical of this most consummate of political gamblers.
Second, Brexit has become a dangerous distraction. Europe is facing very dangerous challenges from security catastrophes to its south and an aggressive Russia to its east, with uncontrolled immigration allowing criminals and terrorists to enter Europe effectively unhindered. And yet Cameron is helping to destroy the very strategic unity of effort and purpose which is vital to ensuring a cohesive European response.
Third, the EU will change with or without Britain. The most bizarre aspect of the entire Brexit fiasco is that in fact the EU is in any case about to undertake a massive reform process that will fundamentally change the relationship between those in the Eurozone and those not. In his September 2015 State of the Union speech European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker laid out plans for a 2017 White Paper on ever closer union. Specifically, the White Paper will call on the 19 Eurozone members to achieve full political and economic union by 2025. In other words, 2025 will see the creation of some form of European super-state in all but, but quite probably with, a name. Those states that reject ever closer union will become ‘Associate Members’ and thus join the likes of Norway and Switzerland in a new grouping on the margins of Europe.
Fourth, any treaty changes to the EU will trigger another British referendum. Britain has a so-called constitutional lock on EU treaty change which means the need for another referendum is enshrined in law should any treaty amendments be agreed by the European Council. And, as Britain has no intention of accepting either the Euro or ever closer union the British will by definition need another referendum. Ironically, given Britain’s relative strategic and economic weight within Europe London will emerge as the leader of such a grouping which will in turn create a new balance within Europe.
Fifth, even if Britain leaves the EU it will still end up in the same place. If Britain votes to stay in the EU Britain will end up as an Associate Member – i.e. with full access to the Single Market but not at the power core of a new German-centric ‘federal Europe’. If Britain votes to leave the EU Britain will end up as an Associate Member – i.e. with full access to the Single Market because Britain is too important a trading partner to Germany for Berlin to countenance restricted access to the British market.
David Cameron? What struck me listening to Cameron on the BBC yesterday is what a little man he is in a very big world. Sadly, a little man leading a big country in an even bigger world renders the country he leads little. That is Britain’s contemporary tragedy. Rather, Cameron seems to treat politics like some form of upper class parlour game, surrounding himself with a ‘chumocracy’ of old Etonians and assorted hangers-on, and more intent on dodging political bullets most of which he has himself fired, than leading a great country.
David Cameron say he wants Britain to stay in a reformed EU, and yet his ‘negotiations’ are really about keeping Britain in an unreformed EU. Yesterday on the BBC Cameron demonstrated yet again both his lack of real influence in Europe, and by extension Britain’s. Worse, Cameron has reduced Brexit to a dangerous nonsense at a time when Europeans should be pulling together to face what is fast becoming a very dangerous world, that in turn is making Europe an ever more dangerous place.