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On the EU: “U-turn if you want to” and Dave does, a lot

Juncker & Cameron with EU flagA month into Dave’s second term at it’s handbags at dawn in the Tory party already. What a shame. Rattled by last week’s announcement of 50 No-Ultras that they exist, Dave did a characteristic volte-face.

In an attempt to appear tough and in control – his re-election campaign did, after all, promise “strong leadership” – he declared that all ministers would have to toe the party line when the referendum comes round. Then, 24 hours later with much gnashing of teeth, he’d changed his mind. Except, of course, all along he’d been “clear” that his threat to use collective cabinet responsibility to squeeze out dissenters was in force only for the period of the renegotiation. Whether there will be a free vote as per Harold Wilson 40 years back is yet to be decided. Nothing to see here then.

The problem with Dave, as I have long argued, is that our Prime Minister is a flake. He is a weak leader blessed by two fortuitous circumstances. The first, which is down to him, is his sole discernible talent of looking the part. He’s posh without sounding snobby, he speaks plainly, avoids wonkish terms, and does not have the weird Westminster accent many of the front bench opposite has. He appears dynamic and at ease in the company of the big beasts of the international circus, and a lot – too many, as it turned out – think he really does mean well. A countenance absolutely appropriate to our heavily mediatised age. The second are those pesky events, which as Frankie Boyle points out, have almost contrived to make Dave appear as an evil genius.

I’ve long hoped, forlornly up until now, that Dave will one day be exposed. That his legion of weaknesses will not so much be unveiled as do a full military tattoo in the parade ground of public perception. It didn’t happen in the general election, but the EU negotiations might have him. But it’s not terribly clear what Dave’s objectives are. This list, gleaned by Policy Network suggests:

  • New controls to stop “vast migrations” when new countries join the EU
  • Tighter rules to ensure that migrants come to work, not as “tourists planning to cash in on free benefits”
  • New powers for “groups” of national Parliaments to block “unwanted EU legislation”
  • Freeing businesses from red tape and “excessive interference” by EU rules, as well as “turbo-charging” free trade deals with the USA and Asia
  • British police and courts “liberated from unnecessary interference” from the European Convention on Human Rights
  • Power “flowing away” from Brussels to Britain rather than “increasingly centralising laws”
  • Ensuring that Britain is “no longer subject” to the EU treaty objective of “ever closer union”

If this is the list, there are a couple of problems. Firstly, the European Commission aren’t the people to speak to about the European Convention on Human Rights. They are entirely different bodies.

Second, when it comes to “unwanted EU legislation” and rules responsible for “excessive influence“, Dave will have a tough time. The majority of these laws and regulations are promulgated because the vast beast that is the European single market requires them. For it to work properly, it needs to ensure its legislative underpinnings are standardised and enforced across member states. And, despite what the Europhobes like to think, it’s very hard to maintain the existence of a market without a political dynamic developing toward pooled sovereignty.

While some eurocrats may dream of a superstate, its DNA is inscribed in the billions of transactions that take place across European frontiers. That in mind, some member states will be mindful of Dave trying to maximise the benefits of being in the world’s largest trading bloc while minimising the responsibilities that come with it. If the Tories, for instance, decide EU employment legislation is too “restrictive” and that the right to a decent working environment is so much red tape, are other EU states going to be sanguine about any competitive advantages this affords a semi-detached UK? Definitely not.

And so Dave has allowed himself to concede a set of EU negotiations he cannot possibly achieve. The best he can hope for are some quite marginal tinkering with social security rules here, some free movement delays on new members there. He is entering this completely unnecessary process in bad faith, and this could well be the occasion where – at last – his vapidity is well and truly found out.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. David Ellis says:

    In his efforts to re-establish himself as the strong leader having screwed up so royally on the question of cabinent members being sacked if they don’t support a YES vote Cameron put on an incredible performance of desperate shoutyness at PMQs on the issue of selling social housing. He truly came across as desperate and almost unhinged.

    1. Robert says:

      I thought he did pretty good actually considering the mess he had made.

      But in the coming months before the election on the EU we will see I’m sure labour or Progress and the Tories cosy up to each other to get the yes vote out.

      1. Gary Elsby says:

        The we should have three referenda.

        1.Should the Government campaign to alter EU rules of British membership . YES or NO?
        (NO rules out the need for 2 and 3).

        2. Should Great Britain remain in the EU. YES or NO?

        3. Should UKip cease to exist upon a YES majority?

      2. David Ellis says:

        No doubt the usual Better Together suspects will be joining forces to push the best result for corporate capitalism in the YES campaign.

  2. Verity says:

    What seems to be remarkable is how so advanced the Conservative seems to be on this as with so many issues. Whether it is the the Conservative leadership or the ‘Conservatives for Britain’ they appear to have all the initiatives. As usual where is the Labour Party? They are either luke warm Conservatives (again) saying they want reform but waiting for others to tell them what it should be and how to get it (i.e. non existent), or they are so stunned to be appearing laissez-faire marketeers for population movements, fearful the development of a socialist case for economic planning and how to cope with society’s economic support for random, individual preference immigration.

    Where is the ‘Labour for an EU alternative’? Perhaps it would be better to wait for the Special Advisers to tell us in case a grassroots movement gets out of hand.

  3. Barry Ewart says:

    As an excellent piece in New Left Review argued the EC was set up to counter the then perceived threat of the USSR, to promote capitalism in Europe, and to give Europe a more independent voice against the power of the US. In fact it is argued De Gaulle of France was originally against Britain’s entry because he felt it would act as a Trojan Horse for the US which it eventually did and the dollar was soon to dominate (hence the desire by some for the Euro).
    So it is a capitalist club and this is why many multi-nationals are here, to get access to the EC.
    The EC is also second only to the US in the World in research & development and UK universities for example get billions from the EC in research funds.
    There are also plans to set up an EC capital market in 2019.
    So capital knows which side its bread is buttered on and apart from a few rogue millionaire adventurers will promote staying in the EC.
    But as a democratic socialist so will I, because I believe the left wing economists who argue we are now in the 3rd stage of capitalism – globalisation and leaving the EC seems to be going against the tide of history.
    But of course as a democratic socialist I want a reformed EC with top down being replaced by bottom up and Neo-Liberalism kicked out.
    We also need working class people and the progresive middle class in every EC country to be fighting for this and things like a living wage and more democratic public ownership.
    So for a EC nternationalism and peace.

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