May 16, 2013
Events over the last few days should not come as a surprise. Mr Cameron has for a while now been unable to impose his authority upon his party on the issue of EU membership. Even though he has expressed the wish to keep Britain in the EU (albeit the reduced, one-dimensional and irrelevant EU he envisions) his lack of conviction has allowed the extreme right and Europhobic part of his party to pull him further and further away towards their agenda on EU membership.
Of course his predicament is to a large extent of his own making. Like a figure in an ancient Greek tragedy, he is the author of his own fate. He has placated the Europhobic members of his party every step of the way. First by pooling out of the influential centre-right European People’s right, then by ineffectual veto of the Fiscal Treaty, employed just to please their 19th century-like appetite for ‘victories in Europe’, and of course by promising to renegotiate Britain’s Treaty commitments and offering them a referendum on EU membership.
But that was not enough, and it was never going to be enough. Because the Europhobe wing of the Conservative party is guided by a dogma-like obsession to remove Britain from the EU, one way or the other and at all cost. In pursuit of their holy grail they show complete disregard for the interest of their party (and the country at large). The very week that the Prime Minister, and leader of their party, went to the US, in an effort to showcase Britain’s global credentials and to promote the need for and benefits of a US-EU (surprise-surprise) trade deal, his Europhobic backbenchers, branding their isolationist credentials, are sparing no time or effort to engineer ways that, according to them, will end the UK’s participation in the EU (which President Obama called the “expression of the UK’s influence and role in the world”).
The one thing that the past few days have made clear is that those Europhobes’ appetite for a referendum does not stem from their wish to give the British people a say. After all, many of them have resisted referenda on other issues. The real reason behind their wish to hold a referendum is that they (mistakenly) view such a vote on the EU as the only way to remove Britain from the EU and they believe (mistakenly again) that the sooner that referendum takes place the more chances they have to achieve their objectives.
So, expect pressure on the PM, and further concessions from him, to continue. Because what they are currently getting will not, once again, be enough, something blamed this time on their coalition partners. But someone needs to remind them that the Conservative party did not win the election in 2010, to a large extent because it has people like them in its ranks.
There is one aspect of all this that offers Mr Cameron some reprieve. This whole debate is a welcome distraction from the real issues Britain is facing. The ballooning debt and deficit, high unemployment, rising inflation and low interest rates, evaporating people’s savings and putting the British economy on red alert. Going on about “Europe”, often blaming Britain’s economic and social ailments to our EU membership, might be nothing more than a fig leaf, but it is a fig leaf that Mr Cameron is desperate enough to use in an effort to disguise the fact he has not been able to solve the country’s real problems.
Petros Fassoulas, European MovementAuthor : European Movement UK