Richard North, 30/10/2012  

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The EU budget theatre is in full spate today with Conservative backbenchers ramping up the entertainment quotient. This will give Mr Cameron the foil against which he can perform the heroic, Thatcheresque "handbagging", thence to rescue what is left of the rebate and reduce the multi-annual budget by tuppence-ha'penny or so.

Outside the Westminster politico-media bubble, very few people are actually interested and, of those that are, even fewer are at all impressed by the posturing and manoeuvring. Most people can recognise an empty charade when they see it.

That, of course, does not stop the egregious Hannan "bigging up" what will be a minor and inconsequential spat. But it suits this Europlastic apologist to parade that mythical beast, Tory euroscepticism, in the hope that there are some voters out there who are still impressed by such rhetoric.

On the menu is a threatened backbench "rebellion", where a limited number of the usual suspects will be given a license to make stirring "eurosceptic" speeches, demanding that no extra money, apart for an adjustment for inflation, is given to the EU, over and above the extortionate level to which we are already committed.

Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to pay around £13.6 billion a year, but absolutely unacceptable to pay that plus five percent more. That is Tory euroscepticism for you. However, even this game-playing is not working out, as Labour had jumped on the risk-free bandwagon, and is weighing in behind the Tory backbenchers, supporting a cut in the budget proposal.

The tragedy of this is that, nearly 30 years ago, all this might have been impressive. But now, the settled view of many who think about the EU is that they want an in-out referendum. Anything short of that is an irrelevance, especially when the outcome could result in reducing the EU budget payments to a round figure – zero.

And, as the BBC points out, even if Cameron gets his wicked way and blocks a multi-annual budget agreement altogether, the "colleagues" can vote themselves an inflation-proof annual budget, using QMV – which Mr Cameron cannot block.

They can also vote themselves a supplementary budget, which they are going to have to do anyway, leaving little Hannan with his crocodile tears somewhat stranded.

The fact is that, when push comes to shove, the EU can get the money to which it feels entitled, and it can always fine Microsoft or Google a few billion euros if it really gets stuck. All that then leaves is Mr Cameron to tell us us how important it is for us to be members of the EU. You just know that makes sense.


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