Richard North, 31/12/2012  

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Peeping from behind its paywall, The Times is telling us that "a group of senior politicians in Brussels is to propose 'second-class' EU status for Britain in a dramatic shift in thinking by the strongest supporters of a united Europe".

This is the Union of European Federalists, which is to suggest that the UK should become an "associate member" under plans "which would result in it staying in the EU's single market but being stripped of its commissioner in Brussels, MEPs, and its right of veto in the European Council".

Notwithstanding that there is no veto in the European Council, effectively, this gets close to our own position, where Britain leaves the EU but retains membership of the EEA, thus representing a merging of positions where both sides come to the same conclusions as to where the future should lie (for the time being).

For the Federalists, however, disappointment awaits, as there is no mechanism in the treaties to eject an EU member, so Britain would have to agree to a voluntary exit, via Article 50. But if the Federalists want this to happen, then the negotiations should be very straightforward.

Any such formula would certainly remove any problems about withdrawal being a "disaster for the City", fears of which are being spread by anonymous sources, by the Telegraph. It is interesting here that the sources are anonymous, which must limit their credibility, in an industry which, historically, demonstrates a poor understanding of the ways of the EU.

All of this, and more, though, is quite clearly intended to influence Mr Cameron's forthcoming speech, hence the rhetoric from The Observer telling us that "Britain should not be contemplating isolation from Europe".

No-one, though (at least, not us) is considering "isolation". EEA membership would ensure full engagement with the EU, while allowing us to be active members of the international community in our own right.

But all this may have less impact on Cameron than the recent poll results, indicating that UKIP is "surging" in popularity. Even if this does not translate into seats, the "UKIP effect" could well be strengthened, which puts the party in the position where it can make certain a Conservative defeat at the general election, in circumstances where many pundits already believe the Tories will lose the 2015 election.

This makes for a fascinating situation for, if Mr Cameron shares a conviction that his party is going to be defeated at the general, he has nothing to lose by breaking the mould and going all-out for EU withdrawal – on grounds that both sides could approve.

It must now be dawning on Cameron that he has to accommodate anti-EU sentiment, and if the current poll is right – giving UKIP 15 percent – then burying the EU issue by going straight for the Article 50 option, while offering a referendum on the outcome of negotiations, could give him a lead in the polls.

Possibly, never has so much rested on a single speech, the one that we expect in a few short weeks. And if Farage believes 2012 has been a "tremendous year", Cameron still has the opportunity to make UKIP history. If he does it right, everybody should be happy when the Conservatives also have a tremendous year.


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