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Booker: Cameron's dream is doomed to failure

Richard North, 06/01/2013  


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When David Cameron makes that "important speech on Europe" he promises later this month, is he going to fall flat on his face? So asks Booker, who recalls that, on Friday he told the BBC that he intends to give the British people "a real change in our relations with the EU" and to give us "a real choice about that change".

He added that he would be promising a "tough" renegotiation of the terms of our membership of the EU, but that it would not be in Britain's interests to leave the EU altogether. It certainly would not be "right for us to aim for a status like Norway or Switzerland, where basically you have to obey all the rules of the Single Market but you don't have a say in what they are".

What Mr Cameron seems to be offering, says Booker, is a referendum which he hopes will authorise him to embark on "tough" negotiations about a new relationship, while at the same time insisting that Britain wants to remain a full member of the EU, enjoying all the trading arrangements that go with the single market. Not for the first time, one has to wonder whether Mr Cameron has actually read the European treaties or has the faintest idea what he is asking for.

For a start, like so many other people in Britain, he hasn't grasped the real nature of the "European project". From its inception, it has always worked for "full political and fiscal union".

The trading arrangement we signed up to 40 years ago was always intended as merely a first step towards that. It is what most of his EU colleagues are again driving for, in the new treaty they plan in a desperate bid to save their doomed euro – one that would consign us to being a second-class member of the club, with even less influence than we have now.

What Mr Cameron also doesn't seem to grasp is that the most fundamental rule of the "project" has always been that powers surrendered to Brussels can never be given back. The last thing the other members have on their minds is to allow Britain to break that rule and form some unique new relationship, just because we hanker after a return to the kind of trading arrangement we joined back in 1973.

As I have noted before, there is only one way under the rules that Mr Cameron could get the negotiations he is talking about, and that is by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would compel his colleagues to negotiate. But he can only achieve that by first saying that Britain wishes to leave the EU – the one course he is ruling out from the start.

It is also telling that, in dismissing the possibility that we could continue to enjoy the trading relationship that he wants if we were outside the EU, he should so caricature the positions of Norway and Switzerland, the two most prosperous countries in Europe.

These have, in fact, far more say in shaping the EU's trading rules than Mr Cameron allows for, through their membership of other international bodies which give them full access to the single market, such as the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) or the European Economic Area (EEA).

Above all, what he doesn't seem to realise is that it is no longer a question of Britain leaving the EU: the EU is leaving us. In that spirit of "ever closer union" proclaimed in the first sentence of its founding treaty, it is moving on to a new stage of integration where, by definition, we cannot follow, because of our failure to join its single currency.

Thus does Booker conclude that the only way Mr Cameron can get what he says he wants is by doing something he says he will not do. When he appears before the nation later this month, he will be proposing a course of action doomed to failure.

What he must also realise is that this failure will also represent a personal failure. An unconvincing speech will perilously weaken his election campaign and, without a victory in 2015, Mr Cameron will become just another sad ex-leader of the Conservative Party.

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