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Richard North, 07/01/2013  


Guardian 000-men.jpg

No sooner does David Cameron raise the profile of "Europe" then like a rat up a drainpipe, out pops Peter Mandelson to warn us of the terrible danger to which we have been exposed.

All the old rhetoric dribbles out from a man to whom being offensive comes as second nature. We are "anti-Europeans" and the Tories are risking dividing into "irreconcilable factions", which is what happens "when madness takes over a political party". Then, for the coup de grace, placing this "large and indefinite question mark" over our membership of the EU is "economically insane".

One presumes that Mandelson is trying to bore us to death. We've heard this sort of thing time and time again. He has nothing new to say, and very little of interest to add. Just the same tired invective and the same old, same old scare tactics.

The one thing that might worry Mr Cameron though is Mandelson's dismissal of the idea of putting a gun to the heads of the "colleagues" to force them to renegotiate. Cameron, he says, is likely to be disappointed, especially when he is arguing "not in Europe's interests as a whole but for British exceptionalism".

It is becoming ever more clear that Cameron believes that, since the EU is going to undertake a major treaty change anyway, no one will mind (in Mandeson's words) if, along the way, we ask for a recasting of Britain's membership, "the so-called repatriation of powers".

Mandeleson argues that Cameron  seems not to have noticed that Germany and other eurozone partners are wary of a major treaty revision. If the eurozone becomes critical again, a wider negotiation may become more urgent. But in this case, the others will have more on their mind than Britain's cherry-picking demands: their priority will be saving the eurozone.

However, what has not dawned on either of these people is that substantive treaty change will require a convention, at which stage all sorts of issues may be raised, but few will survive to the end game. This is certainly what Barroso is banking on, following which there will be an IGC – but we are now talking years ahead.

Perhaps the only comfort we have is that, by the time Cameron actually gets to deliver his speech in a week of so , the scare stories will have got so boring and predictable that no one will be listening any more. But then, that could be the tactic, one which will certainly give the media an excuse to shut down.

In an interesting example of the venality of the media, on the Marr show, we saw Cameron try to explain the importance of the balance of competence review. Marr's response was: "Are you trying to send me to sleep?", followed by a sort of snigger.  These people really don't do detail, and they're proud of it. 

That just about sums up what we are having to deal with, especially so when we had a man who let Cameron get away with his lies on Norway unchallenged. We are in for a long, hard time, and keeping the debate focused is going to be near impossible.

By the time it is all over – within five years we are told - the media will have completely lost interest and the europhiles will have long run out of things to scare us with.  Then, perhaps, the real debate can start.

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