Richard North, 08/11/2015  

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Is there anyone this side of rationality who believes there are any circumstances under which Mr Cameron will recommend that the Britain leaves the EU?

Yet, if the Observer is to be taken at face value, this is precisely what the Prime Minister will threaten to do if the EU does not give "substantial ground" on the "demands" he intends to present to the president of the European Council on Tuesday.

If we can't reach an agreement, and if Britain's concerns are to be met with a "deaf ear", "then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us," he will say, adding: "As I have said before – I rule nothing out".

Into that little fiction, though, Cameron tucks an observation that he does not believe Britain's concerns will be met with a "deaf ear" – and, of course they won't. This is carefully rehearsed theatre – all part of a cynical exercise calculated to deliver a "remain" vote when we finally go to the polls.

Even this weekend, we had further confirmation that the outcome of his "play" is pre-ordained – as we have been reporting for many months. This came in the Independent which had Wolfgang Schäuble and George Osborne talking of a "two-speed Europe" to be written into a new treaty – associate membership by any other name.

Presented baldly, the idea is hardly attractive enough to carry the day. Both The Sceptic Isle and Ben Kelly make this very clear, which means that Mr Cameron must stage manage the delivery of what will be presented as his own idea. And sure enough, the legacy media is obligingly trotting out the propaganda, ranging from Sky TV and ITV, to the Express. Strangely, only the Independent is off-message.

This newspaper presents David Cameron as "a conjurer who has forgotten the rest of his trick". For years, it says, he has suggested that Britain's present relationship with the rest of the European Union is intolerable and that, when the time comes, he will set out a package of dramatic changes that will suddenly make it beneficial and, indeed, essential.

Yet the closer he gets to his "abracadabra moment", the paper continues. the more obvious it becomes that he will settle for the minor changes that have been well trailed, and most of which have already been agreed in principle. And in threatening to support an exit, "he makes less and less sense".

What it picks up is something that the Observer also notes - that Mr Cameron intends to challenge both the "Remain" and "Leave"campaigns to clarify their arguments, positioning them respectively as those who want to stay in the EU, come what may, and those who want to come out regardless of what he negotiates.

This, says the Independent is an "unconvincing attempt" to co-opt one of the favourite rhetorical devices of Tony Blair's: the third way. Mr Cameron seeks to pretend that there are two extremes in this debate, allowing him to position himself as the moderate, offering a "sceptical but pragmatic middle way".

Either this newspaper is genuinely ignorant, or it is all part of the game, but it does not acknowledge that associate membership" is the middle way. Instead, it declares that, "there isn't really a third way". There is "in" or "out" and Mr Cameron knows this.

Interestingly, the newspaper considers whether supporters of the EU, including itself, should go along with what it calls "Mr Cameron's pretence". But it feels it would "rather argue the case for Europe for what it is, imperfections and all". Arguments, it says, "should be made openly and honestly". The basic choice is what it has always been: "in" or "out", and – predictably – the Independent believes we should stay in.

If that is a genuine expression of opinion, then it is commendable, if somewhat naïve – if not hypocritical. Since when has the Independent ever argued openly and honestly? But what it is does point up is that Mr Cameron clearly does not believe he can win the argument this way – hence the charade. His "middle way", comprising associate membership, plus his attempts to create a TINA scenario by demolishing the Norway (Interim) Option, now seems the government's settled strategy.

But before we get to see this naked in tooth and claw, we have to be taken though a tedious charade, where the Prime Minister "acts tough for Britain" and the "colleagues" allow themselves to be dragged kicking and screaming into offering something which was already decided by them the best part of three years ago.

The only thing we don't know at present is how Mr Cameron intends to brand associate membership. Something imaginative could be on the stocks. Rather than referring to inner and outer groups, for instance, the inner eurozone might be contrasted with something labelled a "free trade group", over which Britain may claim to assume leadership.

Marketing and timing will be crucial in this respect, presenting something which looks superficially attractive, while giving the "leave" campaigners minimal time to counter a last-minute barrage of propaganda. In the meantime, we get taken to the theatre.

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