The real reason for Cameron's sinister alliance

Like Thatcher and Reagan during the Cold War, Cameron now believes that "the enemy of my enemy is my

Why has David Cameron, an ostensible moderniser at home, aligned himself with a ragbag of far-right parties abroad? Both Denis MacShane and Timothy Garton Ash express incredulity at Cameron's decision today but neither comes close to understanding the Tory leader's motives.

It is worth remembering that Cameron first promised to form a new Eurosceptic alliance for entirely domestic reasons during the Tory leadership election. The decision to leave the mainstream European People's Party was a sop to the Jurassic wing of the Conservative Party and, as my colleague James Macintyre writes this week, a thinly veiled attempt to outflank his right-wing leadership rival Liam Fox.

MacShane suggests that Cameron could have reneged on his promise, as he has done with others, but this underestimates the fanatical hold Euroscepticism has on today's Conservative Party. As a political force, Conservatism has often defined itself by its opponents. The party's bêtes noires in the Eighties included the Soviet Union, Arthur Scargill, the IRA and European federalism. Of these foes, federalism is the only one left standing and the party's obsession with the issue has risen accordingly.

The ascension of the sinister Polish MEP Michal Kaminski to the leadership of the new group reflects the revival of the belief that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Just as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were prepared to support General Pinochet and the Contras as bulwarks against communism, so Conservatives today are willing to unite with the far right in opposition to the present EU. Appropriately enough, during the period when Pinochet was detained in Britain, Kaminski rushed to the country to pay personal tribute to the fallen tyrant.

As Garton Ash writes:

In 1999, he visited Britain to present what is described as a gorget embossed with an image of the Virgin Mary to General Augusto Pinochet. "This was the most important meeting of my whole life. Gen Pinochet was clearly moved and extremely happy with our visit," Kaminski told the BBC's Polish service.

The final motive for the new Eurosceptic alliance is that the Conservatives know and relish the fact they can get away it. As a political issue, Europe has never detained either the electorate or the media for long. The challenge for pro-Europeans is to change this. And soon.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Leave campaigners are doing down Britain's influence in Europe

As the third biggest country, Britain has huge clout in the EU.

Last week the Leave campaign's Priti Patel took to the airwaves to bang on about the perils of EU regulation, claiming it is doing untold damage to small businesses in the UK. Let's put aside for one minute the fact that eight in ten small firms actually want to stay in the EU because of the huge benefits it brings in terms of trade and investment. Or the fact that the EU has cut red tape by around a quarter in recent years and is committed to doing more. Because the really startling thing Patel said was that these rules come to us "without the British government having a say." That might be forgivable coming from an obscure backbencher or UKIP activist. But as a government minister, Priti Patel knows full well that the UK has a major influence over all EU legislation. Indeed, she sits round the table when EU laws are being agreed.

Don't take it from me, take it from Patel herself. Last August, in an official letter to the House of Lords on upcoming EU employment legislation, the minister boasted she had "worked closely with MEPs to influence the proposal and successfully protected and advanced our interests." And just a few months ago in February she told MPs that the government is engaging in EU negotiations "to ensure that the proposals reflect UK priorities." So either she's been duping the Parliament by exaggerating how much influence she has in Brussels. Or, as is perhaps more likely, she's trying to pull the wool over the British people's eyes and perpetuate a favourite myth of the eurosceptics: that the UK has no say over EU rules.

As the third biggest country, Britain has huge clout in Europe. We have the most votes in the EU Council alongside France, Germany and Italy, where we are on the winning side 87 per cent of the time. The UK also has a tenth of all MEPs and the chairs of three influential European Parliament committees (although admittedly UKIP and Tory sceptics do their best to turn their belief the UK has no influence in Europe into a self-fulfilling prophecy). UKIP MEPs aside, the Brits are widely respected by European counterparts for their common sense and expertise in areas like diplomacy, finance and defence. And to the horror of the French, it is English that has become the accepted lingua franca in the corridors of power in Brussels.

So it's no surprise that the UK has been the driving force behind some of the biggest developments in Europe in recent decades, including the creation of the single market and the enlargement of the EU to Eastern Europe. The UK has also led the way on scrapping mobile roaming charges from next year, and is now setting the agenda on EU proposals that will make it easier to trade online and to access online streaming services like BBC iPlayer or Netflix when travelling abroad. The irony is that the Europe of today which Eurosceptics love to hate is very much a British creation.

The Leave campaign like to deride anyone who warns of the risks of leaving the EU as "talking down Britain." But by denying the obvious, that the UK has a major role in shaping EU decisions, they are the ones guilty of doing our country down. It's time we stood up to their defeatist narrative and made the case for Britain's role in Europe. I am a proud patriot who wants the best for my country, and that is why like many I will be passionately making the case to remain in the EU. Now is not the time to leave, it's time to lead.