Cameron remains locked in a lose-lose situation on the euro

The PM attempts to appease Eurosceptic MPs while retaining British influence in the EU. He cannot ha

It is obvious that the crisis engulfing the eurozone has serious ramifications for Britain. It has also placed David Cameron in a tight spot politically, as he struggles to balance the demands of vociferous Eurosceptic MPs and a Franco-German alliance willing to forge ahead without Britain if it needs to.

As he prepares to join the EU's other 26 heads of government to discuss plans to save the euro, Cameron has attempted to navigate these contesting demands and set out his position in an article in the Times (£).

There are two key points to take from this piece. Firstly, Cameron dismisses calls for a referendum on any treaty changes by reiterating that this law only applies in the case of powers being transferred from Britain to the EU. At the weekend, Iain Duncan Smith added to Cameron's headache when he suggested that it could, in fact, apply to any "major treaty change", such as that required for greater fiscal union. Cameron also states that his demands will remain "practical and focused", despite calls from his MPs to use the talks to renegotiate social and employment law.

But he does not disregard his party's Eurosceptic wing entirely. The second key point is a hardening of rhetoric and a pledge to protect Britain's interests. Cameron warns that his focused approach should not be mistaken "for any lack of steel", and says that safeguards for the City of London will be the price of his support for any changes:

Our colleagues in the EU need to know that we will not agree to a treaty change that fails to protect our interests.

Essentially, Cameron is caught between a rock and a hard place. If he wants to create a treaty for all 27 EU member states, he must strike a conciliatory tone in talks with the rest of the EU. If, however, he prioritises an aggressive defence of Britain's interests, the likelihood is that the 17 eurozone countries will breakaway and form a treaty amongst themselves. In his piece, he addresses this possibility, saying that a treaty of 17 "would need to make sure our interests are protected".But it is unrealistic to think that Britain will not lose influence in such a scenario. Quite simply, he can't have it both ways, as my colleague Rafael Behr argued last week:

It doesn't look as if Britain has much of a say anyway, and either outcome gives Cameron a headache. If he can persuade the European Council later this week that all 27 EU members should be working on a new treaty, he invites his backbenchers to present him with a shopping list of powers to repatriate during the talks. If he accepts that it should just be a 17-strong euro member treaty negotiation, he risks surrendering Britain's seat in a discussion that is plainly vital to our national economic interest. That process might still produce a document that has to be ratified by parliament. One way or another, the clamour for a referendum will grow.

Cameron writes that "our biggest national interest is that the eurozone sorts out its problems", but from his posturing, it appears that he is not fully committed to this and remains trapped in a lose-lose situation. On the same day as the Prime Minister ramps up the rhetoric, veteran pro-Europe Tory Ken Clarke has told the FT that Britain should be a constructive player in resolving this crisis, focussing on "how to maintain the financial stability of the western world", not trying to wring concessions from eurozone countries. Quite simply, France and Germany have bigger fish to fry as they try to save the single currency, and they will have no problem with acting without Britain.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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