Cameron pulled in all directions on Europe

Ed Miliband accuses Cameron of leading the UK to the EU "exit" as David Davis demands two referendums.

Ken Clarke is one of the few prominent Conservative politicians still prepared to make the case for EU integration and he did it with gusto on the Today programme this morning. It was "complete folly" to put our membership at risk, he said, lamenting that the country had gone into "a nervous breakdown" over the subject. He dismissed the 53 Tory MPs who voted for a real-terms cut in the EU budget as "extreme Eurosceptics" and revealed that David Cameron had assured him that he was committed to continued British membership of the union.

"David Cameron assures the public, he’s always assured me, that he believes, as I do, that Britain’s place in the modern world has got to be in the EU.

It would be a disaster for our influence in global political events; it would be a disaster for the British economy, if we were to leave the EU. It damages our influence in these great critical events of the moment if we keep casting doubt on our continued membership."

Cameron, meanwhile, is being pulled in all directions on Europe today. In a speech at the CBI's annual conference, (which will also hear addresses from Cameron, Vince Cable and Boris Johnson), Ed Miliband will accuse him of allowing Britain to "sleepwalk towards exit" in a "betrayal of our national interest."

The Labour leader will say:

For more than three decades, our membership of the EU has seemed to be a settled question. Not any more.

Public scepticism about the EU has been on the rise for some time. Some cabinet ministers in this government now openly say we would be better off outside the EU.

And many of our traditional allies in Europe clearly think Britain is heading to the exit door. Those of us, like me, who passionately believe that Britain is stronger in the EU cannot be silent in a situation like this. I will not allow our country to sleepwalk towards exit because it would be a betrayal of our national interest.

He will add that were the UK to leave the EU, it would be "the United States, China, the EU in the negotiating room - and Britain in the overflow room. We would end up competing on low wages and low skills: an offshore low-value economy, a race to the bottom".

At the same time, Cameron's former leadership rival David Davis will use a speech at St Stephen's Club to call for the PM to offer not one but two referendums on Europe. The first would be a vote on what powers the government should seek to repatriate from Brussels, the second, to be held following the conclusion of negotiations, would be a vote on whether to remain in the EU.

Cameron is still expected to use a speech before Christmas to outline plans to hold a referendum after the next election on a "new EU settlement" for Britain, but Davis and other Tory MPs are growing increasingly impatient. As Davis said on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday: "Nobody believes it and why should they? The British public have been promised a referendum by the three major parties, and every single one has not delivered. Now, they may have their reasons, but they haven’t delivered and so the public feel they’ve been lied to – they won’t believe any more promises on referenda actually."

Elsewhere, the ever-helpful Boris Johnson uses his Telegraph column to warn Cameron that nothing less than a veto of the EU budget will do. He writes:

It is time for David Cameron to put on that pineapple-coloured wig and powder blue suit, whirl his handbag round his head and bring it crashing to the table with the words no, non, nein, neen, nee, ne, ei and ochi, until they get the message.

Yet a veto, by compelling the EU to set annual budgets through qualified majority voting, would almost certainly lead to a large increase in the UK contribution. If Cameron wants to make a eurosceptic gesture, it could prove a costly one.

David Cameron is expected to announce details of an EU referendum in a speech before the end of the year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.