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Cameron's failure to block Juncker isn't a glorious defeat

Britain looks closer to the EU exit than ever - an outcome the PM never wanted.

Britain looks closer to the EU exit than ever - an outcome the PM never wanted.
David Cameron arrives for the second day of the EU Council on June 27, 2014 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

Through an act of political alchemy, David Cameron is seeking to turn his failure to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker being nominated as the next president of the EU commission into a success.  The Prime Minister wants this outcome to be seen as a glorious defeat, casting himself as the plucky Brit who stood alone (along with hard-right Hungary) against the federalist foe.

He shouldn't be allowed to rewrite history. When Cameron made his opposition to Juncker clear three weeks ago it was in the belief that other European leaders, most importantly Angela Merkel, would rally to his cause. They didn't. Rather than siding with Cameron, Merkel publicly rebuked him for warning that Juncker's nomination would threaten Britain's EU membership. For the first time since Cameron pledged to hold an in/out referendum by the end of 2017, the Conservative hypothesis that this vow would make it easier to secure concessions was stress-tested - and exploded almost immediately.

As pro-Europeans warned at the time of the PM's Bloomberg speech, it is patient alliance-building, not blackmail, that is required for progress in Europe. Cameron's utter failure in this regard was helpfully exposed on Monday when the Polish government's private view of his strategy was published by Wprost magazine. The foreign minister of a country that should be a natural ally of the UK was revealed to have declared that Cameron "fucked up the fiscal pact", believes in "stupid propaganda" and "stupidly tries to play the system". He added: "You know, his whole strategy of feeding them scraps in order to satisfy them is just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said: 'fuck off!'. Tried to convince people and isolate [the sceptics]. But he ceded the field to those that are now embarrassing him."

It should never be forgotten that Cameron did not want to promise an in/out EU referendum. Along with other Conservative ministers, he voted against one in the House of Commons in 2011. The pledge was wrung out of him by recalcitrant backbenchers who took him hostage and have not relinquished their grip since.

There are plenty in Cameron's party who will relish Britain's isolation today. Some, espousing revolutionary defeatism, will even welcome Juncker's nomination. As Marxists used to say, "the worse things get, the better". But they are those whose only concern is to force Britain out of the EU by whatever means possible. It was precisely to avoid capitulating to this faction that Cameron resisted granting a referendum for so long. But he gave way, insisting that the EU could be reformed to Britain's tastes. The nomination of Juncker is a hammer blow to this notion. Not only is the federalist's victory proof of the UK's feeble influence, it will also make it far harder to secure any significant concessions on the free movement of labour and the principle of "ever closer union". Never in 41 years of membership has Britain looked closer to the EU exit door - and that is not an outcome that Cameron ever wanted.