Cameron has finished delivering his ‘red meat’ speech on the European Union and answering questions from journalists. You can read the full text here, but here are five key points to take away:
1. The Prime Minister is a pro-European sceptical about the current EU settlement
It actually took Cameron a long time to reach his vision of a new Europe because he was so busy praising its history. We had a whistle-stop tour through the EU’s creation, dotted with praise for its peacekeeping mission first. He was clearly keen to emphasis his pro-European credentials as much as he was to criticise, saying: ‘I am not a British isolationist’ and ‘I speak as a British Prime Minister with a positive vision for the future of the European Union’.
When he did swoop into detail, it wasn’t about the really, really ridiculous bits of Europe that it’s easy to caricature such as directives on the shape of bananas, but whether Britain should have power over the working hours of its own doctors, rather than Europe.
2. Cameron wants to style himself as the Galileo of the EU: speaking truth unto power
Cameron turned the criticism that he could be ‘sleepwalking’ Britain towards an EU exit by questioning the current set up on its head. Instead, he said that ‘in its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point’ and argued that refusing to question and renegotiate the current settlement would endanger Britain’s long-term future in the EU.
3. The Prime Minister wants a referendum in a Tory government, or a Coalition
‘Let me be absolutely clear: If I’m Prime Minister, this will happen.’
This was the key quote suggesting that a renegotiation and a referendum would be a red-line for any 2015 coalition negotiations. It’s an important piece of meat for the Conservative party: any suggestion he could drop this pledge as unimportant would be hugely damaging after he tried today to move on from the damage caused by the ‘cast-iron’ Lisbon Treaty pledge.
And the detail of that referendum? The Tory 2015 manifesto will include a pledge for a renegotiation with Europe in the next Parliament. That new settlement will go to the British people in an In/Out referendum. That’s the red meat Downing Street was promising.
4. But as for the detail of the renegotiation…
Wisely, there was no shopping list. So the Prime Minister can claim victory on anything, rather than a failed list of demands written in 2013. But as with William Hague’s speech at the 2012 Tory party conference, it was striking that his vision for the EU is not exactly minimalist. This is the key quote:
‘We believe in a flexible union of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue together the ideal of co-operation. To represent and promote the values of European civilisation in the world. To advance our shared interests by using our collective power to open markets. And to build a strong economic base across the whole of Europe.
‘And we believe in our nations working together to protect the security and diversity of our energy supplies. To tackle climate change and global poverty. To work together against terrorism and organised crime. And to continue to welcome new countries into the EU.’
5. If the negotiation succeeds, the PM will campaign for ‘In’
If we were in any doubt before, the Prime Minister cleared up where he will stand in that referendum, which will take place by 2017:
‘And when the referendum comes let me say now that if we can negotiate such an arrangement, I will campaign for it with all my heart and soul.’
But if he doesn’t succeed, even if we can’t measure what that success will be against a list, what will he do? Will he campaign to leave the EU? The PM ducked and dived around this question when it came from Nick Robinson:
‘I would answer that very directly: who goes into a negotiation hoping and expecting to fail? That might be the approach you take, that is not the approach I take. I go into a negotiation hoping, believing and expecting to succeed and for all right reasons I’ve given today, I think there’s every chance of success.’
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.