By this stage in the run-up to his Europe speech, the Prime Minister must be tempted to sit in a darkened room with his fingers in his ears shouting loudly if anyone else tries to give him more advice on Britain’s relationship with the EU. Today brings another wave of advice: some from friendly faces, most from foes.
When Ed Miliband got to the point in his Today programme interview, after debating when it was that the Prime Minister might call a referendum, he outlined his central problem with the whole debate:
‘Imagine an investor, thinking now, should I be investing in Britain, or Germany, or Denmark, or a whole range of other countries? I think if we put up a sign around Britain, saying ‘we might be out of Europe within five years’. I don’t think that’s going to be good for our country. And I think that’s a pretty clear answer.’
Miliband argued that the Prime Minister is ‘taking us to the economic cliff’. Later today, his shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander will tell an audience at Chatham House that Cameron is ‘sleepwalking towards exit’. The two men clearly have terrifying nightmares about the consequences of this big speech. Sleepwalking off a cliff does indeed sound rather dangerous.
Alexander will also say that ‘the gap between the minimum the Tories will demand and the maximum our European partners can accept remains unbridgeable’. This is not a bad point: Cameron knows that tomorrow he will need to prepare his party for what he can realistically hope to achieve in a renegotiation, rather than what MPs would like him to achieve.
Never one to avoid intervening in an awkward debate, Vince Cable is giving his own speech today on Europe. Very helpfully, the Business Secretary will make the same warning as his boss Nick Clegg did that opening up the Europe debate could damage growth. He will say:
‘Any reopening of the whole question of British membership creates additional uncertainty at a time when there is already fragile economic confidence in the wake of the financial crisis.’
Before Cameron takes his fingers out of his ears, he’s also got Liam Fox on his case – which is arguably more ominous than Vince Cable getting in a grump about Tory euroscepticism. Fox has written a piece for ConHome listing what he ‘would like to hear’ in the speech. This includes a rejection of ‘ever closer union’ and negotiating a new agreement. Fox writes:
‘I believe that the vast majority of Conservatives, reflecting a growing consensus among the British people themselves, would opt for a clear and unambiguous partnership based upon trade and political cooperation at a time when the global economy is becoming increasingly competitive and where the cost of EU institutions and regulations are slowly becoming the noose around the neck of economic recovery.’
Fox has been writing articles and giving speeches along these lines since early autumn: he’s clearly organising himself as a rallying figure for disappointed eurosceptic backbenchers. That he’s outlining what the ‘vast majority of Conservatives’ would be happy with underlines this. It will be this intervention above all the others that will worry the Prime Minister the most.
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