David Cameron’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet last night was a significant moment — the clearest articulation yet of his European Policy. In
the crucial paragraph, he declared:
‘we sceptics have a vital point. We should look sceptically at grand plans and utopian visions. We’ve a right to ask what the European Union should and shouldn’t do and change it
accordingly. As I said, change brings opportunities. An opportunity to begin to refashion the EU so it better serves this nation’s interests and the interests of its other 26 nations too.
An opportunity, in Britain’s case, for powers to ebb back instead of flow away and for the European Union to focus on what really matters.’
Cameron’s decision to remind everyone that he is a Eurosceptic is an attempt to reassure his party that he shares its instincts on the European question, that he hasn’t gone wobbly in
office. There’s also, though, a linguistic concession to Clegg here. Gone is talk of renegotiation or repatriation to be replaced by the far more Lib Dem friendly ‘refashion’.
This speech does, though, mark a significant moment. Just this weekend, one Downing Street source told me that it was imperative — given the history of the whole European issue inside the
Tory party — for Cameron to under promise and over-deliver on repartriation. Their fear was that if he did any different, he would be accused of betrayal. So, what Cameron pledged in this
speech — powers ebbing back to Britain — is what he is certain that he can achieve through the next few treaty negotiations.
One other interesting line in the speech was the Prime Minister saying he wanted the EU to have the ‘flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc’. This implies that Cameron wants a
situation where countries can opt in or opt out of EU activities depending on their national preferences.