Will David Cameron be denied his veto moment after all? Brussels sources appear to think the European Union budget summit on 22 and 23 November could still be cancelled. A report from Italian wire service ANSA quotes one source saying ‘everything indicates that it will be impossible to overcome the British veto’ and that cancelling the summit remains an option. This follows reports recently that Angela Merkel was threatening to cancel the summit as it was pointless if Britain was going to veto any increase above one in line with inflation. The German Chancellor had a lengthy dinner with Cameron to discuss the summit on Wednesday night, but their talks haven’t stopped the European rumour mill.
Interestingly, the sources also suggest that ‘Prime Minister Cameron has gone too far and will not come back’, and that ‘the possibility of a rapid exit from the EU is no longer considered a taboo’. Merkel demonstrated that she for one no longer considers it an empty threat on Wednesday, when she took pains to make clear that she could not imagine Britain leaving the EU, rather than simply batting away a question on the subject from UKIP leader Nigel Farage. And today the Telegraph reported that 49 per cent of voters would vote to leave the EU in a referendum.
The problem is that Tory backbenchers suspect Cameron still seems to regard leaving the EU as a taboo. His speech on Europe, which James revealed last weekend will take place after the summit (if indeed the summit does take place), will need to offer Tory MPs a promise for an In/Out referendum as opposed to an In/In option where voters choose between a renegotiated relationship or the status quo, otherwise there will be uproar in the party. The response from disappointed Tory backbenchers desperate for this referendum promise could be to push for another backbench debate calling for a plebiscite, in which those who remained loyal in the EU budget rebellion would turn on the government. One currently loyal senior MP who would consider joining rebels in that vote were it to arise suggested that this would lead to a ‘confidence issue’ for the PM. If this much-trailed speech turns out to be an anticlimax, offering less than backbenchers expect, Cameron is in for a rocky winter with his party.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.