David Cameron gave all the appearances of being in a bullish mood as he said negotiations so far over Britain’s relationship with the EU were ‘not good enough’.
Speaking after meeting Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels today, the Prime Minister said:
‘We’ve made some progress today, it’s not enough.’
He also again paid lip service to being seen to be grafting hard to get a good deal for Britain – repeating his line from last week when he said renegotiating was ‘hard work’.
‘The British people and I want a system where you have to pay in, before you get out. We don’t want a something for nothing society. That is what we are determined to deliver. It’s going to be hard work, I can’t be certain we’ll get there in February, but I will work as hard as I can to deliver a good deal for the British people. If there is a good enough deal on the table that meets all the concerns the British people have…I’ll take it, if it’s not, I won’t.’
But is the whole thing just a carefully constructed act? It seems difficult to believe that the PM won’t be pinning his hopes on ‘getting there in February’ during the European Council meeting later next month.
Cameron is playing a difficult game: balancing listening to other leaders in Europe whilst also trying to placate those back home. In particular, he knows that Eurosceptics in the Tory party – such as John Redwood, who described the so-called ’emergency brake’ on migrants as a ‘sick joke’ earlier today – will be ready to pounce when the rabbit does come out of the hat.
But even if he talks a good game about being happy to wait for a better deal, European leaders will be aware that Cameron and many of his colleagues in government are desperate to get this renegotiation and referendum out of the way. And that means they’ll hardly bust a gut trying to help him with a major deal. And that in turn means that it will be very easy for the Prime Minister’s critics to paint the eventual deal as rather underwhelming, when all the ‘hard work’ finally comes to an end.