Badly, I fear. He has shown that Britain is a marginal power, one not to be listened to or trusted by our European neighbours.
This is a disaster for Britain, as it is only be being within the debate can we even hope to influence events, that will affect us heavily.
But he had warning. Back in 1990, a previous Conservative Prime Minister made the same mistakes…
I feel that the best historical comparison for Cameron‘s disastrous actions in Europe this weekend would be found in Thatcher’s era, beautifully summarised in Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech. He was…somewhat miffed… that Thatcher’s constant rhetoric of “No, no, no” to her audience at home was hurting the careful diplomacy we were undertaking over crafting ERM and ecru. By playing to eurosceptic sentiments in Britain, Thatcher was hurting our interests – when French and German leaders heard her constant stream of vitriol, why should they make any concessions, take on board British advice or play by our rules? A Prime Minister pandering to the Telegraph and the Daily Mail destroyed the work done by our diplomats in Europe – Sound familiar?
It was the late Lord Stockton, formerly Harold Macmillan, who first put the central point clearly. As long ago as 1962, he argued that we had to place and keep ourselves within the EC. He saw it as essential then, as it is today, not to cut ourselves off from the realities of power ; not to retreat into a ghetto of sentimentality about our past and so diminish our own control over our own destiny in the future…
But that is not the real risk. The 11 others cannot impose their solution on the 12th country against its will, but they can go ahead without us. The risk is not imposition but isolation. The real threat is that of leaving ourselves with no say in the monetary arrangements that the rest of Europe chooses for itself, with Britain once again scrambling to join the club later, after the rules have been set and after the power has been distributed by others to our disadvantage. That would be the worst possible outcome…
It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.
We have paid heavily in the past for late starts and squandered opportunities in Europe. We dare not let that happen again. If we detach ourselves completely, as a party or a nation, from the middle ground of Europe, the effects will be incalculable and very hard ever to correct.
What we need to be are “serious participants in the debate”. Britain’s interests are best served within the European Union, the region’s emergent superpower and hegemon. Our interests there can only be realised if we actively engage with the other European countries, and cooperate with them – not constantly criticise.
This is what happens when a Prime Minister plays to the eurosceptic wing of their own party, and to the populist elements of the nation. They may gain control there, but they run the risk of rendering international diplomacy utterly useless and marginalising the entire nation.
When we have been critical of the European leaders for so long, why should they listen to Britain at all? This is why Sarkozy told Cameron to butt out – constant criticism doesn’t help anyone, it merely renders the critic unpopular and marginalises them.
Cameron should never have been trusted with our international reputation. Ever since he withdrew the Conservative party from the European People’s Party (EPP), the major centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, that includes the most dominant parties in France (Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire), Germany (Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union), Poland (Tusk’s Civic Platform and also the junior coalition partner of the PSL), Spain (with the brand new People’s Party government under Rajoy), Ireland (Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael), Hungary (PM Orbán’s Fidesz), and let’s not forget, Berlusconi’s People of Freedom in Italy, Cameron had sidelined his party within Europe. Now he has sidelines our country within Europe.
Whenever the EPP gathers together, the leaders of the most powerful European states debate the future of the continent. Cameron is forced to deal with a bunch of insignificant populists, even if you don’t believe the accusations about his new partners in the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) being Nazi’s, climate change deniers or homophobes.
It would be fine if this just affected the Conservative Party, but it affects each and every last one of us. Cameron has, as Paddy Ashdown commented, “tipped 38 years of foreign policy down the drain”, all the calm the ‘UKIP fringe’ of his own party.
Cameron’s (in fairness, if the government is correct in what it has said, relatively acceptable) “demands” were ignored not because of the demands themselves. They were ignored because it was a British eurosceptic who made them. This was payback for our lack of solidarity during the Eurozone crisis, for being petty enough to demand our pound of flesh when the fate of European prosperity and harmony are in the balance, and for sniping at the Franco-German motor for decades.
This was not in Britain’s interests, not in the British people’s interests, not even in the government’s interests. This was in Bill Cash’s interests. Cameron may well have doomed us to the irrelevancy Howe warned us of many years ago.