British Influence have today published my open letter to David Cameron. The full text is below.
Dear Prime Minister,
Firstly, congratulations on your election result. Your majority is thin, and your government will be fragile — but it is a government nonetheless.
In the course of winning power, you have committed us all to a referendum that many of us did not want, a colossal distraction from real and desperately pressing domestic issues. You did it because you needed a way to silence your anti-European backbenchers for the duration of an election you did not, realistically, expect to win. Fair enough; I understand that. As a tactical manoeuvre, it paid off. You have your government.
But there will be no honeymoon for you. Your party’s shrill eurosceptic wing has held its tongue for the duration of the campaign, and now it wants its pound of flesh in return. Remember that your hard-right backbenchers have always hated Europe far more than you even care about it. They have shown themselves ready on many occasions to say anything, countenance anything, or trade away any other point of Conservative principle when they believe it will further their cause. And they have form: many of them are the same anti-Europeans who knowingly destablised John Major’s government twenty years ago.
One day soon, you will hark back to the era of coalition government, wistfully recalling a time when you could shrug your shoulders in the face of your backbenchers’ demands and mutter, “I’m sorry, the Lib Dems won’t let me”. You no longer have that get-out clause. You are going to have to face down the dogmatic anti-Europeans yourself. Good luck.
As for winning an EU referendum, I know you are not in the habit of taking advice, but permit me to offer some anyway. It is, believe it or not, intended entirely sincerely. You can still come out of this with something resembling success — that is, without fatally undermining Britain’s place on the world stage.
My advice is this: Get on board.
Nowadays, the European Union is anyway one big, ongoing reform process. Right now, we (yes, we: Britain and our neighbouring countries, working together) are undertaking a massive and ongoing review of European legislation. For instance, we’ve just implemented a fundamental reform of the common fisheries policy. We’re investing heavily in cross-border competitiveness, deepening the single market, and updating our environmental protection rules. We’re improving transparency, rewriting the rulebook about how European laws are made, and hard-wiring impact assessments into the legislative process. And we’re focusing our efforts on areas where we all agree that acting together at European rather than national level will save money, or improve effectiveness, or both.
Now, none of this will satisfy the haters. Nothing will. But, crucially, these are all reforms that you yourself say you want. And guess what? Europe agrees with you! The tragedy is that, while you’ve been posturing back home about tweaking a declaratory preamble, or securing a unilateral opt-out, or conflating entirely unrelated issues like non-EU migration and EU freedom of movement, the rest of us have been getting on with the job that really needs doing.
It’s time for a change of tack. Your priority now must be to secure a positive consensus in advance of the referendum. This will mean supporting forward proposals that are genuinely in the national interest — and not just partisan concerns which would put a ‘Yes’ vote at risk, such as rowing back on the provisions of the social chapter.
So this is an opportunity for you. If you weigh in now and put Britain’s weight behind a constructive EU reform agenda, governments across Europe will welcome you with open arms. Britain could give Europe exactly the boost it needs for its next round of reform in everyone’s interests, and you might even win back some of the international influence you’ve frittered away over the last five years. You, Mr Cameron, could fundamentally change how we do things in Europe — not single-handedly, but working together with your friends and allies.
Of course you will need to pretend, when talking to your party or even to the voters, that it was all your own idea. You will need to say that you didn’t take no for an answer, that you faced down the French, that you brandished your handbag or shook your fist or or put your foot down. Trot out whatever cover story you need to get your party on board. By all means, don’t feel you have to spell out the truth if you’re worried your backbenchers can’t face it.
I won’t tell if you won’t — it can be our little secret.