Members of the Conservative party have made Europe a high priority for themselves for sometime. By high priority, read get the hell out of the club.
This obsession has caused difficulties to a succession of conservative leaders. David Cameron is the latest whose had to pander to the euro-sceptics within his party.
But he’s gone further than any of his predecessors in offering an in/out referendum. This of course will only happen if the Conservatives win the next election.
His strategy is to renegotiate the terms of the country’s relationship with the European Union. If he gets his way he’ll offer the country a referendum with him campaigning to stay in.
According to the PM British people would have a “very simple choice” to accept the result of the talks or to leave the EU altogether.
Now of course in all of this there are an awful lot of ‘ifs.’
The first ‘if’. He has to win an overall majority at the 2016 general election. Unless the economy improves this is going to be a very hard call for his party. Indeed the uncertainty this speech has caused in the business community may make it even more difficult for the economy to be turned around.
The other ‘if’ is what does renegotiation mean and will the Europeans be interested in delivering a negotiated settlement in the time table laid down by Cameron. Why should they rush to help a party that’s blackmailing them with the exit door if they don’t concede to the UK’s unilateral demands.
In his speech Mr Cameron did not spell out what powers he would like to see the UK take back as part of a new settlement. He didn’t even say what would happen if the negotiations did not go his way.
His speech has given him brownie points with a large section of the Conservative MPs and his party in the country. There’s no doubt he will be the darling of his party.
But the threat to leave the EU will create a great deal of uncertainty. And the last thing the economy needs at the moment is uncertainty. It’s hard to see that his stance is in the UK’s economic interest. It certainly won’t help the Welsh Government in their efforts to attract inward investment.
No foreign firm that wants to access the European market will consider Wales as their base if they think there’s a chance that the country will leave Europe. Other countries will gain at Wales’s loss.
Wales continue to get a great deal of help from Europe through structural funding to create jobs and build the economy. If we’re out there is little in the track record of Westminster to indicate that they’d help. If reform of Barnett is an indication Wales is far down the English governments agenda.
No, today’s speech may do Cameron some short term good but the real winners are UKIP. Europe is now up the agenda and the prospect of a campaign to exit will put a fresh step in Farage’s stride.
And of course Alex Salmon must be laughing all the way to his referendum. He’s now able to argue for an independent Scotland seated at the European table in the seat shortly to be vacated by the UK. The anti-unionist cause has been greatly helped by today’s speech. Good one, Dave.