A Draft Speech for a British Prime Minister

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Good evening

When I announced an In/Out EU Referendum in 2013 I laid out my vision for a fundamentally reformed European Union which would be better equipped to face a competitive world beset with economic and security problems. I identified three key challenges that needed to be addressed, namely, problems with the eurozone, competitiveness and the role of national governments including a recognition of the importance of national sovereignty. In my speech I identified 5 principles that supported my vision. First, there should be improvements to European competitiveness by reforming the European Commission to provide a more nimble organisation more focussed on global free trade. Second, the EU needed to adopt a more flexible approach with less emphasis on one-size-fits-all political solutions, and safeguards that recognised national interests and diverse opinion. Third, I wanted power to flow back to the member states, and, fourthly, a greater role for national parliaments to improve democratic accountability in the absence of a European demos. Finally, I wanted to see a fair settlement that balanced the interests of those inside the Eurozone against those outside. My speech was positive and delivered in the spirit of a committed member of the European Union who could see a better way.

Since the General Election of 2015 you will be aware that I have visited most EU capitals and campaigned tirelessly for the kind of changes that I believe are necessary to produce a European Union best equipped for the 21st Century and to secure the UK’s position within it. It is important that people realise that most effective international diplomacy is conducted in private and outside of the glare of the kind of publicity that we have seen in Brussels this week. Proper diplomacy is quiet work, and it relies on relationships that in some cases were forged and nurtured over hundreds of years. I have to tell you that over the many private meetings that I have held in the last 10 months it has become very apparent to me that there is no collective will for the kind of changes that I outlined in my Bloomberg vision set out in 2013. It seems that the UK sees our place in the world differently to others and that this difference can not now be resolved. We have therefore truly arrived at a fork in the road.

The deal that has been agreed in Brussels this week therefore marks the high water of institutional change that other EU countries are prepared to accept. I expect that most of you would agree that it falls very far short of my 2013 vision of fundamental EU reform, and it highlights that the direction that other EU countries wish to follow is based on closer political union and centralisation something that the United Kingdom finds hard to accept. Some of you may well ask, why did you battle so hard for the deal if it was not something that fulfilled your expectations? Well, the reason is that I wanted to negotiate the very best terms that could be achieved and then let the British people decide if it was enough. Whatever international deal is presented to the people, it is the duty of a Prime Minister to ensure that it was the very best that could be achieved on behalf of his nation. If you hold the deal to be insufficient then I would much prefer that it was because it represents a difference of international opinion rather than because your Prime Minister didn’t try hard enough.

To my mind, the reasons for either remaining in or leaving the EU are now finely balanced. It is the most important strategic decision that we will make as a country since the Second World War and therefore it is right that the British people conduct a serious and mature debate on the matter before making their decision. Whilst the deal may seem poor, it needs to be viewed in the context of all the other reasons for either remaining or leaving this organisation. A poor deal alone may be insufficient reason to leave as there are a myriad other factors that also need to be considered. For example, there can be no argument that in some situations it is better and stronger to act as a group of like-minded countries. But on the other hand, does common action require a political union that draws sovereign power away from the people in individual countries and reduce the value of their vote?

I do not intend to set out all the factors that need to be considered as this will be played out in detail during the coming months before the referendum which I now announce will take place at the earliest opportunity on 23rd June. However, I do wish to make some remarks on the conduct of the forthcoming campaigns. First, it is right that such an important matter for the country is debated in a mature and objective manner. In this regard, I hope that both campaigns will set aside the usual political point scoring and negative campaigning and set out their cases objectively and factually. This is not only important to achieve a result based on proper democratic foundations but also because it will be played out in the full scrutiny of the the rest of the international community. One of my priorities has been to minimise the diplomatic fallout resulting from this referendum and the manner in which we conduct our national debate will reflect on us internationality.

It is also for this reason that I have decided to adopt a neutral role in the debate. Myself as the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor will play no part in the debate other than to facilitate it. There is important diplomatic business to conduct over the coming months including the economic recovery, the refugee crisis, Syria, Iraq and Libya. This will require close contact with many countries that will be affected by our vote in June, and it would be untenable for us to attend such meetings if we had adopted any other position than a neutral one in the matter of the EU referendum. Aside from these three senior government politicians, the rest of the cabinet is released from cabinet collective responsibility with immediate affect to campaign as they see fit. I have placed some constraints on ministers but these are minor and intended to ensure that a proper amount of time is spent on other ministerial duties. I am determined that whilst the debate may rage, the government will not be sidetracked and will continue to deliver on the promises made in our manifesto. It is also important that Britain now holds the fullest and most meaningful of debates and with this in mind it is important that elected politicians play a full role in examining the issues before the people finally decide.

This country has played a huge role in international affairs over the course of our long and proud history. The direction in we choose to go will not only determine our own future but will also set a model for the rest of the world who will watch with great interest and in some cases with a degree of fear. Closer to home, it is important also to recognise that there will be no second referendum on the matter. Our decision in June will set our course for the foreseeable future and therefore it will also be important that we come together as a country to unite around the collective will of the people once a decision is made. It is a big moment for us but I am confident that the British people will conduct their deliberations carefully and soberly before deciding wisely.

Could Cameron do a Hugh Grant on Saturday?

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The differences between the Prime Minister’s EU aspirations outlined in his 2013 Bloomberg Speech and the thin gruel seemingly contained in his draft EU renegotiation agreement are so stark that I find it perplexing. In no way, could the draft agreement constitute the promised ‘fundamental reform of the EU’. It throws some minor titbits in the UK’s direction but the EU itself is largely unchanged and will lumber on regardless especially as there is no legal cement provided by treaty change. However, Cameron is no fool, and all this makes me wonder what he is really up to? I can’t accept that what seems to be on offer is the end of the story and I find myself wondering if he could really be a Leaver who might be prepared to throw caution to the wind and declare an honest hand in the manner of the British Prime Minister played by Hugh Grant in the film, Love Actually

Then I woke up!

And yet. Surely, the Prime Minister can’t think that the British voter will fail to notice a dud deal when they see one. David Cameron is far too clever for that, and I therefore fully expect that he is playing a subtler game and that his real strategy has yet to be revealed. Here are some thoughts on how things could unfurl

In the first scenario, the conventional narrative is correct and what you see is what you get. In this case, the Bloomberg Speech contained promises that, in the context of a 2013 Coalition government, the PM never thought he would have to keep. The majority he gained in the 2015 election was unexpected and so he now finds himself having to wriggle out of his previous declarations. In this case, Cameron has already decided that the UK will stay in the EU and he has calculated that he can scare the voters into supporting him. He is following the Wilson model and he will brazen it out by trumpeting what a great deal he has secured. His assertions will be supported by a ‘3-shirt, acrimonious’ meeting with fellow EU leaders from which he will emerge bleary-eyed and victorious after a hard-fought battle with the French playing the traditional role as the defeated European foe. If he feels his side of the campaign needed an extra boost he might even walk out of this weekend’s talks before returning to ’emergency’ talks a month later to secure the ‘important’ terms that he demands. The press might have you believe that this would constitute a ‘failure’ on the PM’s part but in the eyes of his core vote and the undecided middle ground it would probably be seen as a show of strength and reinforce the idea that the deal is actually something substantive and worth fighting for. This is the scenario being played out in the press but it is the least likely to my mind. The deal is so transparently a paper tiger that there is a real likelihood that the electorate will reject it and vote to leave, leaving the PM on the losing side and the wrong side of history. It’s why I believe it’s not that simple.

Before moving on, we should briefly address the key question of which target audience is the PM addressing with his recent remarks? It can’t be his party who increasingly see his round-robin of european capitals as a begging mission and a bit of a national humiliation. I don’t think either that it is the europhiles who are largely convinced ‘Remainians’ anyway. In my view, he is addressing European politicians and the public in other countries, and I need to explain this.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it is absolutely right that a British Prime Minister should seek to minimise the diplomatic damage that will undoubtedly result from the referendum process as to do otherwise would be against our national interest. If we end up leaving, we need to minimise the strategic fallout which could be considerable. On the other hand, even a vote to remain in the EU could undermine long-term diplomatic relationships if it was secured clumsily. With this in mind, I believe that the PM had no choice but to enter into EU negotiations seeking realistic (weak) changes and to portray the UK as ‘willing’ Europeans and ‘reluctant’ potential leavers. If he had entered into talks demanding huge and unrealistic changes that could never be accepted in other capitals he would have been perceived as a pre-determined leaver and the EU would have just given up on us amid much diplomatic rancour and long term damage.

If this explains the PM’s behaviour and remarks in the last few months, it also raises questions about what he is really seeking. If it is indeed a diplomatic charade, then it raises the possibility that the Prime Minister actually does want us to leave the EU or is at least agnostic. I noted that the PM has not unequivocally signed up to Tusk’s draft letter and there have been remarks from No10 and Ministers about it ‘being the basis of a negotiation’ Does this mean that the UK might attempt to introduce new and as yet unseen material into the talks? Certainly the French are alive to the threat as even President Hollande remarked last week that there should be nothing else in the talks beyond what is stated in the draft agreement. If the UK wanted to ensure that the talks were unsuccessful, then I can think of no better way of engineering it than by making a late bid for new clauses. The effect of failed talks would be electrifying. In the extreme case, the PM could come home on Saturday declare himself a reluctant leaver and campaign to leave. This would be the Hugh Grant option. Does this explain why some of the more senior ministers seem to have gone silent? In reality, probably not although its a nice thought. I believe that it is more likely that he plans to use the failed talks as a lever to gain something altogether different such as the Associate Membership model. Under this plan, the UK would sit in outer ring of slowcoaches whilst an inner core forged ahead with closer political integration. To my mind, Associate Membership would constitute a second class status which I would vigorously oppose but I mention now to illustrate that the Prime Minister’s position is still opaque.

There are probably a number of other scenarios that you could think of and any one could be true. The important point though is that nothing is ever as it seems with politics and international affairs. David Cameron is a wily animal and in my opinion we have not yet see the half of it. The clues will be in his remarks and by careful consideration of which audience he is talking to. The BBC’s Andrew Marr show may well provide the clue. The weekend ahead promises to be extremely interesting.