It seems that the Prime Minister is willing to risk a whole lot in order to secure a victory over just one north Kent constituency. Relations towards Europe appear to be secondary in his quest to curb UKIP’s progress in the polls and to try to keep some of his party members from changing sides. It has always been a standard in British domestic politics to roll the blame on Europe in times of turmoil, but this time, fearing a mass exodus from the Tories to UKIP, it looks like David Cameron is committed to use nearly whatever measures it takes to be a more appealing leader in the eyes of the loudest voices in the EU debate.

Euroscepticism and the ‘British Bill of Rights’

Douglas Carswell’s defection and later landslide victory in the Claction byelection, this time in UKIP’s purple and yellow colours[1], clearly convinced the man in Number 10 that now is the time to step up a gear. After first actively ignoring and then nervously laughing at UKIP’s Eurosceptic rhetoric, he has now finally and expectedly jumped properly on the anti-EU bandwagon. The Cameron-led coalition has not been known as a particularly Euro-friendly government, but the current development is a swift step to a more confrontational stance towards Europe. Not just to the European Union, but towards the whole continent.

This became evident when the proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act in order to introduce a new ‘British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities’ was announced in the Conservative Party Conference this October[2]. Currently the only European states that have not signed the European Convention on Human Rights are Belarus and Vatican City as they are not members of the Council of Europe. The Council consists of 47 member states and is currently being led by, at best questionably democratic, Azerbaijan[3]. Thus, it may not be too smart of a move for the UK to withdraw from the treaty just to join that certain group of non-signatory nations.

Tilting at EU windmills

The next step on the Tory leader’s mission of trying to grasp the overemphasised Eurosceptic section of the electorate was to take on the issue of EU migration to the UK. Cameron stated that he was going to go to Brussels demanding a right to limit EU migration and that he ‘will not take no for an answer'[4]. Unfortunately for him, this would be against the free movement of persons, a principle that has been a fundamental part of the European integration since the Treaty of Rome in 1957 that established the European Economic Community (EEC), which in turn makes any attempt to limit EU migration incompatible with the EU treaties. The Prime Minister of a European Union state should have understood this from the get-go.

It is nonetheless interesting how this kind of blind barking in the dark is considered an effective way in trying to attract voters in modern day politics. However, when it comes to detail, the loudest voices tend to descend towards vague answers. As Cameron said, his plans on reforming immigration will be set ‘in due course'[5], a statement no one can claim to be too informative given the importance of the subject. Promising to get ‘what Britain needs’ in his speech in the Conservative Party Conference is not especially specific either.

His ambivalence continued on October 24th when he announced that Britain would not be paying to the EU the surcharge of £1.7bn. At least not by 1st of December (the date set by the EU), as according to the BBC he did not rule out paying the sum afterwards[6]. Admittedly the EU is showcasing a complete lack of political timing and sense in presenting this demand now without taking the recent rise in the anti-EU comments into account, but David Cameron is currently balancing on a very thin line and crossing the Rubicon might only be one miscalculated step away.

Yes/No Referendum

Desperation has been evident in Mr Cameron’s efforts to try and match UKIP’s hostility towards Europe. When the plans to limit migration from the other EU member states were deemed impossible by everyone from the UKIP party leader Nigel Farage, to the then soon-to-be former President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso[7], the Conservative party was quick to keep pushing forward the bid to make their commitment to an in/out EU referendum legally binding[8]. Cameron himself has not clearly stated if he will be backing up the ‘out’ voters in the case, but the recent changes may well indicate that his position is indeed sliding towards that side of the argument.

In the end this means that the responsibility of answering the question on the EU membership is being pushed on the British electorate, which is intensely being manipulated by both sides of the possible referendum debate. The choice, therefore, is ultimately lying in the hands of the voters, of which, according to the 2014 Eurobarometer, only 48 per cent said they understood how the EU works[9]. This is an alarmingly low level of knowledge from the point of view of the European Union. After all it may not be too smart of a move for the UK to show the international society how it walks away from a union with 27 more or less liberal democratic countries.

How this all winds up remains to be seen later, once campaigning for the 2015 General Elections really begins. Then it would be a good time for the pro-EU campaigners to finally start raising their voices as well.

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/clacton-byelection-douglas-carswell-becomes-ukips-first-elected-mp-after-sensational-victory-9786271.html

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/interactive/2014/oct/03/conservatives-human-rights-act-full-document

[3] http://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/home

[4] http://press.conservatives.com/post/98882674910/david-cameron-speech-to-conservative-party-conference

[5] http://online.wsj.com/articles/leaving-eu-would-be-historic-mistake-for-u-k-says-commission-president-1413810594

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29754168

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29680059

[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29656489

[9] http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb81/eb81_publ_en.pdf (p. 121)