It was his longest anticipated speech so far in his reign as prime minister. When David Cameron finally stepped up behind the mic and spoke, the words coming from his mouth has been tinkered over for months.
The United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union has caused trouble for Cameron’s coalition government for a long time now. In 2011, 81 Tory MPs rebelled and demanded a referendum on on Britain’s membership of the EU. An increasing number of conservative politicians have defected to UKIP, in late 2012 the Daily Telegraph revealed that 8 Tory MPs held secret discussions about defection with UKIP. In many polls the EU sceptic party currently not represented in Parliament rivaled the Liberal Democrats for the spot as the “third party” in British politics. It is this rising tide of dissatisfaction Cameron wanted to stem with his speech.
From the podium he promised a in or out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in his next term, if he should be reelected. He clearly wants to eliminate the UKIP threat by luring all the EU sceptic votes to his Tory party in the next election, votes they sorely need, should we believe the polls. From a man that in days that now seems centuries ago warned his party against “banging on about Europe”, the referendum plan
Cameron’s speech has evoked grateful cheers from EU-sceptic rightwingers. Many now speak of the conservatives as a party united, for the first time in ages. The Daily Mail hailed Cameron’s speech with a “Yes, Prime Minister!” front page splash.
Labour quickly jumped into the trenches denouncing the plans for a referendum. Ed Miliband soon had to backtrack and said Labour does not rule out any EU membership referendum, but now is not the right time for such measures. He must tread easily
Nigel Farage claimed that the PM’s speech is UKIP’s biggest victory to date. He can not sit with ease as a Tory party may try to steal the “out of the union” trademark from him.
What Cameron failed to say in his speech, is what Britain expect from the EU, what laws does he want to change? Another unanswered question is how Cameron is supposed to persuade the French president and German chancellor to let Britain make it’s own renegotiate. Angela Merkel responded to the speech by stating that “cherry picking” would not be an option, Britain is not be allowed to pick a few things they like and skip the rest. As for their own policies, Germany and France has been prone to demand “cherry picking” for themselves to in the past. French farmers and German banks bere witness to that.
The chance that Britons would bother to vote themselves out of the European Union seems unlikely, as does, to a lesser degree, a second term for David Cameron. If his referendum strategy was a move of tactical genius or a desperate act of political impotence, only time will tell for sure. For now, it looks like a move to prevent a full scale civil war within his own party.