24th January 2013
The newspapers have split along the expected lines when it comes to David Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on a renegotiated relationship with the European Union if he wins the next election. But some commentators are predicting some very surprising implications.
The Guardian leader column takes an economic approach warning of the risk to inward investment.
It writes: “Get-the-state-out-of-the-way economics always underlay some of the cant about sovereignty. Freeing up managers to “get on and manage” appears a self evident solution to southern English Conservatives like Mr Cameron, but attitudes differ in parts of the country which faced a dearth of industry before the slump. Some northern communities have been saved by inward investment decisions made as far away as Tokyo. The worldwide perception of Britain as a plausible base from which to serve the single market matters more than any new freedom to hire or fire.”
Guardian columnist Martin Kettle gets political pointing out that despite the cheer from many Conservative party Eurosceptics, the move carries huge risks for the Conservatives. He writes: “What if Cameron campaigns to stay in and loses? That would mean the end of his career, the probable fall of his government and the likelihood of civil war.”
The Financial Times leader column is unsurprisingly sceptical about the renegotiations in an opinion piece headed ‘Only half a good speech by Cameron’.
It writes: “Tories sometimes conflate the single market, which imposes common regulation, with a free trade zone. Mr Cameron will find the rest of the EU rather clear about the distinction. The notion of the UK unpicking old treaties and enjoying access to markets without observing its laws will provoke disbelief not only in France which has never shared the UK’s liberal take on Europe, but Germany which broadly does.”
The Financial Times also gives space to former Labour cabinet minister and European Commissioner Peter Mandelson to attack the move. He says: “If Mr Cameron were to seek exemption from employment and social policy regulation as well, while keeping trade and investment privileges of the single market, others would say: “Sorry, with rights come obligations – the EU is not a cafeteria service in which you arrive with your own tray and leave with what you want.”
City AM editor Allistair Heath is a firm supporter of the move. He writes: “Those who believe in free trade and open markets should not fear this referendum. The business community is divided on the EU, unlike in the 1970s when it almost universally backed the common market. Now many, especially smaller firms, but also plenty of larger ones support a looser arrangement.”
The Daily Mail leader column is hugely supportive: “Mr Cameron gave an unsparing honest and intelligent analysis of what is wrong with the unreformed EU, as it spreads its tentacles into aspects of our national life that are nobody’s business but our own.”
Daily Mail columnist Max Hastings is also on the same hymn sheet. He writes: “David Cameron contrived the notable feat of displaying his understanding of every strand of opinion among the British people. He has provided us with the most honest and penetrating account of our past, present and possible future relationship with Europe we are ever likely to get.”
The Times leader column says: “Structural reform of the EU is not a strange British obsession. It is a necessity and overdue. Mr Cameron has not caused a problem, but elucidated one. The rest of Europe must join him in solving it.”
But perhaps the most significant view in the Times is a letter from 48 industry and city figures backing the PM. It begins: “As business leaders we are passionate about Britain’s prosperity. We agree with the Prime Minister that Britain’s best chance of success is as part of a reformed Europe. We need a new relationship with the EU backed by a democratic mandate.”
Others suggests that we can now see the end of the PM’s career.
In the Independent, columnist Steve Richards says: “I suspect that most of the polls will point to another hung Parliament. That is why Cameron’s speech makes him less likely to be Prime Minister after the next election.”
But for now, The Sun appears to be leaving its options open on the in-out question at least. The Sun says: “Mr Cameron insisted yesterday that it will keep his pledge. If he does, one thing is clear – in or out, it WILL finally be our shout.”
But Sun associate editor Trevor Kavanagh thinks we may be on the way out. He says: “By promising an In-Out vote, Britain has unleashed a missile at Europe’s heart. The PM promised to fight to keep us in not lead us out. Brussels can call his bluff. But as Europe lurches ever deeper into crisis, UK voters could just as easily call theirs, and decide it’s safer to remain an independent nation than sell our sovereignty to a failing superstate.”
In the Telegraph, commentator Peter Oborne predicts a split in the Conservative Party. He writes: “Mr Cameron by committing the Tories to an in-out referendum, has greatly increased the likelihood that Britain will eventually leave the European Union while a formal split within the Conservative party over Europe looks almost certain.”
The Telegraph itself is less concerned. It compares David Cameron favourably with Margaret Thatcher.
It writes: “What even she did not offer, however, was to let the people decide whether they should stay in. In proposing that they should, Mr Cameron has taken an audacious and momentous step, and one deserving of the highest praise.”