Is David Cameron a reluctant europhile?
Is it possible to construct a more confusing policy than David Cameron's stance on the EU?
First he was against a referendum. Then he was sort-of for one, although it would come after power negotiations and could possibly just take the form of a general election. Now he's saying he would campaign against leaving the EU in a referendum. That raises the prospect of a prime minister travelling to Brussels to negotiation repatriation of powers with the threat of a referendum he will definitely campaign against. No wonder the Europeans find us frustrating.
If you can't explain a policy in one sentence – the elevator pitch – then you won't be able to explain it to the public. You couldn't explain Cameron's policy even if you were given a full book. The PM is tying himself in the most absurd knots trying to pacify his party while not shaking the boat too much on the continent.
The longer he is in power the less eurosceptic he becomes. In opposition he was militant – pulling his MEPs out the centre right grouping (bad move) and pledging referendums triggered by further transfers of powers (good move). Now, after two years in Downing Street, he considers himself a 'pragmatic eurosceptic', but it really is difficult to disentangle that from being a europhile with a dash of resentment. A eurosceptic would never actually rule out leaving the EU would they? In truth, he is a reluctant europhile – and he doesn't even seem that reluctant anymore.
This is dangerous territory for Cameron. Europe, as we all know, breaks parties. The PM leads a united party, in that almost every MP is eurosceptic. It is already creating new rifts however – primarily between those who want an in-or-out referendum now and those who want a multiple choice referendum later, once the horror storm of the eurocrisis has passed. Even that level of practical disagreement could break the party. The very idea that Cameron is a traitor in their midst, a bona-fide europhile, will lend further confidence to backbenchers who are already happy rebelling against his leadership.