European Travails Ahead

Mark appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday 4 November (click here to listen) to discuss the government’s defeat on the EU budget vote. Now that the dust has settled, here are a few of his thoughts on what this means for our future relationship with Europe.

David Cameron finds himself in an unenviable position following last week’s coalition government defeat on the crucial question of the European Union’s future budget.

We shall continue to hear much talk from emboldened Conservative MPs about the imminent repatriation of powers from the European Union. I am afraid to say, however, that this or any substantial renegotiation of our relationship with the EU is complete fantasy.

There is no third way in the UK’s relationship with Europe.

For some years now, we have enjoyed very little support and had few friends in the EU. Unfortunately over the past two years or so this administration has not exactly gone out of its way to build bridges.

We clutch only at straws when it is claimed that the UK can count on nations like the Czech Republic, Finland or Poland as allies in our cause to oppose increases in the EU’s budget. The truth is that political considerations mean that these countries’ fears both of a resurgent Russia and global upheaval will keep them cleaving close to EU orthodoxy. As for the economics, most of our would-be allies are net beneficiaries from the existing arrangements.

I suspect also that there has been an unspoken bargain struck between the Eurozone and the European Central Bank. For those struggling Eurozone nations which have had austerity programmes foisted upon them, there will no doubt have been an assurance that the generously increasing EU money-go-round will continue as compensation. This is not something, I appreciate, that British Eurosceptics will find cheer in.

The upshot is that we are fast being faced with a binary choice between the effective status quo and getting out of the European Union altogether.

In whatever diplomatic way the Prime Minister chooses to negotiate these troubled waters, of one thing we can be for sure – he is fast running out of time and room for manoeuvre.