Imagine if David Cameron actually meant it. Imagine if he really did follow through with his implied threat to campaign for Brexit in the absence of better terms from Brussels. You can picture the televised address. An oak-panelled background with a large union flag hanging sedately in the corner, the PM with that furrowed house-captain expression he sometimes does. The script pretty much writes itself.
‘All of you know how hard I tried to secure a new deal. I was often criticised for being too conciliatory, but it was my duty to do whatever was in my power to reform the EU. I have to tell you today that the Brussels institutions are not interested in — are perhaps not capable of — the reforms that I believe the British people want. I am therefore seeking a different relationship with the EU, one based on free trade rather than political union.
‘We remain committed to the free circulation of goods, services and capital in Europe. Like Switzerland, we shall continue to participate fully in the European market. But we shall now be free to sign bilateral trade accords with faster-growing nations on more distant continents. We shall control our domestic affairs: taxation, employment law, social policy, defence, farming, fishing, immigration. And our statutes will, for the first time since 1972, have primacy on our -territory.
‘It will be for the British people to decide whether to remain in the EU or whether to pursue this global vision. I intend, if re–elected in May, to campaign in a referendum for independence, to negotiate an amicable separation from the EU, and to recover the maritime and mercantile vocation that our fathers took for granted.’
A landslide election victory would surely follow. If even so moderate a politician as David Cameron felt that EU membership could no longer be tolerated, the country would rally to his cause.
Almost no one expects it to happen, though.