James Forsyth James Forsyth

The Conservative renegotiation strategy

In The Spectator this week, Charles Moore argued that David Cameron — despite his oft-stated desire to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership — doesn’t actually have a European policy. Charles’ criticisms have clearly stung. For in his Telegraph column, he outlines what post-2015, the Conservatives would seek in any renegotiation:

“In essence, the scheme is to turn the EU into two concentric rings. The inner ring shares the euro and undergoes political union. The outer ring avoids both these things and has a looser, trading membership grounded in national parliamentary sovereignty.
You could say that this split already exists, in fact if not in theory, but the difference is that, in the emerging model, the EU would be legally reconstituted. The inner ring would not be permitted to dictate to the outer. The Brussels version of Sauron’s “one ring to rule them all” doctrine would be broken at last. The authors of the idea expect that it will appeal to other EU member states who either fall out of the euro in coming years, or shy away from joining it, and also to members of the European Economic Area. But if it did not do so, they would still go ahead and negotiate these terms for Britain alone.”

There are two major concerns about this approach. The first, as Charles points out, is that the best moment to negotiate might come with a new treaty before 2015. The second is whether the rest of the European Union would agree.

As Charles emphasises, for this approach to have any chance of success, the British government would have to be prepared to make clear that it would leave if it didn’t get the lion’s share of what it wanted. Without that threat, it is hard to see the 26 other countries even contemplating such a radical reconstituting of the European order.

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