Cameron EU speech. Convincingly unconvincing?

David Cameron made a spirited defence of Britain's place in a reformed EU. The problem is that that basic case is not very strong, and slick presentation won't compensate for a fundamental lack of credibility

EU referendum will make or break Cameron
the commentator
On 10 November 2015 08:46

You have to hand it to David Cameron: he really has mastered the presentational art of coming across as Mr. Reasonable. In that respect, his landmark speech on Britain's relationship with the European Union on Tuesday morning was a class act.

While tone is always important, however, the fundamental problem with his approach is that significant sections of the British public are convinced they have been deceived via slick presentation for decades.

And at his Chatham House speech, there was slick presentation in abundance.

To be fair, even hardline euroscpetics would find it difficult to disagree that his four key proposals -- outlined again in Tuesday's speech -- would make our relationship with the EU better than it is today.

Which eurosceptic is against a new deal such that British taxpayers should never be asked to pay for propping up the eurozone? Who is against improved competitiveness? Show us the eurosceptic who wouldn't welcome a formal end to "ever closer union"? Find us one single member of UKIP who would be against slashing welfare and benefit rights for immigrants from Europe or against deporting migrants who haven't found a job within six months?

And Cameron is too savvy a politician to have outlined such a wish list without being pretty confident he's going to be able to get his European counterparts to tick all the boxes.

The problem is twofold: First, precisely because he's not asking for very much, he won't be able to offer enough to convince the sceptics. It will still remain the case, to take the most sensitive issue at stake, that anyone and everyone in the European Union will be able to migrate to Britain.

You try deporting half a million people because they haven't found employment within six months. We've had bogus asylum seekers in far smaller numbers that we haven't been able to deport for decades.

The second problem is that his general enthusiasm for the European project does not resonate with significant sections of the British public that have understood that that project is flawed.

Take the eurozone. The Cameron argument is that it isn't for us, but that it is in our interests for those that have joined it to make the eurozone work.

But the eurozone can't work. It's structurally flawed, condemning its members to lurch from one crisis to another in perpetuity. And since the majority of EU states are in the eurozone, with others to follow suit, the whole of the EU, including Britain, will always be dragged down too.

Cameron also raised the issue of national security, invoking ISIL, Ukraine, Iran and other matters that he says we can do a better job of dealing with in cooperation with our European neighbours.

Well sure, but why do we have to be a member of the EU to have close security cooperation with EU member states? We're members of NATO, and we manage that feat without giving other NATO states control over our fisheries policy.

At the end of the day, the problem is that Cameron and the British foreign policy elite have bought far more deeply into the European project than most of the rest of us. They edit out of the argument problems that are staring us, and Europe as whole, in the face, and, therefore, lack credibility.

Ultimately, come the referendum, that might be the issue that nails it.

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