Listen to this article
After much delay, and some embarrassing switches of date and location, David Cameron will on Friday give his long-awaited “major” speech on Britain and the EU.
Friends, Romans, countrymen lend me your ears. Well, friends and countrymen anyway. You Romans can toddle off for a bit. I come to bury the EU, not to praise it. Well, to half bury, half praise it. I come to braise it.
I hope you were not too troubled by the last-minute location change. I originally intended to give this speech in Berlin next Tuesday, but it clashed with the 50th anniversary of the Franco-German partnership. So I moved it to Amsterdam but all the easyJet flights were booked, so here we are outside the Hollister store in London’s Westfield centre. And you know, it is appropriate to give this speech here, in front of five shoppers, two security guards, and 450 journalists, because Britain is, above all, a trading nation.
British leaders have a fine tradition of European speeches: Churchill, Heath, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Bobby Robson – who can forget his epic “we was robbed” speech, the same one given by Thatcher and Major, now I think about it. So I hope the late changes do not give you the wrong idea about how much thought has gone into this. Many years ago, John Major talked of the “variable geometry” of Europe; well, this speech has variable geography.
We face two challenges. First, to define our EU relationship in a way that maximises the benefit to the UK and second in a way that minimises the problems for the Tory party.
This is a speech I have struggled hard to avoid giving and I hope that by its end you will believe that I stayed true to that goal. Britain’s prospects in Europe have long been served by opacity, by treading that fine line between hint and nuance. The last time I was forced to detail a policy I pulled out of the European People’s party. This was great for morale and my leadership prospects, but it did damage my relationship with my dear friend Andrea Merkel.
But I have been forced to speak out by a vociferous group of MPs who do not trust my lack-of-policy policy and who note that it is 47 years since we won a football championship; 16 years since we won Eurovision and 25 since we last won a vote at the European Council.
They want a referendum on Britain’s future in Europe and many are asking me directly if I will promise that vote. So let me answer this square on. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t.
Let me be even more clear. I see a Britain fully committed to Europe; I am unambitiously for a Britain at both the heart and margins of the EU. I want a Europe in which we are all in this together but where some are in it a little less than others. The beating heart of Britain wants to be there with our friends as long as they are less bossy, less interfering and keep their hands off our fish.
I know some in business worry about the uncertainty created by this but when the alternative is the certainty demanded by Douglas Carswell, perhaps they should cut me some slack. Europe is changing and this offers us a chance to secure better membership terms. So we will talk tough; negotiate hard and then present whatever we get as a major victory.
The sceptics – and to some extent I count myself among them – fear that the EU is heading towards a political union. They say the train is leaving the station and we can no longer keep one foot on the platform. The pro-Europeans – and to some extent I count myself among them – say the time has come to jump aboard. But our goal is to keep the train moving slowly enough for us to keep one foot on the ground and hop alongside. We may not always hop. Sometimes we’ll skip, step or jump.
You know, the other day, I saw the new movie Lincoln. And I recall his famous remark that you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. This seems the perfect EU policy if we can just get the sequencing right. When it comes to European policy, Honest Abe knew a thing or two.
Where’s the beef
Tesco and other supermarkets have stopped selling some beefburgers after checks found traces of pork and horsemeat in some products.
David Cameron was facing embarrassment after traces of waffle and obfuscation were found in his major EU speech. Analysts identified DNA from pro- and anti-EU camps but were unable to ascertain the exact percentage as they were still struggling to find the beef.
Get alerts on Brexit when a new story is published