Well, thank goodness Cameron has achieved t his EU deal, has, as predicted, announced it as a triumph, and off we go for four months of wrangling before we, the public, decide whether to stay in or out.
Cameron has got off to a good start. Whatever the merits of the deal, (more of which later), he has gained a justified reputation for dogged determination in the negotiations, and has already used his undoubted PR skills, or maybe those of his team, by coining the words "special status" to define our future position in the EU if we vote to remain in it.
The idea of "special status" suits the British view of ourselves. Way back in 1930 Winston Churchill declared that "We [British] have our own dreams and our own task. We are with Europe but not part of it." In his memoirs (1979) the formidable Liberal leader Jo Grimond wrote
". . .we came out of the [Second World] war being told that we had saved the world by a unique act of courage against fearful odds. We naturally became convinced that the world must see that we were natural leaders of the West entitled by our deeds of valour and skill to rest on oars as far as work was concerned and owed a debt, indeed a living, by our neighbours."
So "special status" suits the British psyche: we can stand semi-detached, feeling slightly superior, and, as of right, having our cake and eating it.
Cameron's concessions don't amount to much, but that is not the point. He has played exactly the same game that Harold Wilson played in the mid-70s - renegotiated a deal sufficient to try to convince us that the game had changed sufficiently for continued membership to be worthwhile. It worked, by two to one.
In actual fact I believe all Cameron's concessions are moves in the wrong direction. He has:
- opted the UK out of "ever closer union." But the treaty speaks not of more integration of governments but "ever closer union of people." Surely that is a worthy aspiration, the road we should like history to take. It is an aspiration which for the moment is on the back burner, but the world will be a better and safer place when hopes for it are revived.
- dealt a mean hand for migrant workers, pandering to the "dog in the manger" pettiness of the tabloid press, out to sell newspapers by exploiting the meanest instincts of their readers.
- excluded the City from financial regulations emanating from the EU. This is the most brainless of all the concessions. Surely, after the crash brought about by financial irresponsibility in 2007/8 we need tighter rather than looser regulation. Not to mention promoting the alleged policies of skewing the UK economy away from excessive dependence on the financial sector and toward a "march of the makers" in a "northern powerhouse."
- secured a say in any decisions regarding the Eurozone which might affect non-members - the illogical position of not wanting to be a member of a club but demanding a say in how it is run.
We shall "never" join the Euro. "A week is a long time in politics" and "never" is even longer. My own prediction would be that, if the Euro overcomes its short-term difficulties, is reformed with a lender of last resort, along with adequate transfer mechanisms from stronger to weaker economies (as between the American states) then it will survive and we shall go begging to join within 20 years.
We hall "never" join a European army. Why ever not? In the long run I'd like to see all national armies ceded to the United Nations as an international armed police force, and a European army could be a step on the way. We are already, from the Second World War onwards, accustomed to British forces being under foreign command - first Eisenhower then other NATO commanders, so this is nothing new.
There were at lest two more "nevers" but I can't remember what they were.
However, I doubt if the details of the Cameron concessions will feature largely in the referendum campaign. The question now is whether we see Britain's future as an isolated island, a rowing-boat bobbing behind the USS United States, or a partner co-operating with our neighbours in culture, politics, philosophy and economics, to help steer ourselves and the world to a saner, fairer, and sustainable future.