If David Cameron is to succeed in his European renegotiations, he will have to work on his anger management, writes Andrew Rawnsley.
“If you don’t give me this, I will lead the out campaign,” he blurted at Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands and probably his closest ally in Europe, during the EU-Turkey summit a fortnight ago. He had a similar strop at separate meetings with Donald Tusk, the former prime minister of Poland and president of the European Council, and with Jean Claude-Juncker, the president of the commission. I’ve also heard that Mr Cameron made similar threats that he would tell the British people to vote to leave the EU during meetings with European leaders at the climate change conference in Paris.
To those on the receiving end of the prime minister’s outbursts, this was a shock. They thought they had previously heard private reassurances from him that he would campaign for a yes vote. They were further taken aback because his attempt to renegotiate the terms of British membership of the EU had been going reasonably well until this point. Most of his counterparts were highly sympathetic to his desire for a quick timetable with the aim of sealing a deal at this week’s European Council. Europe has a huge heap of other issues groaning on its plate and uncertainty about whether Britain will remain is destabilising for the whole of the EU. His fellow leaders would like Mr Cameron’s referendum over and done with just as much as he would. Although the whole thing irritates many of his counterparts, there is even some grudging acknowledgment in European capitals that Britain’s prime minister might be on to something when he argues that the EU needs to reform if it is to sustain the consent of its citizens. [...] In some respects, all this had made Mr Cameron look quite prescient. He also seemed to have banked some goodwill from his commutes around various European capitals, during which he has sought to woo other leaders of nations large and small. His prospects of getting his package wrapped and tied up in a Union Jack ribbon in time for Christmas had looked really quite promising.
So what went wrong? And why did it go so badly wrong that everyone accepts that there is now no hope of getting a deal done, as originally intended, at this week’s summit in Brussels? One of Mr Cameron’s stated ambitions for the renegotiation has always been a massive problem. The item on his list that has met a brick wall of resistance in the rest of the EU is the demand that Britain be allowed to impose a four-year ban on migrant workers claiming in-work benefits. Even those of his counterparts most friendly to his cause have long been warning him that this is unachievable because it violates the EU’s principle that countries cannot discriminate against the citizens of other member states. [...]
It would be reckless both with his own reputation and the future of Britain for David Cameron to sabotage his renegotiation over a lesser order issue and in the process make it that much harder to win the referendum. Prime minister Jekyll seems to have belatedly grasped that. Now he needs to keep a tighter leash on his inner Hyde.
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