It is almost unbelievable that Cameron should have manipulated himself so deftly into a position of total humiliation over the president of the EU Commission appointment. He made clear from the beginning that his goal was to remain within the EU, but to seek reform of the treaties to which Britain along with all the other 27 countries had consented. He never wanted an in/out referendum over membership of the EU, but he conceded a referendum in 2017 because of threats from the Tory Right. He then triangulated these positions by demanding EU reforms that he must have known the other 27 members were certain to reject. He then implied that if he didn’t get his way, Britain was likely to leave the EU, an ultimatum that lost whatever sympathetic allies he way have had at the outset. He gave the impression he either had a death wish or else was the most incompetent negotiator in modern times.
Cameron was right that Juncker, the ‘ultimate EU career insider’ as he called him, was a poor choice, a throwback to the kind of fixing behind closed doors that alienated so many EU voters as centralising and remote. But his handling of the process to displace him was deplorable. In particular he never proposed a genuine alternative (Lansley was hardly a serious choice), and the 7 demands he made for ‘reform’ were never viable. They were clearly designed to dismantle any idea of an EU working together, in favour of individual countries able to opt out of anything they didn’t like – even though Britain had had as much opportunity to forge the original legislation as any other State. Such a view was anathema to a large majority of the EU and would never prevail.
Cameron made 7 demands. First, he wanted ‘powers flowing away from Brussels, no to it. Second, he wanted national parliaments to be able to work together to block unwanted EU legislation, even though Britain had the same rights as every other EU State to oppose such legislation in its formulation at the outset. Third, he wanted business liberated from red tape (i.e. more of the de-regulation which caused the crash in the first place) and benefiting from the strength of the EU’s own marketto open up greater free trade with North America and Asia (i.e. signing up to the TTIP with the US which like other international trade treaties has always strengthened capital but led to huge losses of jobs). Fourth, he wanted UK police forces and justice systems to be able to protect British citizens unencumbered by unnecessary interference from EU institutions (i.e. he wanted Britain to opt out of the ECHR). Fifth, he wanted free movement to take up work, not free benefits (powers which the UK government is already taking to itself). Sixth, he wanted new mechanisms to prevent vast migrations across the continent (though Britain already takes far fewer immigrants from the EU than Germany, France or Italy). And seventh, he objected to the concept of ‘ever closer union’ to which every EU country has to sign up.
His isolation and defeat on every single item was as humiliating as it was predictable. This is not the behaviour of a prime minister in whose judgement the British people can have confidence.