Editor’s note: After this column was published, Cameron announced he would be delaying his speech in Amsterdam due to the hostage crisis in Algeria.
Some think the prospect impossible. Many think the outcome inevitable. Most think the question irrelevant.
Will Britain pull out of the European Union or fundamentally renegotiate the terms of its EU membership?
David Cameron promises to let the British people decide between these options sometime after the next general election in 2015. That, at least, is what Cameron is preparing to say in Amsterdam on Friday, in what has been billed as the most important British pronouncement on Europe since Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 speech in Bruges.
That famous speech, in which Thatcher denounced the EU’s plans to create the euro on the grounds that it would lead to a European “Super-state”, is remembered as among her most important and inspiring. But it irrevocably split the Conservative Party, and two years later, precipitated the Iron Lady’s sudden overthrow at what seemed like the height of her career. From the moment Conservative parliamentarians dismissed their greatest post-war leader, in what they themselves quickly diagnosed as a fit of collective madness, the party has been consumed by a crippling sense of guilt, especially on the subject of Europe, which shrewd political commentators have described as the Conservative Party’s Mark of Cain. This curse has manifested itself in many unexpected guises, most recently in the rise of the anti-European UK Independence Party, whose 9 percent support in opinion polls is sufficient to threaten Conservative majorities in dozens of parliamentary seats.