A year after David Cameron promised a referendum on EU membership, the British prime minister and his Conservative party are alienating potential allies across the Channel. He needs to pitch reforms that benefit the whole bloc, not just pander to eurosceptics. Otherwise an “Out” vote looks more likely.
Cameron promised to hold a referendum by the end of 2017, assuming he’s still in power. His original hope was to first renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership sufficiently so that he could then sell the advantages of staying in to a sceptical electorate.
In such a scenario, the expectation was that much of Tory press would rally round – or at least mute their criticism. Meanwhile, business would campaign to stay in, alongside the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in Cameron’s coalition, and the opposition Labour party.
Cameron’s strategy was partly based on the idea that the EU would need a new treaty to keep the euro zone together. This would give Britain leverage to extract concessions, say repatriating powers on social policy, as the other 27 EU members would need its approval to change the organisation’s treaties.
This scheme never looked terribly convincing, not least because many other EU countries are afraid they could never get a new treaty ratified by their people. They are also reluctant to open a negotiation that would give Britain the ability to dictate terms.