David Cameron looks to be preparing for the possibility that his plan to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union will fail. The UK prime minister would then campaign for the country to quit the EU in a referendum he plans to hold by 2017. That seems the best way to interpret his appointment of a eurosceptic foreign minister and the nomination of a little-known former lobbyist as Britain’s European commissioner.
This is not to say that Cameron wants to take Britain out of the EU – which would be a historical mistake. It is rather that he apparently thinks quitting could be an acceptable Plan B that would keep him in his job and his Conservative party reasonably united.
The British premier has never publicly said how he would campaign if he doesn’t manage to reform the EU and the country’s relationship with it. He used to dodge the question by saying he was confident of securing significant changes, while being fairly woolly about what reforms he was actually looking for.
But since last month’s fiasco when Cameron went out on a limb to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as president of the European Commission and failed, the calculations have changed a bit. The prime minister immediately warned that it would be harder to keep Britain in the EU, because it would be more difficult to reform it.
Now Cameron has appointed Philip Hammond as foreign secretary and nominated Jonathan Hill as Britain’s member of the Commission. Neither decision displays confidence in his Plan A of securing a good new deal with the EU and then campaigning to stay in.