Did David Cameron deliberately manoeuvre the UK into splendid isolation last night, or was it an accident that could have been prevented? The latter, if the following account from someone who followed the proceeding closely is to be believed:
“I gather that the UK presented a whole draft protocol to the Council legal service the day before the meeting, detailing various subjects in the field of financial affairs where they wished decision-taking to switch from QMV to unanimity (some in areas that have been QMV from the beginning, and some that have been QMV since the 1986 Single European Act negotiated by Thatcher). Whatever the merits, presenting such a detailed document at the last minute in that way was not likely to work: one would have expected any such request to have been sent to every government and talked through extensively with them beforehand, if it were to have the remotest chance of being accepted.
A turning point in the meeting was when there seemed to be near consensus on Van Rompuy’s proposal to use Protocol 12, which can be changed by a (unanimous ) decision of the European Council without requiring a lengthy IGC and subsequent national ratification. Germany was the one that was isolated at that point, arguing for a fully fledged treaty. Then, the President asked whether Britain would want any “compensations” in this case too, or at least whether it might not need so many (given that Cameron had said in the House of Commons “the more eurozone countries ask for, the more we will ask for in return”: logically a lesser demand should require less compensation). However, Cameron said that his demands would be the same. Given that there was no sympathy at all for his demands, this was the point at which the Protocol 12 route, which requires unanimity, was effectively closed down and one country after another accepted a new treaty at 17+.”
Without Cameron’s spectacular kamikaze act, the continuing disagreements between Merkel and Sarkozy would have dominated today’s news. Instead, he’s achieved the remarkable feat of uniting the eurozone, but at great cost to his own country and to himself.
Judging from reactions in the UK today, the enormity of last night’s events has only just begun to sink in. The BBC started the day with a headline that read: “EU-wide treaty change bid fails”. In the afternoon, it changed to “Eurozone deal reached without the UK”. Tonight, it’s “UK alone as EU agrees fiscal deal”.
Normally sensible commentators are seriously suggesting that Britain, already out, could now try to wield its veto power to prevent the other 26 forging ahead and making use of the EU Institutions in doing so. Prominent Liberal Democrats have spoken out in support of the deal. Which makes sense: Cameron couldn’t have exercised his veto without explicit authorisation from Nick Clegg.
But will the LibDems maintain their support for the British government position when it becomes clear that the UK is heading for the exit? And will the British population think again, now that an in/out choice has effectively been made for them by the coalition government, rather than in a referendum or at a General Election?