Magazine article The Spectator

It Can't Hurt to Ask

Magazine article The Spectator

It Can't Hurt to Ask

Article excerpt

A familiar story was played out in Brussels last week. A British prime minister entered the conference chamber vowing he would not give one inch to the European Union. He emerged a few hours later having given way but nonetheless declaring a 'spectacular' victory. It was John Major and Maastricht, Tony Blair and his 'red lines', all over again. How quickly David Cameron has settled into the role expected of him by Brussels. To pretend that he is happy to be giving away an additional £450 million a year to the EU. To sound the bugle of triumph, no matter what the outcome.

To his credit, Mr Cameron did not pretend to be pleased about his latest instructions from the Continent: to grant prisoners the right to vote. After debating the topic for decades, it turns out that it doesn't matter what anyone in England thinks. The European Court of Human Rights has decided that it must be so, and Cameron says he does not have the money to fight it. Perhaps because Britain's net payments to the EU are trebling to an indefensible £10.3 billion - even before the little extra demanded by Brussels.

Cameron's greatest wish regarding Europe is for the subject to disappear. It brings out a rather vicious, mutinous streak in his party and bitterly divides the coalition. But the EU refuses to go away. Whether regulating the hedge funds out of London or simply demanding more money, it keeps coming back. Even the Lib Dems are frustrated with the bureaucracy that they have defended for so long. Danny Alexander has spoken about lowering tax on petrol in rural areas to assuage his Highland constituents, but he has found out that to do this he will need approval from all EU member states.

Nick Clegg is reviewing local government finance, but has discovered that localising VAT is illegal under EU law.

Admitting defeat in Brussels is hard, but explaining it to voters is harder. …

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