Prime Minister David Cameron ended his whistle-stop European tour last Friday with a “clear message from fellow leaders”, says the Financial Times. “We will help you win a referendum on Britain’s membership for the EU – but not at any price.” All four leaders he met with – Dutch premier Mark Rutte, French president François Hollande, Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz, and German chancellor Angela Merkel – agreed that “full-on treaty change” would be problematic, although Merkel said it could not be “completely ruled out” if Cameron’s wishes cannot be achieved through changes to secondary legislation.
Leaders were more receptive to his call for a guarantee that the EU single market would not discriminate against non-eurozone countries. Hollande refers to it as a “differentiated Europe”. Merkel said the EU was already “able to accommodate groups of countries moving towards greater integration at different speeds”.
To see the way this referendum is going, cast your mind back to Harold Wilson’s 1975 EU renegotiation, says Andrew Roberts in The Sunday Times. Wilson, “posing fraudulently as a eurosceptic”, returned from talks with a few “minor concessions” that the media, party leaders and the Confederation of British Industry hailed as a victory, swinging the vote to the “in” camp. Just as the electorate voted cautiously in the Scottish independence referendum and the general election, it will do so again.
To be persuaded to take “such a huge leap in the dark as to leave the EU after 42 years’ membership”, would take a “truly extraordinary explosion of… charm and persuasion”. The only man capable of that is Boris Johnson. He used his first speech after his return to the Commons to remind Cameron that a successful renegotiation could take place only if Britain showed that it was “prepared to walk away”. He is the only one who could convince us that Britain could prosper outside the EU.
Public sentiment is already swinging the other way, says Naftali Bendavid in The Wall Street Journal. A poll by the Pew Research Centre found a “surge in support” for the EU across the continent. In the UK, 55% want to stay and 35% to go, compared to an even split two years ago.
Overall, 46% said they believed their country’s economy has been strengthened by integration. And “hopey-feely” is no match for “fear and loathing”, says Rachel Sylvester in The Times. “Cold-blooded analysis” of the dangers of leaving will win the day.
But, just as in Scotland, where nationalist sentiment “surged” in the wake of the referendum as voters suffered a “case of ‘buyer’s remorse’”, the same could happen over Europe. If the electorate feel the campaign wasn’t fairly fought, a vote to stay in wouldn’t even be, to “paraphrase Churchill… the end of the beginning, let alone the beginning of the end, of this decades-old faultline running through British politics”.