Cameron fluffs his hand on Europe

Europe's leaders have called David Camron's bluff before negotiations have even got underway, reports Emily Hohler.

This week, the EU Referendum Bill on Europe laying the grounds for an "in/out" referendum on Britain's European Union membership before the end of 2017 received its second reading in the House of Commons. It will "allow the country to participate in a debate that has for too long been the preserve of the political elites", says The Daily Telegraph.

It matters that the process is seen to be as open as possible. So things have "got off to a bad start" amid confusion arising over a comment made by David Cameron at the G7 meeting of wealthy nations in Germany on Sunday. He remarked that ministers would be "expected to support the government position", which upset eurosceptics concerned that Cameron would "whip his Cabinet into a pro-EU stance", says Rafael Behr in The Guardian.

Within 24 hours, "a U-shaped clarification'" noted that "collective Cabinet responsibility would apply during the negotiations" to secure a better deal for Britain within the EU. Only "after the deal is done would a decision be taken on how vigorously ministers would be expected to endorse it".

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Sunday also marked the launch of Conservatives for Britain (CfB), a political group consisting of more than 50 Tory MPs, which says it will support Cameron's negotiations but will push for an "out" vote unless he achieves radical change. How Cameron handles the hardliners is key, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times.

Aside from trying to "set realistic conditions for success in negotiations and to declare that he has been able to deliver them", he wants to settle the European question within his party for a generation. He stands the best chance of doing so if the eurosceptics feel that the contest is "free and fair", and the result a "reasonable test of public sentiment". The fact is, it will be "very difficult to win a referendum to leave".

Voters are "risk averse... fear of the unknown" tends to be decisive in referendums.True, says Matthew D'Ancona in The Guardian, but we've got a long way to go before then. For Cameron to achieve his goals, the "choreography of renegotiation'" requires that he be prepared to recommend exit from the EU, and for his EU counterparts to believe him "at least a bit" when he threatens "to shoot the puppy".

The trouble is, they don't seem to, says Tim Montgomerie in The Times. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, says that Britain will not vote to leave and that "Cameron wants to dock his country permanently to Europe". This is a "terrible negotiating position" and it underplays our hand. The last thing any European leader wants is for Britain to leave.

"We are huge net contributors to the EU budget. Without our export market many European companies would struggle to stay profitable. Our hand could hardly be stronger either to negotiate good exit terms or to win a landmark renegotiation. But... Cameron doesn't even seem to be aiming for the second option."

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.