David Cameron thought he had worked out a political strategy to keep himself in power, to hold his party together and to ensure the UK stayed in the European Union. Now all of these goals look in grave danger. Why is that?
The problem with devising political strategies is that you never know what is coming round the corner. You can try your best to predict the external influences that you cannot control – but that’s just it, you can’t control everything and there are always shocks you cannot expect. What Donald Rumsfeld aptly called “the unknown unknowns”.
David Cameron has known all along that his Conservative Party is split down the middle on the question of EU membership. The taxpayer-funded payroll staff of ministers, wannabe-ministers and Tory functionaries generally favour staying on board the EU gravy train with all its salaries, expenses, career paths, diplomatic corps, junkets – while most ordinary Tory members and supporters who have worked all their lives to support themselves and their families believe it is a burden we could well do without.
Cameron knows that every so often there will be a change in the EU treaties or some cataclysmic disaster that will put the EU on our front pages. Soon fault lines within the Tory party become clear and Cameron knows that divided parties are unelectable. He had to find a way to stem the haemorrhaging of support to UKIP and his answer was to offer a referendum on EU membership if re-elected prime minister.
It was a bold move and it paid off.
Had Ed Miliband been smart enough to match Cameron’s offer he would have neutralised the strategy and Labour would not have lost so much support to UKIP. While eurosceptic Labour voters could not bring themselves to vote Tory, they could bring themselves to vote UKIP and did so in spades.
At the same time, eurosceptic Conservatives would have been far more relaxed about switching to UKIP as it would not matter so much if Labour came back to power – they could still expect a referendum. But Miliband swallowed the establishment line that the EU will deliver socialist regulation of capitalism and did not want to risk a referendum where the result is difficult to predict. He bottled it, and deserved the defeat he earned.
While Cameron could predict that there would be more problems for countries with weak economies inside the euro – and promise not to contribute to any bail-out – what he could not predict was the existential threat to the European Union and all its members that would come from what is being called a refugee crisis.
The real problem is that it is not a refugee crisis, it is a mass migration crisis, and the people fuelling the crisis are not just the human traffickers but the leaders of the EU. By agreeing to accept more migrants they encourage more hazardous journeys.
There are two things that the leaders of the European Commission and the travelling political circus will defend to the death and that is the creation of the single currency, the euro, and the maintenance of open borders within the EU, under the Schengen Treaty.
The reason is simple, these are the two building blocks of creating a single EU superstate and to let these crumble will make it impossible to establish the other institutions such as a European army.
Fortunately, the UK stayed out of both of these institutions but we remain under great pressure to accept their costs by bailing-out Greek debts and accepting economic migrants that have already landed on the shores of Greece and Italy.
Current research shows less than one in five of these migrants is Syrian; last night I watched dozens of refugees being interviewed and they were all healthy young men from Pakistan. Many more are from North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries where there are no wars.
They are not coming from the refugee camps in Turkey – where there is real hardship – but are attracted to the relative prosperity of north European countries such as Germany and Sweden.
It is all very well for Angela Merkel to say Germany can take 600,000 “refugees” for the next five years – when Germany faces a huge population decline and badly needs people of working age – but the reality is that once anyone is given asylum in the EU they can then travel and reside in any member state, including the UK.
It is only right that we show compassion to genuine cases of distress, and by helping people in the camps we are doing that. But if we have an open-door policy we only encourage more people to make dangerous journeys resulting in more deaths of mothers and their children. That cannot be right.
The debt crisis exposed the contradictions in the common currency and the migrant crisis is now exposing the flaws of freedom of movement. Cameron never saw it coming and his strategy of being an EU reformer is now unravelling.
Unless the EU elite recognises that nations must control their borders, no deal they can offer will convince the electorate the cost of EU membership is a price worth paying.