As Dave orders the beige buffet for French and Italian leaders he looks increasingly like he is squirming to failure as the clock ticks down. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte – we’re told – has raised the possibility of talks running into Saturday and the sandwiches seem to already be curling up at the edges. As he tries desperately to convince members of a club that he should have all the benefits and none of the responsibilities of membership many will be questioning why they should accept such exceptionalism. Serving Coronation Chicken to people with a national cuisine is the equivalent of the poorly conceived policy gamble he has created. As Polly Toynbee puts it: “David Cameron has frivolously and selfishly taken his country to the very brink for nothing more than marginal political self-interest.”
So what are these recalcitrant foreigners objecting to? They include the timeline of the so-called “emergency brake” to restrict in-work benefits for EU migrants in the UK; curbs on child benefit for EU migrants whose children are not in the UK; and potential treaty changes to exempt formally the UK from the goal of “ever-closer union” and to underpin protections for non-eurozone members. In reality then, little of real substance or meaning. All these factors are about symbolism, the symbolism of playing to the gallery, the baying mob of Eurosceptics and Kippers, tabloid cheerleaders and Mittel Ingerlund.
Meanwhile, for whatever reason Scotland by 2:1 sees itself as a European country:
Remain 66% (+1)
Leave 34% (-1)
Is this historical? Geographical? Is it motivated by Easyjet or the Auld Alliance? Who knows, but there is a significant and growing gulf in sensibility and intention towards our place in Europe north and south of the border. Are we more immune to the virulent strain of Euro-septicaemia than our southern cousins?
If Cameron can’t get a deal by this afternoon the Hounds of Hell who have been champing at the bit will be unleashed. Unled by the oafish Boris hanging about like an urban rambler outside No 10 yesterday. If he does secure a deal Mr Cameron will call a Cabinet meeting, effectively firing the starting gun on the referendum campaign, as Eurosceptic ministers will finally be free to campaign for a Leave vote in the poll expected on June 23.
But it’s a lose-lose situation for Cameron.
Even now his momentum and credibility have slipped dangerously and it will take an unlikely breakthrough for him to recover. Any deal now will be seen as weak and inadequate by the lobby group who had already decided this anyway. Cameron will have succeeded only in further alienating our European neighbours, and, inadvertently creating an opportunity for Scotland to object to what may become a forced ejection from EU membership, a political exile firmly rejected by Scottish society. But hey, when did it ever matter what we thought?