I was driving to Southampton on Thursday night for a photoshoot and through the wind and rain the reassuring sound of Radio 4 discussing the EU talks came as something of a welcome relief from being blown into the New Forest. Fast forward some twelve hours and I was awoken by the news of David Cameron's decision to play this years Panto villain and pull up the anchor and untether us from the rest of Europe.
The fallout from his choosing to play the veto card will be long and I would suspect painful, the first casualty will be UKIP - after all how can a party whose focus has been on the Conservative party as a friend of the EU continue to exist? What about the coalition or the referendum where do these fit into the future? How can Britain defend it's interests by being outside of the main event, it's not really a two-tier Europe anymore is it, we haven't just failed to qualify from the group stages of the Champions League but we've finished bottom of our group and won't even feature in the Europa League.
It's all exaggeration of course. The meeting on Thursday night seemed to be addressing the wrong question in the first place, in fact listening to the build up on whatever media outlet you choose had quickly descended into one of those 'whatabouterry' phone-ins that dominate post final whistle evenings on Radio 5 and Talksport. Self protection was the name of the game but in whose name and for whose game? Was this about the city, was it about isolation or was it about just pissing off the French and the Germans? I suspect the answers could be yes, no and maybe.
We have become obsessed in this country with EU regulations and their implementation to the point that they almost blind us from any reasonable discussion on the EU. The right of the Conservative party constantly bleat on and on about the repatriation of rights from Brussels without acknowledging the fact that those same rules and regulations have made Germany the economy and society that we most aspire to on many levels. I suspect that it is not so much a question of rules and regulations as the fact that Johnny Foreigner is having a say in our affairs, again a touch ironic given that our ruling classes seem so hopelessly out of touch with the electorate and seem unable to communicate anything of any substance to that electorate. Politics has in this country become more like the five minute soundbite demanded by Sky at the end of every Premiership match, in fact the only time I have seen the British public animated on any level during the last ten years or so was during the Leveson inquiry when full coverage was available and easily understood by anybody watching.
Thursday evening/Friday morning should have been about addressing the problems of the EuroZone, not so much the old argument about wealth transfer but the fact that with such disparate economies across Europe a level playing field is not going to be achieved on a pitch that would put Yeovil's famous slope to shame. Using mountaineering as a metaphor Germany sits at the peak whilst Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are struggling to pitch their tents down at base camp. Cameron needed to be tough and he was, why commit to something that you don't believe in, why agree to a new set of rules when the existing rules can be changed with impunity at the drop of a hat, why risk when the best option is to take no risk at all. Why take a gamble on something which isn't even addressing the facts as they are without exposing yourself to risks in the future?
David Cameron and George Osborne are not miracle workers, nor are they particularly adept when it comes to the economy, after all we are talking about two people who when in opposition held Ireland up as the economy we would most like to emulate and I suppose in many ways we are like Ireland, awash with cheap East European labour and struggling to make our financial budget targets. What they did realise however was that you cannot achieve fiscal union simply by closing your eyes and clicking your heels together three times whilst saying, "There's no place like home," Brussels wasn't Oz although there is a temptation to call Sarkozy Ms Merkel's Toto.
Of course the EU could play the playground bully in response to the veto by imposing certain trading conditions for the Euro which, subject to the fine print of the treaty, could impact on the City in far greater ways than any Tobin tax could. As I have said before the amount of foreign exchange trading is out of all proportion to the value of wealth it generates and it's not impossible that the EU could bring in new rules making Eurotrading only permissible within the EuroZone.
Will the UK become marginalised and lose its influence? Well it must by definition lose some influence by being outside of the inner circle but Europe needs us as much as we need them. The EU accounts for 57% of our exports and 55% of our imports and being a customs union it means that there are no trade tariffs between ourselves and the rest of the EU, it also means that we are parties to a common external tariff policy with non-EU members, this means that we operate on the same terms with non Eu countries us all of the other 26 members - this is good news for the UK. It also means that I cannot see the Conservative's or any other party ever offering a referendum on membership of the EU because a 'yes' answer to leaving would mean would we have to negotiate all trade deals outside of the EU and experience suggests that we aren't very good at that at all. I say outside of the EU because the difference between our imports and exports to the EU is so negligible as to make no difference beyond 'tit for tat' horse trading.
All that said I do hope that the decision was made with the long term view and not the usual five year plan that all politicians since Mrs Thatcher have adopted. I know Michael Heseltine is now the right wings own Aunt Sally but one of the points he made on the Today programme that should be heard is that decisions should be made with the future in mind and not tomorrow. Conservative politicians are generally better at doing the 'vision thing' than their Labour counterparts and I hope that the veto on Friday morning has longer term benefits than just appeasing the likes of Bill Cash or John Redwood who can sit happily on the back benches, drawing their huge salaries and gold plated pensions whilst the future generations face uncertainty and the spectre of four million unemployed within the life of this Parliament.
Anyway, for my friends from the right who have a sense of humour this song is for you.