This piece is a follow up to an earlier post where I argued that David Cameron’s EU strategy involves a delicate juggling act that, so far, has led to few positive results for the UK or for the EU.
As part of a large cabinet reshuffle yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed former Defense Secretary and prominent Eurosceptic Philip Hammond to the post of Foreign Secretary. Hammond replaced the outgoing William Hague, whose unanticipated resignation shocked most political analysts. Despite Hague’s shortcomings, he remained one of the more prominent ‘voices of reason’ within the Conservative Party over the EU debate. As Foreign Secretary and a close adviser to Cameron, Hague must be credited for helping to balance the raucous Eurosceptic back-benchers with the more sensible leadership. (For a phenomenal piece on William Hague’s time in the Foreign Office, read Jana Ganesh’s article in the FT).
Hague’s resignation was accompanied by the announcement that he would not seek reelection in next year’s general election. His move to Leader of the Commons signals that this tested political veteran will probably run the internal political matters from Westminster while the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne plan the party’s campaign. Inherently, the upcoming elections appear to be the sole motivation for Cameron’s recent cabinet shuffling. Most worrisome, however, is the staunch Eurosceptic line that it has adopted.
By choosing Philip Hammond to be the new face of British diplomacy, a man who openly said he would vote to leave the EU if it does not return ‘substantial’ powers to the UK, the Prime Minister is sending a strong message to European capitals. Past examples have already shown that David Cameron’s blackmail of European leaders and institutions have led to few results. Thus nominating Hammond — who will represent the UK in all EU Foreign Minister-level meetings — can only be interpreted as either a sign of stubborn, misguided persistence, or a complete lack of consideration for EU politics.
The latter of the two probably dominated Number 10’s reasoning. Indeed, following UKIP’s rise over the past few years (due mostly to the cacophony emanating from Downing Street on the EU issue), Cameron is looking for a solution to siphon away votes from Nigel Farage and Co. For it to come at the expense of Cameron’s negotiating stance with Brussels is a further example of the complete folly behind the PM’s juggling act.
Alas, the carnage does not stop with Philip Hammond. During the reshuffle, the PM also removed Attorney-General Dominic Grieve, one of the last few Tories advocating for Britain to remain in the European Convention of Human Rights. With Grieve’s departure, Cameron and the rest of the leadership are likely to introduce this element as a campaign promise in 2015. As a reminder, David Cameron’s “plan” for a referendum in 2017 was based on the notion that he could renegotiate with EU leaders. Last I checked, spitting in the face of those very leaders to quell internal political issues is not the best negotiation strategy.
To add insult to injury, Cameron’s choice as British EU Commissioner, Lord Hill, was criticized today by European Parliament President Martin Schulz for his overt anti-European positions. It would seem evident that David Cameron would pick someone who would incite good will towards the UK’s efforts to renegotiate a deal, yet it appears to have gotten off to a rocky start. To be fair, news outlets have reported the Prime Minister’s ‘surprise’ at these criticisms of Lord Hill, but regardless sending a Eurosceptic (in any form) to Brussels is hardly a judicious choice.
These three events, all happening within hours of each other, serve to compound the disjointed and completely incoherent policies the British Prime Minister has set forth previously. David Cameron is becoming more overt in his shunning of Europe, particularly when internal political considerations are in play. This type of short-termend near-sighted approach may work in gaining immediate political favor, however this has the potential to ruin his legacy in the long run. If Britain eventually leaves the EU because David Cameron was too busy playing politics, its not UKIP the Prime Minister will have to worry about, but rather his legacy as the man who isolated Britain.