Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party? Well, in 1973, he did. Alec Douglas-Home, with his unmistakable skull-like head and pale complexion, took Britain into the EU. After years of sitting tentatively on the chairs around the room, the then Foreign Secretary guided Britain into the centre of the economic party.Speaking in the House of Commons in 1971, the skeleton made his reasoning clear:
‘The time has come when we must say to the public in our country that the future prospect ahead of us is uncertain unless we can expand our markets and unless we can become part of a bigger organisation; for trade, for investment, and also for political reasons’.
David Cameron is the fleshy equivalent of Douglas-Home. Both progressed, with metallic taste in mouth, from Eton to Oxford, eventually stumbling on to the Westminster stage as PPS’ to junior ministers. But, despite a shared old-world charm, Douglas-Home could recognise the shape and value of a new world order, whilst Cameron clearly can not.
Britain’s position in Europe was under a dense, uncertain fog, which was emanating from France and De Gaulle in the late-1960s. Douglas-Home saw that the air needed to be cleared, that the markets needed some breathing space. Meanwhile, the clear skies over the Europe of today are being polluted by Cameron’s foreign policy strategy.
The renegotiation to referendum strategy of Cameron’s is a risky political gamble, with the winnings of a potential majority in 2015. The hope is clearly to undermine sceptics within both his own party and UKIP; to get them on side in a scrap for, not independence, but a ‘leaner, less bureaucratic union’.
On the other side of the poker chip for Cameron, though, is a distinct loss in business confidence. Whilst a group of 55 British business leaders have penned an open letter to The Times throwing their weight behind Mr Cameron’s strategy, the remaining hundreds of thousands of businesses detest the prolonged uncertainty which Cameron has given them. Accordingly, borrowing costs will rise and investment fall. ‘People like us start putting in an uncertainty premium,’ claims Mr El-Erian, head of the world’s biggest investor in bonds. ‘If we’re going to make investment decisions, the uncertainty premium associated with that goes up when you’re not sure what the relationship between Britain and Europe will be’.
So a shadow is being cast over Britain and Europe by the black swans – or hidden costs – flocking into Cameron’s foreign policy fog. With Europe being so important for the reasons highlighted by Douglas-Home, for trade and investment, talk of leaving Europe should not even come up in party conversation. As it is, Cameron risks putting Britain as the butt of the joke, with no body to trade with.