POLITICAL SKETCH: The Prime Minister still sounds bullish about his chances of EU reform – even after Poland rebuffs him on benefits
The Polish prime minister had just announced that she didn’t see “eye to eye” with him on EU welfare reform. But David Cameron refused to accept he was beaten. Indeed, from the way he spoke at the two leaders’ joint press conference in Warsaw, you wouldn’t think he’d just been rebuffed at all.
“Excellent discussions,” he declared, defiantly. “Meaningful change is already under way… There’s a lot of goodwill… We’ve come a huge, long way… You can see the reforms unfolding in front of your eyes…”
He even said he was “very encouraged” by the letter he received this week from Donald Tusk. That’s the letter in which the president of the European Council said there were “substantial political differences” between Mr Cameron and other leaders, and added that “uncertainty” over the UK’s membership was “destabilising” the EU. Yes, very encouraging.
Still, whatever gloss Mr Cameron put on his talks with Poland’s Beata Szydlo, he must have been troubled by her public opposition to his welfare demands. He wants immigrants to wait four years before they can claim in-work benefits – and, to secure change, he needs every EU leader to agree with him. Now here was one EU leader, quite openly telling the media that she didn’t.
As ever, though, Mr Cameron had no time for defeatism. After all, his critics had doubted him before – and in the end he’d proven them wrong.
“It’s worth standing back from all this for a moment,” he said stoutly. “Because for years people said, ‘You’ll never have a referendum to give people a choice on Europe.’ Well, we are having a referendum, and we are giving a people a choice!”
Mr Cameron was, of course, entirely correct. For years people did indeed say that he’d never have a referendum on Europe.
But, just remind us, Prime Minister – who exactly were those people?
“I don’t favour an in-out referendum because I don’t think that’s the question most people in Britain want answered.” David Cameron, September 6, 2011.
“I don’t see the case for an in-out referendum on Europe.” David Cameron, September 7, 2011.
“It’s not our view that there should be an in-out referendum.” David Cameron, October 2, 2011.
“It’s not right, because our national interest is to be in the EU.” David Cameron, October 24, 2011.
“Legislating now for a referendum, including on whether Britain should leave the EU, could cause great uncertainty and could actually damage our prospects of growth.” David Cameron, October 24, 2011.
In short: the person telling David Cameron that David Cameron would never have a referendum on Europe was David Cameron.
Still, all of that’s in the past now. Because, for all David Cameron’s protests, David Cameron ultimately overcame David Cameron, and delivered the EU referendum that David Cameron had so tenaciously opposed.
And if David Cameron can beat David Cameron, he can beat anyone.