Nobody who was there at the time will easily forget Margaret Thatcher’s apparent approach to the EU. Here was a leader standing firm against all those ghastly foreigners: we could trust her to put our interests first, to arrest the intrusion of Brussels into our lives. The fact of the matter, however, was rather different: Thatcher signed the Single European Act, and in 1983 it was Labour, not the Tories, who went into the General Election on an anti-European platform. There was, on occasion, a significant variance between the media image of Thatcher on Europe, and the reality.
This dislocation has apparently been lost on Young Dave, who earlier this week, as he pragmatically dropped the idea of putting the Lisbon Treaty to the electorate in a referendum, told of the powers he was going to repatriate from the EU. It seems that he made his announcement without checking out the terrain first. And some leading politicians across Europe are not at all taken with the Tory approach.
The reason is as straightforward as it is obvious: the negotiations that eventually produced the Lisbon Treaty took several years, and each member state expended a great deal of time on them. Following the second Irish referendum, and the Czech President signing off the Treaty, there has been a sense of relief that the arguments are over, and that the EU can move on – to things that really matter, like trade, the financial crisis, and the environment.
Hence the exasperation with Young Dave (although not universally as forthright as that aired by France’s Europe minister), who gives the impression that he is saying whatever it takes to get voters on side and himself into Downing Street.