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A new deal with Europe

Nick Clegg is right to say that the British economy is entering a ‘dangerous phase’ and that we ought to think seriously about the necessary means to steer us through. Conservatives in government are coming to the same conclusion. Extra spending, the left’s solution, is a horribly blunt tool. Far better is radical reform of government and massive deregulation — which is prohibited by Brussels. The only remaining options are to renegotiate our membership of the European Union, or pull out entirely.

This is not an ideological position. There are some, certainly, who were against the European project from the start and have spent two decades being portrayed as swiveleyed lunatics. But ministers who have shied away from the debate have now realised why so many of their colleagues were always ‘banging on about Europe’, as the Prime Minister once put it. As ministers now see, British self-government is a myth — sold to voters at election time. The EU is the third member of the coalition, and it has become the most intransigent obstacle to reform.

At every level, ministers are told they cannot govern Britain in the way they told voters they would because of Strasbourg or Brussels. Danny Alexander, who wants to cut VAT on fuel for his Highland constituents, has been told he needs the approval of all EU member states. David Cameron’s much-vaunted ‘one in, one out’ approach to policy regulation has proved unworkable because of the sheer weight of new rules flooding in from Brussels. Cutting regulations to help entrepreneurs is impossible, due to EU directives.

Last Monday a group of 120 Tory MPs got together in the House of Commons to discuss a strategy for overcoming EU obstruction. If there is a eurozone crunch coming in Europe, then Britain will be asked to vote on a new treaty. This gives David Cameron a chance to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe.As our political editor James Forsyth has revealed, the government has no contingency plan for EU negotiations because the Liberal Democrats will not allow it. But the Tory MPs have decided that if government cannot act, then parliament must.

According to a poll conducted by the European Commission, which can hardly be accused of anti-European bias, some 54 per cent say EU membership has not benefited Britain, only 24 per cent ‘tend to trust’ the EU and 22 per cent have a ‘positive view’ of it. This makes Britain the most reluctant member of the EU, and by some margin. EU scepticism is now the mainstream position in Britain. It is the pro-Europeans in Westminster who are on the fringes of public opinion.

Steve Hilton and Oliver Letwin, perhaps the two most influential of the Prime Minister’s advisers, believe the time has come to leave the EU. Conservative Cabinet members boast that all their junior ministers think the same. The stakes are so high that even Germany is ignoring regulations and daring Brussels to sue. The British civil service is, alas, incapable of playing hardball. The law needs to change.

When the eurozone goes pop and Britain is asked for its signature on a new treaty, this will be the time to demand mass repatriation of the powers we need. This will be David Cameron’s opportunity, and it could come at any moment. If he fluffs it, he will not be forgiven.


Once, prominent cooks catered at international summits. Now they hold them. Last week saw the first meeting of the G9 — not the world’s most important finance ministers, but its most self-important chefs — in Lima, Peru. There is no word on whether Tony Blair was running the kitchen. There is, however, an ‘Open Letter to the Chefs of Tomorrow’, signed by Heston Blumenthal, among others.

‘We dream’, says the letter’s preamble,

‘of a future in which the chef is socially engaged, conscious of and responsible for his or her contribution to a fair and sustainable society.’ Cooking is far more than merely ‘the search for happiness’, the chefs note, effortlessly trumping the claims of the US Declaration of Independence. It is a means through which humanity can ‘fulfil our dreams’.

What could they have produced to justify such grandstanding? A feta salad which the spectator | 17 September 2011 | will revive the Greek economy? The right combination of spices to dissolve tensions between India and Pakistan? Sadly not. The Chefs of Tomorrow are simply fed reheated conventional wisdom about not eating endangered species and promising to share recipes with one another.

The G9 promise to ‘ carry out our quests… with authenticity, humility, and above all, passion.’ Another pinch of the humility might help.