Tom Richmond: Whatever happens, Cameron will be the big loser in EU referendum

David Cameron looked panic-stricken at a press conference earlier this week.
David Cameron looked panic-stricken at a press conference earlier this week.
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THE arrogance of David Cameron and the pipsqueak confidantes in his inner sanctum is such that they believe the Prime Minister cannot lose when Britain determines its future relationship with the European Union a fortnight today.

If the country remains in the UK, it will be hailed as a vindication of Mr Cameron’s re-negotiation and a victory for economic pragmatism over Little Englander xenophobia.

If, however, the electorate chooses to reject the PM’s recommendation and endorse a Brexit vote, Team Cameron will still say it is “mission accomplished” because the Tory manifesto in 2015 did promise a referendum – and no more.

Get to the heart of the debate at our dedicated EU Referendum section

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Both stances are wrong. Put simply, this is the referendum which Mr Cameron cannot now win, irrespective of the outcome, because his reputation is diminished with each passing day by a tawdry campaign without parallel.

If Britons back Brexit, Mr Cameron – and Chancellor George Osborne – will have to resign because neither will be trusted to negotiate Britain’s EU exit and secure the trade deals that will be key to the UK’s future prosperity.

If, however, the Remain brigade prevail, it will have been at the expense of Tory party loyalty and longlasting friendships with the likes of Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London, and Justice Secretary Michael Gove that already appear to be irreconcilable.

Either way, Mr Cameron – or “dodgy Dave” to use his rather unflattering sobriquet – will be so bereft of credibility that it will only be a matter of time before Tory rebels attempt to oust the Premier at a time not of his choosing.

No reshuffle or relaunch will mask this because every policy will be seen through the prism of the Tory succession after the PM revealed during the last election that he would quit before 2020.

Ye Mr Cameron only has himself to blame for leaving himself in a no-win situation which is even more poisonous and polarising than the Conservative Party’s implosion over EU integration in the 1990s – Sir John Major, the then premier, now resembles one of the great statesmen and negotiators.

If the economic consequences of a Brexit vote are as great as Mr Cameron contends, why did he not put the national interest before the Tory party’s power struggle? However, after choosing to go down the referendum route in order to counter Ukip’s electoral insurgency under Nigel Farage, the supposed concessions secured in mid-February were so half-hearted that they did little to address concerns about the EU’s unaudited accounts and how “freedom of movement” laws have left Britain’s public services at breaking point.

The PM then had a choice. Either he could present his “deal” – and then stay above the fray during the subsequent campaign – or he could make a positive case in favour of EU membership.

Typically, he has done neither. He has demeaned himself, and his office, by indulging in serial scaremongering because today’s politicians are incapable of delivering the statesmanlike speeches, based on philosophy rather than personalities, which were such a redeeming feature of the 1975 vote on EEC membership under Harold Wilson.

It reached its nadir on Tuesday. A panic-stricken Mr Cameron was so rattled by polls pointing to a Brexit vote that he called a hastily-arranged press conference on a London rooftop to accuse his opponents of lying, because he could not wait until that evening’s Q&A on ITV when the aforementioned Mr Farage, and then the PM, answered probing questions from a studio audience.

Even this TV appearance revealed the invidiousness of the Tory’s leader’s position. Too afraid to debate head-to-head with Mr Farage on the day that Ukip’s leader had been condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury for “giving legitimisation to racism”, Mr Cameron was found out when he tried to dodge his set of questions, not least those on the extent to which uncontrolled migration was distorting wages.

His answers were also disingenuous. Asked at one point about foreign criminals, Mr Cameron said reciprocal arrangements with EU countries meant murders, rapists and robbers could be deported on conviction by the British courts so UK taxpayers did not have to foot the bill for their incarceration.

Really? Trying telling that, Prime Minister, to the family of Leeds man Robert Tuck who was left disabled for life by a vicious and unprovoked assault from Latvian assailant Alfaz Baronins that resulted in a 20-year prison term. They have been left reeling by a letter from the National Offender Management Service which says that officials do not “know how the prisoner’s sentence will be administered if transfer is agreed”.

Under subsequent audience questioning, Mr Cameron did admit that prisoner transfer arrangements are “not yet fully enforced”.

Yet the damage had been done – the Prime Minister’s evasiveness illustrated why the public now totally mistrust him and regard his utterances as a “sham”.

If Britain does vote to remain in the European Union on June 23, it will be in spite of the Prime Minister and not because of him. He is that diminished.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk