Bernard Ingham: Why Thatcher's decision would have been to back Brexit

WITH a month to go, we have before us a splendid kettle of referendum fish. Both David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn may have had it.

Chancellor George Osborne (right) listens as Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech on the economic impact of the UK leaving the European Union at B&Q headquarters.

After all, Cameron has split his party without even trying and a lot of Labourites just want to see the back of Corbyn, whatever his tepid approach to the EU.

On this basis Europe, my great divider, could be lethal.

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Frankly, I don’t think it matters for the moment whether Corbyn goes or stays.

Because of the militant influx into the Labour Party, he will be difficult to get rid of. However he has nothing useful to offer the UK whether in or out of the EU now or in 2020.

So are we seeing the last days of the Leader of the Cameroons?

It is a serious question since many people are wondering what on earth has got into the Prime Minister – and into Chancellor George Osborne, too.

Let us examine his charge sheet:

an Old Etonian surrounded by a privileged elite who doesn’t know how the other half lives;

a schemer suspected of plotting a campaign to stay in the EU while promising, if necessary, to lead the UK out of Brussels;

a man who purportedly sought EU reform only to ask for next to nothing from Brussels and get even less;

a PM who apparently cares nought for our Parliamentary democracy and is willing to end 1,000 years of history by consigning Britain to a failing bureaucracy – already the source of most of our laws – on the pretext that this will best serve the security of the world in these dangerous times.

In the long sweep of our history, kings, queens and politicians have been bumped off for less.

By way of mitigation, I don’t think the dumbest Old Etonian can, as an MP, even for somewhere as swish as Witney in Oxfordshire, be blissfully unaware of the lives of those of his constituents who are economically worst-off.

But that still leaves a formidable indictment.

It reflects perhaps an ex-PR man driven by public relations rather than conviction. I simply cannot envisage how Margaret Thatcher in today’s world would have got into such a mess.

To start with, she would not have called a referendum until the terms of any re-negotiation of our membership were known, though a vote would have followed logically from renegotiation.

Second, assuming she decided on a re-negotiation, she would have clearly set out the terms for staying in. Then she would have conducted a negotiation with Brussels that would have tested to destruction its willingness to reform.

If it refused to do so – as it has this 
year – she would, whatever Lord Powell, her former foreign affairs private secretary claims, have recommended “Leave”, setting out the arguments 
starkly and the rationale behind her conclusion.

Instead, Cameron has tried to have it both ways but even his undoubted presence and charm have failed to kid the people that his heart has ever been in leaving.

He has clearly demonstrated he is a creature of an Establishment that cares nought for our sovereignty, independence or our Parliamentary democracy.

In short, he has got himself on the 
side of the argument that is difficult to justify in terms of principle, however many scare stories he flies and however many heads of state, government and trade association he enlists to frighten us out of our skins.

He has made Boris Johnson look less like a buffoon and more a flamboyant statesman and done a good job in promoting the cause of his rival.

He now faces a difficult, if not impossible, road back to favour – as 
does his faithful Sancho Panza and putative successor, Chancellor Osborne.

In a curious way Cameron’s future might be more secure if – as I trust – Britain votes to leave the EU.

Remaining in Europe would have many Tories crying foul over his scaremongering and duplicity and probably arguing he should not be allowed to guide our fortunes in 
Brussels any more.

How many more times, they would ask, would he sell us out?

Beyond the close embrace of the 
EU, he could more easily be put on probation and set to exercise his wit, charm and energy on mapping a new principled future for Britain in the wider world.

That would give the Tories three years to choose a successor who should be more driven by policy than PR. We have had enough of headline-grabbing promises; we need delivery.

Is there more policy than PR in Boris? A nice question.