Cameron is playing with fire on the EU

Cameron's European policy could signal the end of the UK as we know it.

Cameron’s European policy could signal the end of the UK as we know it

It became an iconic image of the referendum campaign on Scottish independence. Having abandoned Prime Minister’s Questions to head north of the border, an almost tearful David Cameron pleaded with Scots not to leave the UK.

“I would be heartbroken,” Cameron declared, “if this family of nations was torn apart”.

But with Conservatives on the front and backbenches seemingly obsessed once again with Europe, the reality is that despite all his warm words, Cameron’s European policy could prove to be the death of the United Kingdom as we know it.

When incoming SNP Leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for any vote on EU membership to carry the consent not just of the UK but of each constituent part of it, she was rebuffed. It was, critics argued, just another attempt at driving a wedge between Scotland and England in the SNP’s bid to secure independence by the back door.

This reaction from many on the right simply served to demonstrate their ignorance about Scotland’s feelings on the subject. It also highlighted Downing Street’s failure to appreciate that its policy of appeasing UKIP has far bigger ramifications that anyone in the Cameron machine has considered.

Polling by YouGov,for example, has shown that support for EU membership in Scotland far outstrips that seen across the rest of the country. The reality is that a Scottish vote to stay in being overridden by a UK-wide vote to come out would hand the SNP an spectacular own goal.

But it is not just those committed to the break-up of the UK who are calling for such a policy. Speaking during First Minister’s Questions last week, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones argued that the UK cannot and should not leave the EU based on English votes alone.

Pointing out the irony of the situation, Jones delivered a speech later in the week in London in which he raised the stakes still further. Speaking as someone passionately committed to the UK he declared:

“That would put us under enormous strain, and could only serve the interests of those who wanted the United Kingdom to cease to exist.

“It is ironic that those who are pressing for an in/out referendum on the grounds of their commitment to the United Kingdom may actually be imperilling the very future of the UK as presently constituted.

“And that would be a matter of grave concern to the majority of people in Wales.”

When he came into office, David Cameron spoke of an era of respect for the devolved bodies. What we are quickly learning however, is that the Prime Minister’s warm words are meaningless. Number 10 prefers to put political calculations vis-à-vis UKIP well ahead of the national interest. In doing so, it could well be David Cameron who signals the end of the UK as we know it.

On the EU David Cameron is playing with fire. What scares me is that he either doesn’t see it, or he is carrying on regardless.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.