The challenges that developments within the European Union's political framework pose to the coalition are now arriving more frequently. Despite favourable statements supporting a banking union and greater integration for the Eurozone, the Conservatives find that their unforgiving stance on the European budget acquires greater opprobrium. They face a concerted effort on the part of poorer countries to use development budgets as a tool of redistribution.
This firm stance (with an elaborate and symbolic utterance of veto, echoing Thatcher's handbag rhetoric) seems to combine domestic rhetoric with an aggressive demand for the repatriation of certain powers. The repatriation has focused upon areas of criminal justice and the repeal of the European Arrest Warrant. Yet, such rhetorical tactics are known to harden the resistance of other European politicians and rarely meet the expectations of the radical backbenches. So why do it? Why cause yourself so much pain?
Perhaps European negotiations are zero sum games: to win, one must trade some perks for others. To allow a European budget, perhaps Cameron is signalling that he wishes to obtain concessions in other areas. Yet repatriation is such a betrayal of ever closer union that Angela Merkel of Germany does not seem to be able to entertain the notion, preferring cancellation of the summit.
Could Cameron have overplayed his hand? He may not be dealing with rational players (also known as politicians), willing to horsetrade for their goals. His counterparts could be described to ideologues, determined to foster further integration and unable to countenance any deviation in that ideology. Cameron is no longer viewed as a trader but as a heretic and deviant, head of a schismatic sect. This latter view may help Brexit, since the troublesome critics are expelled.