If you are wondering, as I have been, what in earth led to the Cameron walkout, I think Bagehot gets close to nailing it here:
By a certain point on Thursday night, I am told, a majority of countries were growing interested in a quick and dirty legal fix, suggested by the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. The fix was dreamed up by lawyers working for Mr Van Rompuy. They said that a legal device, known as “Protocol 12”, would allow the 27 leaders of the EU to agree most of the new rules and mechanisms for fiscal union in the euro zone by a simple, unanimous decision among themselves.
Suddenly, Germany looked isolated. Mr Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister elected by EU leaders to chair their summits, decided to see if he could sweeten the deal for the wavering EU leaders, and asked Mr Cameron if he would consider dropping some of his requests. This made sense to some leaders in the room. Mr Cameron’s demands were already more than many of his colleagues would tolerate, and Britain had already said publicly it would tailor its demands to the scale of the treaty change on the table. Mr Cameron said he would not lower his ambitions, and that his demands would be the same in the event of Protocol 12 being used, or a full-blown EU treaty.
My colleague Paul, whose insiderly insight into how politics is really done is much sharper than mine, once told me that Gordon Brown’s problem with policy production was that he didnt bring his own people into the deal until the last minute. This was the opposite of Blair, who would only bin a policy after months of collegial work on it, if the focus group numbers were agin it.
It seems to me that wherever your sympathies lie on these issues (and I’m more inclined to trust Cameron over a bunch of crafty Eurocrats), the British PM has failed to build both provenance and intelligence around these issues, and seems to have been forced to withdraw just as soon as he saw the brick wall at the end of the road.
Talking to an Irish friend in Washington last night, Cameron’s biggest problem may be that in walking out (the final card in any diplomatic negotiations) he, and the UK, are no longer seen as strategically relevant to the future of the EU. As yet, it’s not clear whether that’s a good or a bad thing. In Washington politics such a scenario is not viewed favourably.
As a final aside, keep an eye on UKIP’s share if the vote next time out. They’re currently level pegging with the Liberal Democrats in the polls just now. Whatever else about their policy offering (or lack of it) they have a consistency on these matters that Cameron’s withdrawal may yet help reward handsomely.