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News, gossip and insight from PoliticsHome Editor Paul Waugh

Dave Jagger

"You can't always get what you want /But if you try sometimes/Well you might find /You get what you need"

David Cameron didn't quite lift Mick n Keef's exact lyric, but he came over all Rolling Stones today as he delivered his Big Speech on Europe.

Referring to his plans for renegotiation, the PM said: "You will not always get what you want. But that does not mean we should leave - not if the benefits of staying and working together are greater."

Cameron knows that he may not get everything he wants (and avoided issuing a shopping list today). But note the conditional nature of that sentence. 'If' the benefits of staying are greater, he says, then the UK need not quit the EU.

That could be a big 'If' in any referendum campaign.

And perhaps the most striking about the Tory leader's address today was the way he left the door ajar for a Brexit.

"I understand the appeal of going it alone, of charting our own course. But it will be a decision we will have to take with cool heads. Proponents of both sides of the argument will need to avoid exaggerating their claims."

He also said repeatedly that the UK would have to 'think carefully' about the worries in Washington of our exit and of our possibly reduced influence globally. But he did not by any means rule it out.

As well as the firm commitment to a 2017 In-Out referendum, Tory backbenchers were also delighted by the PM crossing the Rubicon on 'ever closer union'. As he himself said, this was a 'heretical' claim in Brussels, but he said:

"For Britain – and perhaps for others - it is not the objective. And we would be much more comfortable if the Treaty specifically said so freeing those who want to go further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others."

 Some have said that after all the build up, today would inevitably be an anti-climax. But I disagree. This was a genuinely market-moving, artfully crafted speech, with substantive change in policy that could have historic repercussions for the UK’s place in the world. People complain about politicians failing to have a vision or grasp the big issues, but Cameron achieved both today.

The Eurosceps are delighted (their only quibble is that 2017 feels a long way off and claim the tantric speech has begot a 'tantric referendum').

Some have had some fun with the change in emphasis. Stewart Jackson points out he was sacked as a PPS for calling for a referendum. Mark Pritchard welcomes the PM as the 82nd rebel.  And Labour will seize on those shifts of tack.

Yet while the PM is responding to his backbenches, I’m not sure he’s being 'led' by them quite as some claim. A bit like Tony Blair on Iraq and public service reform, it may be worth just pointing out that He Actually Believes This Stuff.

A ‘practical Eurosceptic’, Cameron stresses both parts of that description equally but there’s no doubt he wants to go down in history as the man who shifted power back from Brussels.

The one thing that may help Cameron is the reaction overseas. Laurent Fabius he can shrug off. Angela Merkel matters more.

But for one view from Brussels itself, perhaps it's best left to veteran Brussels official Robert Madelin (a Briton). Quoting the PM, Madelin (current Director General of Communications, Networks, Content and Technology) picked up on recent' 'Plebgate' problems as he tweeted today:

"#UK #EU "We will have to weigh carefully where our true national interest lies". BUT British tradition relies on MPs, not PLEBiscites?"

That sounded very much like Ken Clarke's FT dismissal of the very idea of a referendum: "If you realise you are doomed in Parliament, you demand a referendum. That's what the hangers and floggers used to do."

 

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