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Thursday 28 August 2014

This laddie wasn't for turning – even so, Bulldog Dave met his Waterloo

Lise Hand

Published 28/06/2014 | 02:30

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Angela Merkel

David Cameron swaggered into the packed-to-the-rafters press conference like he was walking on to a yacht. He may have just had sand kicked in his face by the rest of the Eurowimps who ganged up on him (except for his Hungarian pal, Prime Minister Viktor Orban), but he splashed on a liberal amount of Eau de Bulldog Spirit and sallied forth to take his licks.

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Moreover he was having none of the notion that his solo run to block the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission has left him humiliated, isolated and, frankly, looking like a bit of a prat.

"I lost the fight, but I absolutely stick to my guns," he declared. "I don't care what you offer me, when there's a cosy consensus, I'm not in."

It was a coded message to the other leaders, some of whom, he clearly implied, voted Yes when their hearts were whispering No. Or to paraphrase his political hero, Margaret Thatcher – you turn if you want to – this laddie's not for turning.

And in the very first question from his home media, he was somewhat unfavourably compared to that famous Euroskeptic, but was at pains to point out that he had used his veto on the EU budget three years ago. "Margaret Thatcher never vetoed a treaty," he reminded the room.

He was gamely playing the role of the plucky underdog, peppering his defence with a pot-pourri of fighting metaphors. One could almost picture him armed to the sparkly white teeth, the last man in the gap between Britain and the Borg Collective of an EU hellbent on assimilating everyone.

"This is a stand, but it won't be the last stand," he insisted. "This is going to be a long, tough fight. You have to lose a battle to win a war," he added.

So, having been defeated by the chap he deplored as "an arch-federalist", was David Cameron gracious in defeat? He was in his nelly.

"This is a bad day for Europe," he declared, adding that it was "a serious mistake" for the rest of the leaders to abandon consensus.

He was subjected to a serious grilling from a roomful of unimpressed British media. Nonetheless, he put in a robust performance, highlighting the fact that the Council had agreed to examine the concerns of the UK.

"I absolutely believe today I was doing the right thing – I feel totally comfortable with the decision I took, the stance I took, the arguments I made," he insisted.

"There's a sense in this place that people say one thing and then they get into the cosy, crowded room and just go with the flow."

But not Bulldog Dave. He wasn't sorry about any of the sorry mess.

But for all his bravado, it showed that European politics can be a very rough playground indeed – on all sides.

There was Jean-Claude Juncker motoring along nicely, quietly confident that his coronation as the new High King of the European Commission would be a handy enough number. All he had to do was keep in with the Brussels bean an ti, Angela Merkel, and the job's oxo.

Alas, the best-laid plans of former Luxembourg prime ministers, and all that. For out of the traps roared David Cameron, who promptly sank his fangs into the pinstriped trouser-leg of Jean-Claude and declared that he was having none of putting a chap he described as "an arch-federalist" in charge of the European Union.

And so in recent weeks, deep in the bowels of Spin Headquarters could be heard the creak of the opening lid of the Box of Dirty Tricks. Suddenly Jean-Claude found himself in the eye of a brewing (literally) storm over his fondness for gargle.

Cue outraged denials and claims of dirty tricks from the candidate and his supporters, but by the time the 29 EU leaders went into conclave yesterday afternoon on day two of the summit, a blitz of stories had transmogrified the rather anonymous politician into the Rabelaisian figure of Jean-Claude Drunkard.

But yet the real Billy-No-Mates in the room in Brussels was the British Prime Minister, when it came to counting the votes for the nomination.

Meanwhile, as Cameron made his excuses in one room, a clearly chuffed German Chancellor was a few doors down the hall, telling another press conference how delighted she was with the result.

She had seen the whole vote quite differently, reckoning it had been a show of togetherness, which had been inspired by the leaders' pilgrimage to Ypres the previous day.

"Ypres dominated over the spirit of the decisions we took – it was a truly moving reminder of where we stand today," she declared.

Alas for the British prime minister, aptly in Belgium he has met his Waterloo. Moreover, he has to return to the scene of the rout again for another summit next month.

"Another day in paradise," he said with a rueful smile.

Truly, political war can be hell ...

Irish Independent

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