EU leaders now know Cameron's real objective: to stay
It's the biggest question of the past six months. In his EU renegotiations, what demands will David Cameron make? Yesterday, listening to his speech at Chatham House in London, we at last found out. The answer was: none.
Not once did the Prime Minister use the word "demands". Instead, he used the softer and more malleable word "objectives".
In brief, his "objectives" were: protect the single market for Britain; write competitiveness into the DNA of the whole EU; exempt Britain from "ever closer union"; and tackle abuses of the right to free movement.
EU leaders had better beware, because Mr Cameron will require "progress" in "all four areas". And if he doesn't get it, he'll have absolutely no hesitation in… Well. This is the trouble. Because, although EU leaders have grumbled for some time that they don't know what Mr Cameron wants, they've always known he wants this: to stay.
Yesterday's speech - which was somehow both dense and insubstantial - will have reinforced their confidence. They'll have noted that, while he spent 38 seconds criticising the arguments of those who want to "stay in the EU at all costs", he spent four and a half minutes criticising the arguments of those who "think Britain should just leave now".
They'll also have noted the wording of the following pseudo-threat.
"If and when [I achieve my objectives], I will campaign to keep Britain inside a reformed European Union. I'll campaign for it with all my heart and soul, because that will be unambiguously in our national interest. But if we can't reach such an agreement, and if Britain's concerns were to be met with a deaf ear, which I do not believe will happen, then we will have to think again about whether this European Union is right for us. As I have said before: I rule nothing out."
As always, he just can't bring himself to say he would ever campaign to leave. It's a refusal that makes a mockery of his supposed desire for significant change, because the people he's pointing his gun at can see it isn't loaded.
He could have said: "If I get what I want, I'll campaign to stay. If I don't get what I want, I'll campaign to leave."
But he didn't. His speech showed he's determined to stay, provided he's able to claim that he's seen "progress".
And who will decide what constitutes "progress"?
He will. "You can boil all of my negotiation down to one word," he'd told the CBI on Monday. "Flexibility."
Yes - but not the EU's. His. (© Daily Telegraph, London)