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Nicholas Leonard: Cameron 'on trial' as Osborne mulls eurosceptic escape bid

BRITISH prime minister David Cameron will go on trial on Thursday, accused of pursuing an improper, possibly corrupt, relationship with one of the most powerful media entrepreneurs in the world, Rupert Murdoch, in order to promote his own political ambitions.

It will be an unusual trial because there will be no jury, just a judge, and there will be only one barrister who will be putting the prosecution case. Mr Cameron will have to defend himself as best he can, knowing throughout the proceedings that he is only there because he decided to set the trial up in the first place.

Technically, of course, it is not a trial but an inquiry, under Judge Brian Leveson, into politicians, the media and phone hacking.

Later today both the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, and the current chancellor, George Osborne will appear. Given the tense and difficult state of relations between the UK and the eurozone leaders, it is hard to imagine a more damaging moment for both Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron to have much of their working day absorbed with finding ways of trying to preserve their reputation for integrity in their dealings with the media.

Mr Osborne warned in a media article yesterday that Britain's recovery is being "killed off by the crisis on our doorstep".

It suits him, of course, to put the blame for the slow pace of revival on the upheavals across the channel but both France and Germany have managed to increase their output so far this year whereas Britain's has declined.

Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have been urging the eurozone members to move much more rapidly towards integrating their economies.

But he knows that if such integration does take place, then the whole relationship between Britain and the new core eurozone bloc is going to have to be renegotiated.

He also knows that it is going to be extremely tricky to hang on to all the advantages that Britain has in key financial sectors such as banking and insurance.

Some of his trickiest problems, however, will not be with the likes of Francois Hollande or Angela Merkel but with his own Conservative MPs, some of whom are more than willing to flirt with the notion of pulling out of the EU altogether.

The former Labour foreign secretary, David Owen, has written a book about how to develop a new Europe with a single market for all its members but a much tighter structure for members of the integrated eurozone.

He commented last week: "A referendum on the future of Europe, I believe, is inevitable at some point between 2013 and 2106 at the latest.

"I would hope such a referendum would pose something like the following choice: Do you want the UK to be part of the single market in a wider European Community? Yes/No. Do you want the UK to remain in the European Union, keeping open the option of joining the more integrated eurozone?"

There is not much chance of either of those two questions ever being put forward but the chancellor George Osborne is growing increasingly enthusiastic about the idea of a referendum which would endorse any substantial change in Britain's relationship with the EU.

His numerous eurosceptic colleagues in the Conservative Party would prefer a commitment to ask voters whether or not they want to stay in the EU at all.

Irish Independent