David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy scuttled their Entente Cordiale in record time. Only last week, The Economist's Bagehot column commented on the post-Libya spirit of Anglo-French co-operation, cautiously welcoming the new defence ties, strengthened by victory over Libya, between Messrs Cameron and Sarkozy. It also, sensibly, left room for future acrimony over the eurozone crisis. A well worn cliché warns that a week is a long time in politics, but in this case events have moved extra-ordinarily fast. The popular headlines today are of a handshake snubbed by a grandstanding Sarko, contemptuous of his "British friends", and a Churchillian Cameron, risking European political isolation across the Dover Straits. The Economist's Charlemagne online editorial cites the UK's veto of a new European treaty as "Europe's great divorce".
Whether or not you agreed with Cameron's stance or brinkmanship: calling the other EU leaders' bluff over the sovereign debt crisis, to defend the City of London from Continental meddling; you have to admire him for holding firm, after Angela Merkel, Sarko et al had called the Prime Minister's own bluff. Cameron's gamble plainly did not pay off in the way he wanted: in the end Britain stood alone. Following through with a veto was brave but necessary.
In fairness to the PM, he had not been asking for a great deal. The "veto" means that although 26-out-of-27 countries agreed in principle to the deal in Brussels, changes will only apply to the 17 eurozone countries. Which you could say, is quite right. The Euro remains the issue. The City of London is rightfully lauding Cameron for keeping the UK out of a disastrous Tobin tax on financial transactions: fine for France; it would wound the City and its banks, insurers, investment firms, funds and derivatives. The City's political weakness is its apparent disconnect with the apples and oranges of "the real economy", which unfairly brands it "socially useless" and does it a great disservice. The City doesn't fit in with the "French model", peddled in Paris or Brussels, either.
Benedict Brogan at The Daily Telegraph sums up the eurosceptic view of many in the UK (myself included) who argue that the Franco-German axis always pushes Britain to the EU's margins, not because "Europe" is inherently a bad idea, but because French and German federalist largesse thinly shrouds selfish national interests.
"The events of the past 12 hours have exposed a truth that many chose to ignore, namely that in its relentless pursuit of its national interest, France's strategic objective has been to drive the UK to the margins – if not out of the EU – and to destroy the City. The French narrative of the crisis is that it is all an Anglo-Saxon creation, and we must be punished for it. The failings of the euro so obvious to us are not recognised by the French. The British view is that packing the treaty proposals full of changes that Britain could never conceivably accept was a ploy to force us into a veto, and so into the departure lounge. Or here's another way of putting from inside the machine: "The French are out to screw us," one source tells me. "Despite all the jollity, the fact is that Sarko doesn't gives a s*** about us. It's all bull***. They have their view that the Anglo-Saxon model is a disaster and was responsible for the crisis."