David Cameron and Angela Merkel are eating dinner together tonight, over which they will discuss the forthcoming European Budget summit. The discussion may make even the sweetest crème brûlée taste rather sour, with Cameron continuing to threaten to veto anything above a real-terms freeze in the budget. He has told reporters following him around on his tour of the Middle East that he will make the argument for a freeze ‘with vigour’. As she arrives in Downing Street, Merkel will be mindful, though, that she has a key role in trying to reach a consensus between the British position and the desire of other countries in the union for more money.
The Chancellor made her own vigorous argument about the UK and Europe this afternoon when UKIP leader Nigel Farage called for her to tell Cameron that it was time for a ‘simple amicable divorce’ as Britons were opposed to greater integration within the EU. Merkel replied: ‘I cannot imagine that the UK would not be part of Europe.’ She added that it was ‘good for the UK to be in Europe’, and that she would ‘ensure’ that this would continue to be the case.
Merkel’s words could conceivably have come from David Cameron himself: he has made clear, too, that he sees many benefits to Britain continuing to be a part of Europe. But many of his backbenchers disagree, and want at the very least the Prime Minister to give British people the opportunity to vote for an ‘amicable divorce’ in an In/Out referendum. Merkel has been taking heed of the increasingly Eurosceptic rhetoric coming from the Tory benches and from Cameron’s colleagues in government, with Der Spiegel reporting last month that Merkel ‘has long since come to terms with the fact that there will not longer be a path back to the centre of the union for the British’.
Today’s retort to Farage showed that Merkel is sufficiently concerned about the possibility of an exit that she is prepared to address the UKIP leader’s question directly rather than batting it away. What will be interesting is whether her inability to imagine Europe without the UK would lead to her making concessions in a renegotiation.