Wise gamblers could do worse than to place a hefty bet every time Ken Clarke expresses an opinion that he’ll have to clarify it shortly afterwards. The minister without portfolio said at a Policy Exchange event this morning that it would be ‘absurd’ for Britain to go to Brussels intending to veto the EU budget. He said:
‘It’s absolutely ludicrous to go there intending to veto. It’s just absurd.
‘Every one of the 27 member states has a veto. What they’ve got to do is reach a negotiated situation. Of course people have a veto. Any government will veto if it goes too far in one direction or the other.’
And a little later, he duly clarified his remarks:
‘The clear meaning of what I said was that we cannot go intending to exercise a veto before we actually arrive. But we have an undoubted right to exercise a veto if we cannot negotiate a satisfactory conclusion.’
Clarke makes the same point as Angela Merkel did when she threatened to cancel the summit because of the veto threat: that there wouldn’t be any point in holding the summit if David Cameron plans to veto any deal on the table other than a real-terms freeze. Downing Street has been preparing the ground for a veto moment, which Cameron knows will be good for his own standing, by describing the demand for a freeze as ‘challenging’. While he’s not travelling to Brussels in a few weeks’ time intending to apply the veto from the outset, it’s the most likely outcome.