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Opinion: Calamitous Cameron puts UK, EU to the test

The referendum campaigning over whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU officially gets rolling on Friday. Whatever the outcome, David Cameron hasn't exactly covered himself in glory, says Rob Mudge.

So, once more unto the breach, dear friends! The UK and mainland Europe have had their fair share of tussles, and the one over whether the Brits should stay or go - which kicks off officially on Friday - promises to be an epic. Although, let's not kid ourselves: The gestation of the UK's troubled relationship with the forerunners of the European Union began way back in 1984 when Margret Thatcher famously tussled with the then European Economic Community and threw a tantrum - and her figurative handbag at European diplomats - over the scale of UK contributions, threatening to withhold payments unless Britain got a better deal.

It's been a love-hate relationship ever since. Not that there's much love lost in Brussels. On the surface, there's a lot of gnashing of teeth over what a "Brexit" would mean for the EU and how terrible it would be for the European project and its vision of a strong, united political and economic superpower - the United States of Europe, anyone?

Luke-warm relationship

But deep down that concern is lukewarm at best. The French, being the French, have adopted their typical laissez-faire attitude. They would prefer to be rid of those pesky Brits sooner rather than later, allowing them to cement their lofty leadership ambitions and restart the stuttering Franco-German engine within the EU.

On that note, German Chancellor Angela Merkel feels obliged as the nominal leader of Europe to offer nominal support to David Cameron's demands to revamp and reform the bureaucratic beast in Brussels. But who is she kidding? Germany doesn't need Britain as a counterweight to push through its ambitions in Europe much like Merkel doesn't need - let alone trust - fellow members to resolve the refugee crisis (that's her name under the EU-Turkey deal).

Cameron knows that he's done himself and his country a huge disservice by allowing a referendum to rear its ugly head. As a result, in recent weeks he's worked himself into a veritable frenzy to exorcise the ghostly specter of Britain being left outside looking in. Most recently he penned an editorial for the Daily Telegraph describing at length and in detail why a "Brexit" would be "needless and reckless." His remarks have prompted not only this writer to ask why he didn't make such a forceful case for staying in the EU years ago?

Cameron's ploy

If it was merely a charade and façade to appease his euroskeptic Tory backbenchers, it begs the question as to how weak his position really is within the party - his procrastination and wavering over his involvement in the Panama Papers revelations have undoubtedly further damaged his credibility and standing.

On the other hand it could just be a ploy to pull the wool over the eyes of EU leaders - and one that would allow him to save face. In the event that Britons vote to opt out of the EU he could take the line that he had campaigned rigorously to prevent the exit, warning the country of the bleak consequences. Oh, and of course that he had never really wanted to hold a referendum in the first place.

Luckily, most Britons are showing a great deal of sense and are not allowing themselves to be drawn into or distracted by Cameron's political shenanigans. Granted, it's currently a close call, but most polls have the "In" camp in front.

The UK prides itself on its island status, on its ability to overcome the most adverse circumstances and conditions, on its perennial underdog status. And it has every right to do so, notwithstanding the general sense of schadenfreude poked at it by mainland Europe when things do go wrong.

But here's the thing - as the 17th-century English poet John Donne famously wrote - "No man is an island." What's even more pertinent is what follows in that passage: "… entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less."

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